Having a treatment buddy helps some HIV patients stay in care

More than 7.6 million people living with HIV in African nations are now receiving drugs to keep the virus in check—known as antiretroviral therapy (ART). Because ART requires regular pills to be effective, most people need to make trips to the clinic to resupply. Patients who miss clinic visits are more likely to have a break in treatment, develop HIV that is resistant to drugs, and experience poor health or early death. But regular trips to the clinic can be challenging to fit into daily life. We need practical ways to make clinic visits easier for ART patients.

In a new study, Bixby researchers examined a program in Kenya that tested the impact of a treatment buddy on ART clinic visits. A buddy was an individual — usually a trusted family member or friend — who committed to supporting a patient on ART. A buddy accompanied the patient to the clinic and helped with taking the medication correctly, provided encouragement and supported healthy behaviors. The researchers found:

  • Better clinic visit rates among women with a buddy. Women with a buddy were nearly 30 percent more likely to have kept all appointments, compared with women without.
  • No difference in clinic visits among men with a buddy. Clinic attendance was not significantly different in men with or without a buddy.

These findings have promising implications for women, but they are concerning for men. We already know that men delay HIV testing and care, and are more likely to take ART inconsistently or drop out of care. The researchers are calling for new strategies to bolster the benefits of treatment buddies for men, such as specialized buddy trainings and support groups. These efforts could improve the impact of buddies on health outcomes not just for men, but all ART patients.

Photo credit: Beth Novey