An exploration of group-based HIV/AIDS treatment and care models in Sub-Saharan Africa using a realist evaluation (Intervention-Context-Actor-Mechanism-Outcome) heuristic tool: A systematic review


INTRODUCTION: It is increasingly acknowledged that differentiated care models hold potential to manage large volumes of patients on antiretroviral therapy (ART). Various group-based models of ART service delivery aimed at decongesting local health facilities, encouraging patient retention in care, and enhancing adherence to medication have been implemented across sub-Saharan Africa. Evidence from the literature suggests that these models of ART service delivery are more effective than corresponding facility-based care and superior to individual-based models. Nevertheless, there is little understanding of how these care models work to achieve their intended outcomes. The aim of this study was to review the theories explicating how and why group-based ART models work using a realist evaluation framework. METHODS: A systematic review of the literature on group-based ART support models in sub-Saharan Africa was conducted. We searched the Google Scholar and PubMed databases and supplemented these with a reference chase of the identified articles. We applied a theory-driven approach-narrative synthesis-to synthesise the data. Data were analysed using the thematic content analysis method and synthesised according to aspects of the Intervention-Context-Actor-Mechanism-Outcome heuristic-analytic tool-a realist evaluation theory building tool. RESULTS: Twelve articles reporting primary studies on group-based models of ART service delivery were included in the review. The six studies that employed a quantitative study design failed to identify aspects of the context and mechanisms that work to trigger the outcomes of group-based models. While the other four studies that applied a qualitative and the two using a mixed methods design identified some of the aspects of the context and mechanisms that could trigger the outcomes of group-based ART models, these studies did not explain the relationship(s) between the theory elements and how they interact to produce the outcome(s). CONCLUSION: Although we could distill various components of the Intervention-Context-Actor-Mechanism-Outcome analytic tool from different studies exploring group-based programmes, we could not, however, identify a salient programme theory based on the Intervention-Context-Actor-Mechanism-Outcome heuristic analysis. The scientific community, policy makers and programme implementers would benefit more if explanatory findings of how, why, for whom and in what circumstances programmes work are presented rather than just reporting on the outcomes of the interventions


Mukumbang FC, Van Belle S, Marchal B, van Wyk B




  • Population(s)
    • General HIV+ population
  • Engagement and Care Cascade
    • Treatment
  • Health Systems
    • Delivery arrangements


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