Reasons for disengagement from antiretroviral care in the era of “Treat All” in low- or middle-income countries: A systematic review



Disengagement from antiretroviral therapy (ART) care is an important reason why people living with HIV do not achieve viral load suppression become unwell.


We searched two databases and conference abstracts from January 2015 to December 2022 for studies which reported reasons for disengagement from ART care. We included quantitative (mainly surveys) and qualitative (in‐depth interviews or focus groups) studies conducted after “treat all” or “Option B+” policy adoption. We used an inductive approach to categorize reasons: we report how often reasons were reported in studies and developed a conceptual framework for reasons.


We identified 21 studies which reported reasons for disengaging from ART care in the “Treat All” era, mostly in African countries: six studies in the general population of persons living with HIV, nine in pregnant or postpartum women and six in selected populations (one each in people who use drugs, isolated indigenous communities, men, women, adolescents and men who have sex with men). Reasons reported were: side effects or other antiretroviral tablet issues (15 studies); lack of perceived benefit of ART (13 studies); psychological, mental health or drug use (13 studies); concerns about stigma or confidentiality (14 studies); lack of social or family support (12 studies); socio‐economic reasons (16 studies); health facility‐related reasons (11 studies); and acute proximal events such as unexpected mobility (12 studies). The most common reasons for disengagement were unexpected events, socio‐economic reasons, ART side effects or lack of perceived benefit of ART. Conceptually, studies described underlying vulnerability factors (individual, interpersonal, structural and healthcare) but that often unexpected proximal events (e.g. unanticipated mobility) acted as the trigger for disengagement to occur.


People disengage from ART care for individual, interpersonal, structural and healthcare reasons, and these reasons overlap and interact with each other. While HIV programmes cannot predict and address all events that may lead to disengagement, an approach that recognizes that such shocks will happen could help.


Health services should focus on ways to encourage clients to engage with care by making ART services welcoming, person‐centred and more flexible alongside offering adherence interventions, such as counselling and peer support.


Burke RM, Rickman HM, Pinto C, Ehrenkranz P, Choko A, Ford N




  • Epidemiology and Determinants of Health
    • Determinants of Health
  • Determinants of Health
    • Income
    • Social support
    • Health services
    • Stigma/discrimination
  • Population(s)
    • Men who have sex with men
    • Women
    • Children or Youth (less than 18 years old)
    • People who use drugs
    • Indigenous communities
    • General HIV+ population
  • Prevention, Engagement and Care Cascade
    • Engagement and Care Cascade
  • Engagement and Care Cascade
    • Retention in care
    • Treatment


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