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Regular small incentives can improve adherence to ART
Michael Carter, 2017-01-23 10:30:00

The provision of regular low-value economic incentives can improve adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART), according to research conducted in Uganda and published in the online edition of AIDS. Patients were eligible for prizes worth approximately $1.50 if they attended their clinic appointments or took at least 90% of the ART doses as evaluated using electronic monitoring.

“In this study we present evidence that it is feasible and effective to use small behavioral economics incentives to increase ART adherence,” comment the authors. “Our study suggests that designing incentives based on behavioral economic insights can increase their effectiveness, and get beyond the often at best mixed results of recent interventions aimed at behavioral change in the HIV field based on traditional, fixed incentives of relatively large monetary value.”

Longer follow-up of the intervention is now planned.

Adherence is key to the success of ART. Missed doses or prolonged unscheduled treatment interruptions can lead to viral breakthrough and the emergence of drug-resistant virus. Many patients find it hard to achieve the high levels of adherence which ART demands. Research examining whether the provision of fixed economic incentives of relatively high value (usually in cash) has a positive impact on health-associated behaviours among patients with HIV has had mixed results.

An alternative incentive approach uses behavioural economics and involves the provision of regular small incentives for achieving health-related targets.

Investigators in Kampala, Uganda, designed a randomised study involving 144 ART-experienced adults to see if small incentives using the behavioural economics theory increased adherence to ART.

The study population was drawn from adult patients receiving care at Mildmay, Uganda. All were ART-experienced (minimum two years of therapy) and had documented adherence problems.

They were randomised to receive standard of care, or into one of two intervention groups. Patients in these intervention groups were eligible for prizes such as coffee mugs, umbrellas or water bottles for timely attendance at clinic appointments (group one) or for taking at least 90% of their ART doses, measured electronically using MEMS (group two).

The study is intended to last two years; the investigators reported on the first nine months.

Over half the participants had completed primary education, two-thirds were women and the average age was 39 years. Median monthly disposable income was the equivalent of $58, of which 5% was spent on travel to clinic appointments. Approximately 12% were physically limited because of their health and 65% reported feelings of depression or hopelessness.

Patients in the control group had an overall adherence rate of 81%, compared to 88% among patients in intervention group one and 87% for patients in group two. These differences were of borderline significance.

However, further analysis showed that the impact of the interventions was most pronounced around the target 90% adherence threshold. Just 40% of patients in the control arm were able to manage this level of adherence, compared to 63% of patients in the two intervention groups. The effect was most pronounced among patients whose adherence was monitored using the MEMS system.

“A larger, fully powered study is needed to confirm these early promising results and would allow the results to additionally detect demographic subgroup differences to shed light on the characteristics of patients most likely to benefit from the intervention,” suggest the authors. “In the current study, those with relatively high (but not optimal) adherence seem to be benefiting disproportionately from the intervention, which is in line with our hypothesis that for our study sample of treatment-mature clients motivational rather than structural barriers are addressed by the small incentives offered.”