Seek, test, treat

BACKGROUND: Women in South Africa who use alcohol and other drugs face multiple barriers to HIV care. These barriers make it difficult for women to progress through each step in the HIV treatment cascade from diagnosis to treatment initiation and adherence. This paper examines correlates of HIV status, newly diagnosed HIV status, and use of antiretroviral therapy (ART).

METHODS: Outreach workers recruited sexually active Black African women who used substances in Pretoria as part of a U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded geographically clustered randomized trial examining the effect of an intervention to reduce alcohol and drug use as well as sexual risk behaviors. To address the question of interest in the current investigation, cross-sectional baseline data were used. At study enrollment, all participants (N = 641) completed an interview, and underwent rapid HIV testing and biological drug screening. Those who tested positive for HIV and were eligible for ART were asked about their barriers to initiating or adhering to ART. Bivariate and multivariable logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine correlates of HIV status, newly diagnosed HIV, and ART use.

RESULTS: At enrollment, 55% of participants tested positive for HIV, and 36% of these women were newly diagnosed. In multivariable analyses of the entire sample, women who had completed 10th grade were less likely to be living with HIV (OR 0.69; CI 0.48, 0.99) and those from the inner city were more likely to be living with HIV (OR 1.83; CI 1.26, 2.67). Among HIV-positive participants, women were less likely to be newly diagnosed if they had ever been in substance abuse treatment (OR 0.15; CI 0.03, 0.69) or used a condom at last sex (OR 0.58; CI 0.34, 0.98) and more likely to be newly diagnosed if they were physically assaulted in the past year (OR 1.97; CI 1.01, 3.84). Among women eligible for ART, fewer were likely to be on treatment (by self-report) if they had a positive urine test for opiates or cocaine (OR 0.27; CI 0.09, 0.80).

CONCLUSIONS: These results, although cross-sectional, provide some guidance for provincial authorities to address barriers to HIV care for sexually active, substance-using vulnerable women in Pretoria. Targeting the inner city with prevention campaigns, expanding and improving substance abuse treatment programs, linking clients with simultaneous HIV testing and treatment, and targeting women who have experienced sexual assault and violence may help the government achieve the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target. Clinical NCT01497405 registered on December 1, 2011.

Related Experts

Wendee Wechsberg


Substance abuse treatment

Gender issues and HIV risk

Community-based research

International HIV adaptations

Felicia Browne


Stigma, discrimination, and gender


Community-based research

Substance use and addiction