Evaluation of the clinical and drug management of HIV/AIDS patients in the private health care sector of the eThekwini Metro of KwaZulu-Natal : sharing models and lessons for application in the public health care sector.
Introduction: South Africa is currently experiencing one of the most severe AIDS epidemics in the world with South Africa‘s public sector under great stress and under-resourced whilst there exists a vibrant private healthcare sector. Private healthcare sector doctors have a pivotal role to play in the management of HIV and AIDS infection. However not much is known about the extent of private healthcare sector doctor involvement in the management of HIV and AIDS patients. In addition these doctors need to have an accurate knowledge of the management of the infection, and a positive attitude towards the treatment of persons with HIV and AIDS. With the availability of antiretroviral drugs only since around 1996, many of the doctors who were trained prior to 1996 would not have received any formal training in the management of HIV and AIDS patients, further it is very important that these doctors constantly update their knowledge and obtain information in order to practise high-quality medicine. Although private sector doctors are the backbone of treatment service in many countries, caring for patients with HIV brings a whole new set of challenges and difficulties. The few studies done on the quality of care of HIV patients, in the private sector in developing countries, have highlighted some problems with management thus it becomes important to ascertain these doctors‘ training needs together with where these doctors source information on HIV/AIDS to stay updated. In South Africa two thirds of the doctors work in the private sector. To address some of the resource and personnel shortages facing the public sector in South Africa, partnerships between the public and private sectors are slowly being forged. However, little is known about the willingness on the part of private sector doctors in the eThekwini Metro of KwaZulu-Natal, to manage public sector HIV and AIDS patients. Though many studies have been undertaken on HIV/AIDS, fewer have been done in the private sector in terms of the management of this disease which includes doctors‘ adherence monitoring practices, their training needs and sources of information and their willingness to manage public sector patients. A study was therefore undertaken to assess the involvement of private sector doctors in the management of HIV, their training needs and sources of HIV information, the quality of HIV clinical management that they provided, together with their strategies for improving adherence in patients. Further the study assessed factors that affect adherence in patients attending private healthcare, and finally investigated whether private sector doctors are willing to manage public sector HIV infected patients. A literature review of the barriers that prevent doctors from managing HIV/AIDS patients was also undertaken. Method: A descriptive cross sectional study was undertaken using structured self reported questionnaires. All private sector doctors practising in the eThekwini Metro were included in the study. The study was divided into different phases. After exclusions a valid sample of 931 participants was obtained in Phase 1. However only 235 of these doctors indicated that they managed HIV infected patients, of which only 190 consented to be part of Phase 2 of the study. In Phase 2 the questionnaires were administered by trained field workers to the doctors after confirming doctors‘ consent. The questionnaires were thereafter collected, the data captured and analysed using SP55 version 15. Results: Although 235 (71.6%) doctors managed HIV and AIDS patients, 93 (28.4%) doctors did not, and of the latter 48 (51.61%) had not encountered HIV and AIDS patients, twenty five (26.88%) referred such patients to specialists, six (6.45%) cited cost factors as reasons for not treating such patients, whilst twelve (12.90%) doctors, though they indicated that there were other reasons for not managing HIV infected patients, did not specify their reasons. Two doctors (2.15%) indicated that due to inadequate knowledge they did not manage HIV and AIDS patients. Significantly younger (recently qualified) doctors rather than older (qualified for more years) doctors treated HIV/AIDS patients (p<0.001). Most doctors (76.3%) expressed a need for more training/knowledge on the management of HIV patients. Eighty five doctors (54.5%) always measured the CD4 count and viral load levels at diagnosis. Both CD4 counts and viral load were always used by 76 doctors (61.8%) to initiate therapy. Of the doctors 134 (78.5%) initiated therapy at CD4 count < 200cells/mm3. The majority of doctors prescribed triple therapy regimens using the 2 NRTI +1 NNRTI combination. Doctors who used CD4 counts tended to also use viral load (VL) to assess effectiveness and change therapy (p<0.001). At initiation of treatment 68.5% of the doctors saw their patients monthly and 64.3% saw them 3-6 monthly when stable. The majority of the doctors (92.4%) obtained information on HIV and AIDS from journals. Continuing Medical Education (CME), textbooks, pharmaceutical representatives, workshops, colleagues and conferences were identified as other sources of information, while only 35.7% of doctors were found to use the internet for information. GPs and specialists differed significantly with regard to their reliance on colleagues (52.9% versus 72.7%; p < 0.05) and conferences (48.6% versus 78.8%; p < 0.05) as sources of HIV information. Of the respondents, 78.9% indicated that they monitor for adherence. Comparison of GPs and specialists found that 82.6% of the GPs monitor for adherence compared to 63.6% of the specialists. (p=0.016). Doctors used several approaches with 60.6% reporting the use of patient self reports and 18.3% pill counts. Doctors (68.7%) indicated that their adherence monitoring is reliable, whilst 19.7% stated they did not test the reliability of their monitoring tool. The most common strategy used to improve adherence of their patients was by counseling. Other strategies included alarm clocks, SMS, telephoning the patient, encouraging family support and the use of medical aid programmes. One hundred and thirty three (77.8%) doctors were willing to manage public sector HIV and AIDS patients, with 105 (78.9%) reporting adequate knowledge, 99 (74.4%) adequate time, and 83 (62.4%) adequate infrastructure. Of the 38 (22.2%) that were unwilling to manage these patients, more than 80% cited a lack of time, knowledge and infrastructure to manage them. Another reason cited by five doctors (3.8%) who were unwilling was the distance from public sector facilities. Of the 33 specialist doctors, 14 (42.4%) indicated that they would not be willing to manage public sector HIV and AIDS patients, compared with only 24 (17.4%) of the 138 GPs (p < 0.01). There was no statistical difference between adherence to treatment and demographics of the respondent patient such as age, gender and marital status. In this study 89.1% of patients were classified as non-adherent and reasons for non-adherence included difficulty in swallowing medicines (67.3%) (p = 0.01); side effects (61.8%) (p = 0.03); forgetting to take medication (58.2%) (p = 0.003); and not wanting to reveal their HIV status (41.8%) (p = 0.03). Common side effects experienced were nausea, dizziness, insomnia, tiredness or weakness. Reasons for taking their medicines included that tablets would save their lives (83.6%); they understood how to take the medication (81.8%); tablets would help them feel better (80.0%); and that they were educated about their illness (78.2%). All participants that were on a regimen that comprised protease inhibitors and two NRTIs were found to be non-adherent. Conclusion: All doctors in the private healthcare sector were not involved in the management of HIV/AIDS patients. Doctors indicated that they required more training in the management of HIV/AIDS patients. However private sector doctors in the eThekwini Metro do obtain information on HIV from reliable sources in order to have up-to-date knowledge on the management of HIV-infected patients, with the majority of private sector doctors being compliant with the current guidelines, hence maintaining an acceptable quality of clinical health care. These doctors do monitor for adherence and employ strategies to improve adherence in their patients who do have problems adhering to their treatment due to various factors. Many private sector doctors are willing to manage public sector HIV and AIDS patients in the eThekwini Metro, potentially removing some of the current burden on the public health sector.