Viral suppression and factors associated with failure to achieve viral suppression among pregnant women in South Africa

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Objective:To describe viral load levels among pregnant women and factors associated with failure to achieve viral suppression (viral load ≤50 copies/ml) during pregnancy.Design:Between 1 October and 15 November 2017, a cross-sectional survey was conducted among 15-49-year-old pregnant women attending antenatal care (ANC) at 1595 nationally representative public facilities.Methods:Blood specimens were taken from each pregnant woman and tested for HIV. Viral load testing was done on all HIV-positive specimens. Demographic and clinical data were extracted from medical records or self-reported. Survey logistic regression examined factors associated with failure to achieve viral suppression.Result:Of 10052 HIV-positive participants with viral load data, 56.2% were virally suppressed. Participants initiating antiretroviral therapy (ART) prior to pregnancy had higher viral suppression (71.0%) by their third trimester compared with participants initiating ART during pregnancy (59.3%). Booking for ANC during the third trimester vs. earlier: [adjusted odds ratio (AOR) 1.8, 95% confidence interval (CI):1.4-2.3], low frequency of ANC visits (AOR for 2 ANC visits vs. ≥4 ANC visits: 2.0, 95% CI:1.7-2.4), delayed initiation of ART (AOR for ART initiated at the second trimester vs. before pregnancy:2.2, 95% CI:1.8-2.7), and younger age (AOR for 15-24 vs. 35-49 years: 1.4, 95% CI:1.2-1.8) were associated with failure to achieve viral suppression during the third trimester.Conclusion:Failure to achieve viral suppression was primarily associated with late ANC booking and late initiation of ART. Efforts to improve early ANC booking and early ART initiation in the general population would help improve viral suppression rates among pregnant women. In addition, the study found, despite initiating ART prior to pregnancy, more than one quarter of participants did not achieve viral suppression in their third trimester. This highlights the need to closely monitor viral load and strengthen counselling and support services for ART adherence.

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