Patients stable on antiretroviral therapy (ART) may require transfer between health care facilities to maintain continuous care yet data on the frequency, predictors and virologic outcomes of transfers are limited.
Data for all viral load (VL) testing at public sector health facilities in the Western Cape Province (2011–2018) were obtained. Participant inclusion criteria were a first VL between 2011-2013, age >15 years at ART initiation and >1 VL within 5 years of ART initiation, of which >1 was at a primary health care facility. Two successive VLs taken at different facilities indicated a transfer. We assessed predictors of transfer using generalised estimating equations with Poisson regression and the association between transfer and subsequent VL> 1000 copies/mL using generalised mixed effects.
Overall 84,814 participants (median age at ART initiation 34 years, 68% female) were followed up for up to 4.5 years after their first VL: 34% (n=29,056) transferred at least once, and among these, 26% transferred twice and 11% transferred thrice or more. Female sex, age <30 years and first VL>1000 copies/mL were independently associated with an increased rate of transfer (adjusted rate ratio 1.24, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.21–1.26; 1.34, 95% CI 1.31–1.36; and 1.42, 95% CI 1.38–1.45 respectively). Adjusting for age, sex, and disengagement, transfer was associated with an increased relative odds of VL>1000 copies/mL (odds ratio 1.35, 95% CI 1.29–1.42).
Approximately one-third of participants transferred and virologic outcomes were poor post-transfer. Stable patients who transfer may require additional support to maintain adherence.