Improving HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) adherence and retention in care: process evaluation and recommendation development from a nationally implemented PrEP programme

Jennifer MacDonald, Claudia Estcourt, Paul Flowers, Rak Nandwani, Jamie Frankis, Ingrid Young, Dan Clutterbuck, Jenny Dalrymple, Lisa McDaid, Nicola Steedman, John Michael Saunders

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Introduction: HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), in which people take HIV medication to prevent HIV acquisition, underpins global HIV transmission elimination strategies. Effective prevention needs people to adhere to PrEP and remain in care during periods of risk, but this is difficult to achieve. We undertook a process evaluation of Scotland’s PrEP programme to explore barriers and facilitators to PrEP adherence and retention in care and to systematically develop evidence-based, theoretically-informed recommendations to address them.

Methods: We conducted semi-structured interviews and focus groups (09/2018-07/2019) with patients who identified as gay or bisexual men and were either using PrEP, had declined the offer of PrEP, had stopped PrEP, or had been assessed as ineligible for PrEP (n=39 of whom n=5 (13%) identified as trans, median age 31 years and interquartile range 14 years), healthcare professionals involved in PrEP provision (n= 54 including specialist sexual health doctors and nurses of various grades, PrEP prescribing general practitioners, health promotion officers, midwifes, and a PrEP clinical secretary), and clients (n=9) and staff (n=15) of non-governmental organisations with an HIV prevention remit across Scotland. We used thematic analysis to map key barriers and facilitators to priority areas that could enhance adherence and retention in care. We used implementation science analytic tools (Theoretical Domains Framework, Intervention Functions, Behaviour Change Technique Taxonomy, APEASE criteria) and expert opinion to systematically generate recommendations.

Results: Barriers included perceived complexity of on-demand dosing, tendency for users to stop PrEP before seeking professional support, troublesome side-effects, limited flexibility in the settings/timings/nature of review appointments, PrEP-related stigma and emerging stigmas around not using PrEP. Facilitators included flexible appointment scheduling, reminders, and processes to follow up non-attenders. Examples of the 25 recommendations include: emphasising benefits of PrEP reviews and providing appointments flexibly within individualised PrEP care; using clinic systems to remind/recall PrEP users; supporting PrEP conversations among sexual partners; clear on-demand dosing guidance; encouraging good PrEP citizenship; detailed discussion on managing side-effects and care/coping planning activities.

Conclusions: PrEP adherence and retention in care is challenging, reducing the effectiveness of PrEP at individual and population levels. We identify and provide solutions to where and how collaborative interventions across public health, clinical, and community practice could address these challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0292289
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 9 Oct 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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