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Journal Article
29 April 2022

Community-facility linkage models and maternal and infant health outcomes in Malawi’s PMTCT/ ART program: A cohort study

Michael E. Herce, Maganizo B. Chagomerana, Lauren C. Zalla, Nicole B. Carbone, Benjamin H. Chi, Michael T. Eliya, Sam Phiri, Stephanie M. Topp, Maria H. Kim, Emily B. Wroe, Chileshe Chilangwa, Jacqueline Chinkonde, Innocent A. Mofolo, Mina C. Hosseinipour, Jessie K. Edwards

2021. PLOS Medicine. 18(9): e1003780
doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003780


In sub-Saharan Africa, 3 community-facility linkage (CFL) models—Expert Clients, Community Health Workers (CHWs), and Mentor Mothers—have been widely implemented to support pregnant and breastfeeding women (PBFW) living with HIV and their infants to access and sustain care for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), yet their comparative impact under real-world conditions is poorly understood.


Methods and findings
We sought to estimate the effects of CFL models on a primary outcome of maternal loss to follow-up (LTFU), and secondary outcomes of maternal longitudinal viral suppression and infant “poor outcome” (encompassing documented HIV-positive test result, LTFU, or death), in Malawi’s PMTCT/ART program. We sampled 30 of 42 high-volume health facilities (“sites”) in 5 Malawi districts for study inclusion. At each site, we reviewed medical records for all newly HIV-diagnosed PBFW entering the PMTCT program between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, and, for pregnancies resulting in live births, their HIV-exposed infants, yielding 2,589 potentially eligible mother–infant pairs. Of these, 2,049 (79.1%) had an available HIV treatment record and formed the study cohort. A randomly selected subset of 817 (40.0%) cohort members underwent a field survey, consisting of a questionnaire and HIV biomarker assessment. Survey responses and biomarker results were used to impute CFL model exposure, maternal viral load, and early infant diagnosis (EID) outcomes for those missing these measures to enrich data in the larger cohort. We applied sampling weights in all statistical analyses to account for the differing proportions of facilities sampled by district. Of the 2,049 mother–infant pairs analyzed, 62.2% enrolled in PMTCT at a primary health center, at which time 43.7% of PBFW were ≤24 years old, and 778 (38.0%) received the Expert Client model, 640 (31.2%) the CHW model, 345 (16.8%) the Mentor Mother model, 192 (9.4%) ≥2 models, and 94 (4.6%) no model. Maternal LTFU varied by model, with LTFU being more likely among Mentor Mother model recipients (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR]: 1.45; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.14, 1.84; p = 0.003) than Expert Client recipients. Over 2 years from HIV diagnosis, PBFW supported by CHWs spent 14.3% (95% CI: 2.6%, 26.1%; p = 0.02) more days in an optimal state of antiretroviral therapy (ART) retention with viral suppression than women supported by Expert Clients. Infants receiving the Mentor Mother model (aHR: 1.24, 95% CI: 1.01, 1.52; p = 0.04) and ≥2 models (aHR: 1.44, 95% CI: 1.20, 1.74; p < 0.001) were more likely to undergo EID testing by age 6 months than infants supported by Expert Clients. Infants receiving the CHW and Mentor Mother models were 1.15 (95% CI: 0.80, 1.67; p = 0.44) and 0.84 (95% CI: 0.50, 1.42; p = 0.51) times as likely, respectively, to experience a poor outcome by 1 year than those supported by Expert Clients, but not significantly so. Study limitations include possible residual confounding, which may lead to inaccurate conclusions about the impacts of CFL models, uncertain generalizability of findings to other settings, and missing infant medical record data that limited the precision of infant outcome measurement.


In this descriptive study, we observed widespread reach of CFL models in Malawi, with favorable maternal outcomes in the CHW model and greater infant EID testing uptake in the Mentor Mother model. Our findings point to important differences in maternal and infant HIV outcomes by CFL model along the PMTCT continuum and suggest future opportunities to identify key features of CFL models driving these outcome differences.


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