Scaling up antiretroviral treatment and improving patient retention in care: lessons from Ethiopia, 2005-2013

Yibeltal Assefa, Achamyeleh Alebachew, Meskele Lera, Lutgarde Lynen, Edwin Wouters, Wim Van Damme

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BACKGROUND: Antiretroviral treatment (ART) was provided to more than nine million people by the end of 2012. Although ART programs in resource-limited settings have expanded treatment, inadequate retention in care has been a challenge. Ethiopia has been scaling up ART and improving retention (defined as continuous engagement of patients in care) in care. We aimed to analyze the ART program in Ethiopia.

METHODS: A mix of quantitative and qualitative methods was used. Routine ART program data was used to study ART scale up and patient retention in care. In-depth interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with program managers.

RESULTS: The number of people receiving ART in Ethiopia increased from less than 9,000 in 2005 to more than 439, 000 in 2013. Initially, the public health approach, health system strengthening, community mobilization and provision of care and support services allowed scaling up of ART services. While ART was being scaled up, retention was recognized to be insufficient. To improve retention, a second wave of interventions, related to programmatic, structural, socio-cultural, and patient information systems, have been implemented. Retention rate increased from 77% in 2004/5 to 92% in 2012/13.

CONCLUSION: Ethiopia has been able to scale up ART and improve retention in care in spite of its limited resources. This has been possible due to interventions by the ART program, supported by health systems strengthening, community-based organizations and the communities themselves. ART programs in resource-limited settings need to put in place similar measures to scale up ART and retain patients in care.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobalization and Health
Pages (from-to)43
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome
  • Anti-Retroviral Agents
  • Capacity Building
  • Ethiopia
  • HIV Infections
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Medical Records
  • Patient Compliance
  • Program Evaluation
  • Public Health Practice
  • Social Work


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