WHO South-East Asia Journal of Public Health

: 2015  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 184--188

Feasibility of implementing an integrated tool for improvement of treatment quality and early-warning indicators for HIV drug resistance: a pilot study of centres in India

Bharat B Rewari1, Nicole S Seguy1, Sukarma SS Tanwar1, Po-Lin Chan2, Vimlesh Purohit3, Pauline Harvey4, Dongbao Yu5, AS Rathore6,  
1 World Health Organization Country Office for India, New Delhi, India
2 World Health Organization Country Office for China, Beijing, China
3 International Training and Education Centre for Health, University of Washington, Seattle, United States of America
4 United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, United States of America
5 World Health Organization South-East Asia Regional Office, New Delhi, India
6 National AIDS Control Organization, Government of India, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Sukarma SS Tanwar
WHO Country Office for India, Khanna Tennis Stadium, Africa Avenue, New Delhi 110 029


With the rapid scale-up in use of antiretroviral therapy (ART), monitoring the quality of care and factors that may lead to emergence of HIV drug resistance (HIVDR) is an important focus point for programme managers. The National AIDS Control Organisation of India embarked on strengthening the ART programme for continuous quality improvement (CQI), using defined quality-of-care indicators (QCIs), including World Health Organization (WHO) early-warning indicators (EWIs) for HIVDR. In this feasibility study, done during July 2014, an integrated QCI and EWI tool developed by WHO India was pilot tested across 18 purposively selected ART centres. At seven ART centres, the EWI 1 target of >90% on-time pill pick-up was achieved for adult patients, while among the paediatric age group (<15 years old) it was not achieved by any centre. EWI 2 (retention of patients in ART care at 12 months after initiation) showed that two centres had retention of both adult and paediatric patients of >85% at 12 months of ART, while 11 centres had retention between 75% and 85%. EWI 3 (pharmacy stock-out) for adult and paediatric patients showed that 11 ART centres reported a minimum of one stock-out for the first-line ART drugs in the reporting period, while EWI 4 targets (pharmacy dispensing practices) were achieved by all the centres, for both adults and children. Average retention in care at 6, 12 and 24 months after ART initiation was 82%, 77% and 71%, respectively. This feasibility study showed that EWI analyses were much simpler to conduct if information was sought only for patients receiving ART, for whom the quality of record-keeping is better and more consistent. The activity has highlighted the need for improved quality of record-keeping at the facilities and implementation of specific interventions to ensure better patient follow-up. After modifications, use of the tool will be phased in across all the ART centres in India.

How to cite this article:
Rewari BB, Seguy NS, Tanwar SS, Chan PL, Purohit V, Harvey P, Yu D, Rathore A S. Feasibility of implementing an integrated tool for improvement of treatment quality and early-warning indicators for HIV drug resistance: a pilot study of centres in India.WHO South-East Asia J Public Health 2015;4:184-188

How to cite this URL:
Rewari BB, Seguy NS, Tanwar SS, Chan PL, Purohit V, Harvey P, Yu D, Rathore A S. Feasibility of implementing an integrated tool for improvement of treatment quality and early-warning indicators for HIV drug resistance: a pilot study of centres in India. WHO South-East Asia J Public Health [serial online] 2015 [cited 2019 Aug 23 ];4:184-188
Available from: http://www.who-seajph.org/text.asp?2015/4/2/184/206688

Full Text


The free Indian antiretroviral therapy (ART) programme established in 2004 at eight clinics has been scaled-up to provide treatment to approximately 8 94 000 people across 516 ART centres and 900 link ART centres within the public sector, as of August 2015.[1] Every year, nearly 100 000 additional people living with HIV (PLHIV) initiate ART. The programme projects that about 1.25 million PLHIV will be receiving treatment by March 2017. With this high level of scale-up, monitoring the quality of care and factors leading to emergence of HIV drug resistance (HIVDR) is of paramount importance for the programme.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a set of standard early-warning indicators (EWIs) that are used as indirect markers for assessing the emergence of HIVDR.[2] Common factors associated with the emergence of HIVDR include inappropriate treatment regimens; ART drug stock-outs; and poor adherence to treatment – monitored through five core EWI indicators: on-time ARV pill pick-up (EWI 1); retention of patients in ART care at 12 months after initiation (EWI 2); pharmacy stock-out (EWI 3); pharmacy dispensing practices (EWI 4); and virological suppression 12 months after ART initiation (EWI 5).[3] WHO recommends that these indicators be collected annually at each ART centre or from a selected representative sample. For each EWI indicator, minimum performance targets are recommended. An Excel-based (Microsoft, United States of America) tool has been developed by WHO to facilitate collection of EWIs by countries.[4]

In 2014, India embarked on a continuous quality-improvement (CQI) mechanism using selected quality-of-care indicators (QCIs) and the EWIs listed above. Selected QCI indicators like retention in care (On-ART and Pre-ART retention cascade), regularity of CD4 testing (On-ART and Pre-ART), and timely ART initiation among eligible patients (defined as within 60 days from the date the patient is eligible for treatment), which are deemed critical for monitoring the quality of patient care, were identified by the national programme. A pilot study with the support of the WHO Country Office for India and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) was implemented to assess the feasibility of conducting the QCI/EWI activity across the country. This paper presents the results of this pilot study and focuses on data-collection and methodology concerns and lesson learnt for planning purposes.

 Approach to the assessment

Using WHO recommendations on prevention and surveillance of HIVDR,[5],[6] and the WHO Metrics for monitoring the cascade of HIV testing, care and treatment services in Asia and the Pacific,[7] key indicators useful for monitoring the quality of ART services and EWIs that could be collected in India were selected. A purpose-built tool was constructed to include WHO EWI- and additional ART programme-specific QCIs (see [Table 1]). Country-specific adaptations to the WHO EWI tool included ART drugs used in the programme and possible reasons for patients not being retained in care. For EWI 2, data were extracted from the QCI tool. The QCI tool was developed to enable easy and quick extraction of data from a retrospective cohort analysis of a sample of patients receiving treatment and in pre-ART care, for 12 and 24 months. Primary records used for data extraction include the individual patient treatment record, ART enrolment register, pre-ART register and drug-dispensing register. EWI 5 was not reported because no information on this indicator is available, since testing of viral load is not done routinely in the programme and no information on viral load is available for patients on first-line ART. Data for all the indicators in this activity were abstracted from existing routinely collected medical records at the ART centres; hence, ethical review was not deemed necessary but the required administrative approvals were obtained from the National AIDS Control Organisation of India.{Table 1}

A section for qualitative entries such as impending drug stock-out, or other factors influencing programme implementation was included to better interpret the information collected. Similar to the WHO EWI Excel tool, which incorporates error-checks, the QCI tool uses Excel functions to flag data-entry issues. The tools also provide automated generation of analysed results as data are entered.

Calculation of the sample size underlying the number of records to be extracted from sites was based on the WHO EWI guidelines, which provide sample sizes with a 95% confidence interval.[3] For all EWIs and QCIs, adult and paediatric patients were sampled separately. The number used for generation of the minimum sample size was the actual number of patients alive and on ART as on 31 March 2014. Individual patient records were then consecutively sampled, starting from 1 April 2013 onwards (as per the start of the activity-reporting period), until the minimum sample size was reached.

For the QCI On-ART and Pre-ART cohorts, the number of patients registering at the clinic and initiating ART between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2013 was used to calculate the minimum cohort size. Patient records were sampled starting from 1 April 2012 (as per the start of the activity-reporting period), consecutively until the minimum sample size was reached.

The study period for the pilot exercise was 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014; hence, the start dates for sample abstraction were defined accordingly. The exercise was carried out at 20 purposively selected ART centres (with good record-keeping and adequate human resources in place), including 10 centres of excellence. Hands-on training on the tool was conducted with medical officers and data managers from all these centres. After training, they were given 15 days to complete the exercise. National trainers were in continuous contact, to support implementation. Reports were checked and validated by the national team and interpretation of results was done by programme managers at the national level. To check for correctness of entries in the tools, ART centres were randomly visited by programme managers, and records at the ART centres were compared with the entries made in the tools. In case of discrepancy, the centres were asked to re-submit the completed tools.

 Observations on feasibility

A total of 3365 adult and 1394 paediatric patients were entered in the EWI tool that was implemented at 18 ART centres. Owing to programmatic reasons, two centres were not able to submit reports in time for their data to be included in this analysis. Of the total ART centres that reported, seven had EWI 1 (adult) >90%, while eight had EWI 1 (paediatric) between 80% and 90%. For the paediatric cohort, no centre had EWI 1 >90%. Results of EWI 2 (adult and pediatric combined) showed that two centres had retention of more than 85% at 12 months of ART, while 11 centres had retention between 75% and 85%. Results for EWI 3, which monitors drug stock-out, showed that the majority of centres (i.e. 11) had experienced stock-out for at least one ART drug in the 12-month reporting period (i.e 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014). No centre reported using mono or dual therapy (EWI 4) for adult or paediatric patients (see [Table 2]).

QCI results for 2771 adult patients on ART revealed that the median duration for ART initiation from the time of eligibility was 16 days; 88% of the patients were initiated on ART within 60 days of becoming eligible for ART initiation. The median CD4 count at the time of ART initiation was 204 cells/mm3 and 49% patients were classified as WHO stage 1 or 2. For adults, retention in care at 6, 12 and 24 months after ART initiation was 82%, 77% and 71%, respectively.

There were 137 children aged <15 years sampled in this cohort who initiated ART on or after 1 April 2012; 91% of all children were started on ART within 60 days of ART eligibility, which is above the optimal time for this QCI indicator (at 90%). The median CD4 count at the time of start of ART was 744 cells/mm3. Among children aged <5 years, 80% had CD4 counts at baseline of <1000 cells/mm3, while among children aged >5 years, 82% had counts of ≤500 cells/mm3 at the time of ART initiation.

Pre-ART QCI cohort analysis on 3138 records showed that 49% were in WHO stage 1 at the time of registration in care. Sixty-eight per cent of adult patients had a CD4 count below 350 cells/mm3 at the time of registration, and, of these, 79% were started on ART within 30 days of registration.

 Lessons learnt and future plans

India is one of the first countries in the WHO South-East Asia Region to pilot an integrated EWI and QCI tool for both On-ART and Pre-ART cohorts. The key objective of pilot-testing the integrated QCI and HIVDR EWI monitoring tool was to assess the feasibility of this activity in a large country like India. Valuable lessons were learnt in implementing the tool at national and facility levels. As the pilot exercise involved extracting data for three separate components (EWI, QCI-On-ART cohort and QCI-Pre-ART cohort), much time was taken from other duties for clinical staff at the facility. At high-load treatment sites, up to 600 records needed data extraction. In order to complete the exercise, staff required at least 3–4 days to complete the EWI tool, and another week to complete the On-ART and Pre-ART cohort analysis up to 12 and 24 months. In terms of data management and analysis, EWI analyses were much simpler, as information was sought only for On-ART patients, for whom the quality of record-keeping was better and more consistent. As the cohorts were constructed with multiple time-points and outcomes, data cleaning and analysis was complex and labour intensive.

The pilot tool included several indicators common to both the Pre-ART and On-ART cohort, such as “timely initiation of ART”, which could result in duplication. For the On-ART cohort, this indicator was assessed using the ART treatment register and record, which is better maintained. The same information was also extracted for the Pre-ART cohort using the Pre-ART register; however, there was more variability of data quality in this register. The pilot study therefore highlighted the collection of Pre-ART data as an area requiring focused strengthening.

Having results readily available with data entry was an important factor motivating staff in completing the exercise correctly. The tools had inbuilt auto-generated results. Staff felt that these quick results were helpful in overviewing centre performance and delineating the profile of their patients, and helped to provide a baseline to improve services.

Support to facilities for implementation was critical. Several centres could not follow the guidelines for sampling and sample-size calculation, despite training and mentoring, e.g. sampling from the wrong time-point, e.g. April 2013 instead of April 2012; and using incorrect numbers for calculation of the minimum sample size, e.g. patients “ever initiated” on ART instead of “patient initiating ART in a specified time-period”. The need to strengthen training was a key lesson learnt from this pilot study and more-comprehensive training has been introduced as a result. Other common problems included incomplete data, such as non-completion of the facility profile, which limited interpretation of results, particularly for drug stock-outs. In this situation, where the programme institutes strategies to prevent impending drug stock-out, e.g. short refills of drugs for 1–2 weeks instead of monthly supplies, these instances can only be added as qualitative information.

In addition, in some cases, staff applied their judgement on the outcome status of patients when they had not completed the full cohort follow-up period in order to complete the exercise, e.g. entering the status of a patient at 24 months even if they had been in care only for 18 months. Data-entry error such as entering patients into the Pre-ART cohort even after they have started receiving ART led to misclassification errors.

The results from this activity bring out similar concerns to those that have been highlighted in EWI-monitoring studies conducted in other countries. Namibia has collected EWIs using the 2010 WHO EWI definitions, which predated the definitions used in this study, wherein 52% of the sites had loss to follow-up at 12 months of ≤20%, while the EWI 3 target was achieved by 67% of the clinics. In South Africa, a study comparing results from two clinics showed that clinic A achieved the targets for EWI 2 and EWI 4, while clinic B could only achieve the target for EWI 3 (EWI 5 not done). Another study conducted in Malawi showed that retention at 12 months of >70% was achieved by 38% clinics. In the present study conducted in India, a significant proportion of ART users did not meet the WHO targets for EWI 1, i.e. on-time pill pick-up, and EWI 2, i.e. retention of patients in ART care at 12 months after initiation. The results of EWI collection in India show that stock-out of ART drugs was an issue in 2014. The areas that require more focus are better adherence monitoring for ART, patient follow-up, and strengthening the ART supply chain. Monitoring the overall adherence of patients on ART through tracking EWI 2 is easier than measuring individual patient-level adherence, a practice that is now widely adopted, especially in countries with a large number of facilities.

Lastly, a common concern of the majority of data abstractors was incomplete records at the facility, with inadequate information in both the registers and individual patient records, necessitating triangulation from multiple sources, a problem that was also reported by other countries that have conducted this activity.[9],[10] For every patient record abstracted, two to three other data sources were needed. This experience was important for mentoring and supervision of not only centres, but also clinical staff participating in this exercise, on the need for correctness, completeness and consistency across different monitoring and evaluation tools at facilities. Work to rectify the challenge of incomplete data recording has been initiated.

One of the limitations of this study is that, since the centres were purposively selected, the results are not representative. Moreover, two of the 20 selected centres were unable to submit reports on time and so the monitoring at these facilities is not recorded here. An important follow-up of this pilot has been simplification of the two tools and development of a comprehensive hands-on training curriculum, besides ensuring that the participants understand the importance of this activity[12].

The pilot exercise to extract EWIs and QCI indicators has helped understanding of not only the performance of ART facilities in terms of these outcomes, but also the capacity of staff and the quality of the recording and reporting system. Having quick and immediate feedback through auto-generated results of the exercise motivates staff and provides data for improvement of local services by the facility team. An annual exercise will give trends on the quality of care delivered by ART sites. In order to keep the workload manageable, the tool will be further simplified and minimized to the EWI and QCI On-ART cohort analysis. This decision keeps in view that almost all patients registering in care will require ART initiation, as the CD4 thresholds for ART initiation increase in the programme. Pre-ART cohort analysis will be conducted as special studies in selected sites, in order to get information about Pre-ART retention, etc. QCI/EWI collection and analysis has highlighted the areas that require immediate ART programme strengthening in order to limit HIVDR and improve survival. Results of this pilot demonstrate that WHO HIVDR EWI and QCI monitoring can be used to assess the strengths and weaknesses of ART programmes and guide managers and implementers at state and national level on strategies to resolve and strengthen identified areas of weakness. Factors responsible for not meeting targets should be analysed by the National AIDS Control Organisation of India (programme managers) at each site (ART centres), as part of the ART quality-improvement process, in order to identify the most appropriate recommendations. In order to ensure sustainability, this exercise will be incorporated into the Strategic Information Management System (SIMS), as part of routine programmatic monitoring and evaluation across all ART facilities in the country, and will be useful during the state, regional and national-level review meetings.

Source of Support: Nil.

Conflict of Interest: None declared.

Contributorship: BBR: manuscript review and conceptualization of the activity; NSS: manuscript review, conceptualization of the activity, data analysis; SSST: manuscript development, data analysis, implementation of the activity, conceptualization of the activity; P-LC: manuscript review, data analysis, conceptualization of the activity, implementation of the activity; VP: implementation of activity and manuscript review; PH: manuscript review; DY: manuscript review; ASR: manuscript review.


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