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A Qualitative Assessment of Provider and Client Experiences With 3- and 6-Month Dispensing Intervals of Antiretroviral Therapy in Malawi

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Multimonth dispensing (MMD) of antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a differentiated model of care that can help overcome health system challenges and reduce the burden of HIV care on clients. Although 3-month dispensing has been the standard of care, interest has increased in extending refill intervals to 6 months. We explored client and provider experiences with MMD in Malawi as part of a cluster randomized trial evaluating 3- versus 6-month ART dispensing.


Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 17 ART providers and 62 stable, adult clients with HIV on ART. Clients and providers were evenly divided by arm and were eligible for an interview if they had been participating in the study for 1 year (clients) or 6 months (providers). Questions focused on perceived challenges and benefits of the 3- or 6-month amount of ART dispensing. Interviews were transcribed, and data were coded and analyzed using constant comparison.


Both clients and providers reported that the larger medication supply had benefits. Clients reported decreased costs due to less frequent travel to the clinic and increased time for income-generating activities. Clients in the 6-month dispensing arm reported a greater sense of personal freedom and normalcy. Providers felt that the 6-month dispensing interval reduced their workload. They also expressed concerned about clients' challenges with ART storage at home, but clients reported no storage problems. Although providers mentioned the potential risk of clients sharing the larger medication supply with family or friends, clients emphasized the value of ART and reported only rare, short-term sharing, mostly with their spouses. Providers mentioned clients' lack of motivation to seek care for illnesses that might occur between refill appointments.


The 6-month ART dispensing arm was particularly beneficial to clients for decreased costs, increased time for income generation, and a greater sense of normalcy. Providers' concerns about storage, sharing, and return visits to the facility did not emerge in client interviews. Further data are needed on the feasibility of implementing a large-scale program with 6-month dispensing.

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