Partners support, disclosure and side effects: facilitators of high maternal PrEP adherence in Cape Town, South Africa


BACKGROUND: HIV incidence is high during pregnancy and postpartum in many settings. PrEP is safe and effective but requires adherence during potential HIV exposure, yet the facilitators of high maternal adherence are not well understood in high HIV burden settings.
METHODS: We conducted semi-structured interviews with women who reported high adherence (PrEP use >25 days in last 30-days) within a PrEP service for pregnant and postpartum women located in a large primary care facility in a high-HIV burden township. Topics for interviews included: individual and interpersonal risk, disclosure, anticipated PrEP stigma, safety, side-effects, and facility-level factors effecting adherence. A thematic approach guided an iterative process of coding (reviewed to ensure intercoder reliability) and analysis using NVivo 12.
RESULTS: We interviewed 25 postpartum women with high PrEP adherence who were on PrEP for a median of 9-months, median age 26-years, and median baseline gestational age 24-weeks. Themes identified as key drivers of optimal PrEP use were HIV risk perception ' primarily due to partner's perceived risky sexual behaviors and unknown serosatus'and a strong desire to have a baby free of HIV. Reported disclosure of PrEP use to family, partners and friends facilitated PrEP adherence. Women continued PrEP postpartum because they felt empowered by PrEP and did not want to 'go backwards' and increase their HIV risk as before PrEP. Women who reported high adherence all discussed having community support and reminders to take PrEP on time. The primary barriers were anticipated or experienced stigma, which most overcame through education of partners/family about PrEP. Pregnant women experienced transient side effects, but found ways to continue, including taking PrEP at night. Women believed PrEP education and counselling were accessible when integrated into antenatal care which contributed to high PrEP adherence.
CONCLUSIONS: Facilitators of optimal PrEP use through pregnancy and postpartum included fear of HIV acquisition for self and infant, mostly due to partner sexual behaviors and unknown serostatus, along with PrEP disclosure, and encouragement from partners and family. PrEP programs for pregnant and postpartum women should integrate strategies to assist women with realistic appraisals of risk and teach skills for securing support for significant others.