People living with HIV travel farther to access healthcare: a population-based geographic analysis from rural Uganda

February 10, 2016

Abstract: 

Introduction The availability of specialized HIV services is limited in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa where the need is the greatest. Where HIV services are available, people living with HIV (PLHIV) must overcome large geographic, economic and social barriers to access healthcare. The objective of this study was to understand the unique barriers PLHIV face when accessing healthcare compared with those not living with HIV in a rural area of sub-Saharan Africa with limited availability of healthcare infrastructure.

Methods We conducted a population-based cross-sectional study of 447 heads of household on Bugala Island, Uganda. Multiple linear regression models were used to compare travel time, cost and distance to access healthcare, and log binomial models were used to test for associations between HIV status and access to nearby health services.

Results PLHIV travelled an additional 1.9 km (95% CI (0.6, 3.2 km), p=0.004) to access healthcare compared with those not living with HIV, and they were 56% less likely to access healthcare at the nearest health facility to their residence, so long as that facility lacked antiretroviral therapy (ART) services (aRR=0.44, 95% CI (0.24 to 0.83), p=0.011). We found no evidence that PLHIV travelled further for care if the nearest facility supplies ART services (aRR=0.95, 95% CI (0.86 to 1.05), p=0.328). Among those who reported uptake of care at one of two facilities on the island that provides ART (81% of PLHIV and 68% of HIV-negative individuals), PLHIV tended to seek care at a higher tiered facility that provides ART, even when this facility was not their closest facility (30% of PLHIV travelled further than the closest ART facility compared with 16% of HIV-negative individuals), and travelled an additional 2.2 km (p=0.001) to access that facility, relative to HIV-negative individuals (aRR=1.91, 95% CI (1.00 to 3.65), p=0.05). Among PLHIV, residential distance was associated with access to facilities providing ART (RR=0.78, 95% CI (0.61 to 0.99), p=0.044, comparing residential distances of 3–5 km to 0–2 km; RR=0.71, 95% CI (0.58 to 0.87), p=0.001, comparing residential distances of 6–10 km to 0–2 km).

Conclusions PLHIV travel longer distances for care, a phenomenon that may be driven by both the limited availability of specialized HIV services and preference for higher tiered facilities.

Figure 1
Spatial distribution of 447 heads of household and seven official health facilities surveyed (ART services indicated) on the northern portion of Bugala Island, Uganda.