'Lost to Follow Up': Rethinking delayed and interrupted HIV treatment among married Swazi women

Thandeka Dlamini-Simelane and Eileen Moyer

Health Policy and Planning 32(2)


Through various campaigns and strategies, more women are being tested for HIV in countries with a high prevalence of the virus. Despite the ready availability of treatment at government clinics in sub-Saharan African countries like Swaziland, women consistently report difficulty in maintaining access to treatment. Drawing on two individual case studies selected from a larger study of the so-called leaky cascade in Swaziland, we illustrate the protracted journeys married women undertake to initiate treatment. We demonstrate how women manoeuvre tactically after diagnosis, highlight factors that influence their decisions related to initiating treatment, and detail the actors involved in the decision-making process. Our research shows the persistence of structural factors that inhibit access, including economic constraints, gender inequality and patriarchal social norms. Patients referred as ‘lost to follow up’ are in many cases actively pursuing treatment within a context that includes the biomedical health system, but also extends well beyond it. We argue that the phrase ‘lost to follow up’ conceals the complex social navigation required by women to initiate and maintain access to treatment. Further, we suggest that many of the logistical challenges of monitoring and tracking people with HIV can be better addressed by taking into account the structural and social aspects of delayed treatment initiative.

DOI: 10.1093/heapol/czw117