Opportunities and considerations for the design of decentralized delivery of antiretroviral therapy for female sex workers living with HIV in South Africa

Carly A. Comins*, Vijayanand Guddera, Lauren E. Parmley, Katherine Young, Mfezi Mcingana, Ntambue Mulumba, Sharmistha Mishra, Deliwe R. Phetlhu, Harry Hausler, Sheree Schwartz, Stefan Baral

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In South Africa, 60% of female sex workers (FSW) are living with HIV, many of whom experience structural and individual barriers to antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation and adherence. Community-based decentralized treatment provision (DTP) may mitigate these barriers. To characterize optimal implementation strategies, we explored preferences for DTP among FSW living with HIV in Durban, South Africa. Methods: Thirty-nine semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with FSW living with HIV (n = 24), and key informants (n = 15) including HIV program implementers, security personnel, and brothel managers. Participants were recruited using maximum variation and snowball sampling. Interviews were conducted in English or isiZulu between September–November 2017 and analyzed using grounded theory in Atlas.ti 8. Results: DTP was described as an intervention that could address barriers to ART adherence and retention, minimizing transport costs, time and wage loss from clinic visits, and act as a safety net to address FSW mobility and clinic access challenges. Respondents highlighted contextual considerations for DTP and suggested that DTP should be venue-based, scheduled during less busy times and days, and integrate comprehensive health services including psychological, reproductive, and non-communicable disease services. ART packaging and storage were important for community-based delivery, and participants suggested DTP should be implemented by sex work sensitized staff with discrete uniform and vehicle branding. Conclusions: Incorporating FSW preferences may support implementation optimization and requires balancing of tensions between preferences and feasibility. These data suggest the potential utility of DTP for FSW as a strategy to address those most marginalized from current ART programs in South Africa.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1166
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Antiretroviral
  • Differentiated care
  • Differentiated service delivery
  • Female sex workers
  • HIV
  • South Africa


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