Awareness and perceived fairness of option B+ in Malawi: A population-level perspective

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Abstract

INTRODUCTION: Policies for rationing antiretroviral therapy (ART) have been subject to on-going ethical debates. Introduced in Malawi in 2011, Option B+ prioritized HIV-positive pregnant women for lifelong ART regardless of the underlying state of their immune system, shifting the logic of allocation away from medical eligibility. Despite the rapid expansion of this policy, we know little about how it has been understood and interpreted by the people it affects. METHODS: We assessed awareness and perceived fairness of the prioritization system for ART among a population-based sample of young women (n = 1440) and their partners (n = 574) in southern Malawi. We use a card-sort technique to elicit understandings of who gets ART under Option B+ and who should be prioritized, and we compare perceptions to actual ART policy using sequence analysis and optimal matching. We then use ordered logistic regression to identify the factors associated with policy awareness. RESULTS: In 2015, only 30.7% of women and 21.1% of male partners understood how ART was being distributed. There was widespread confusion around whether otherwise healthy HIV-positive pregnant women could access ART under Option B + . Nonetheless, more young adults thought that the fairest policy should prioritize such women than believed the actual policy did. Women who were older, more educated or had recently engaged with the health system through antenatal care or ART had more accurate understandings of Option B + . Among men, policy awareness was lower, and was patterned only by education. CONCLUSION: Although most respondents were unaware that Option B+ afforded ART access to healthy-pregnant women, Malawians support the prioritization of pregnant women. Countries adopting Option B+ or other new ART policies such as universal test-and-treat should communicate the policies and their rationales to the public - such transparency would be more consistent with a fair and ethical process and could additionally serve to clarify confusion and enhance retention..

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Yeatman, S., & Trinitapoli, J. (2017). Awareness and perceived fairness of option B+ in Malawi: A population-level perspective. Journal of the International AIDS Society, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.7448/IAS.20.1.21467

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