BACKGROUND: The majority of HIV infection among children occurs through mother-to-child transmission. HIV exposed infants are recommended to have virological testing at birth or 4-6 weeks of age but challenges with centralized laboratory-based testing in Myanmar result in low testing rates and delays in result communication and treatment initiation. Decentralized point-of-care (POC) testing when integrated in prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services, can be an alternative to increase coverage of early infant diagnosis (EID) and timely engagement in HIV treatment and care. AIM: This paper aims to explore experiences of caregivers of HIV-exposed infants enrolled in the PMTCT program in Myanmar and the perceived acceptability of point-of-care EID testing compared to conventional centralised laboratory-based testing. METHODS: This is a sub-study of the cluster randomised controlled stepped-wedge trial (Trial registration number: ACTRN12616000734460) that assessed the impact of near POC EID testing using Xpert HIV-1 Qual assay in four public hospitals in Myanmar. Caregivers of infants who were enrolled in the intervention phase of the main study, had been tested with both Xpert and standard of care tests and had received the results were eligible for this qualitative study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 23 caregivers. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and translated into English. Thematic data analysis was undertaken using NVivo 12 Software (QSR International). RESULTS: The majority of caregivers were satisfied with the quality of care provided by PMTCT services. However, they encountered social and financial access barriers to attend the PMTCT clinic regularly. Mothers had concerns about community stigma from the disclosure of their HIV status and the potential consequences for their infants. While medical care at the PMTCT clinics was free, caregivers sometimes experienced financial difficulties associated with out-of-pocket expenses for childbirth and transportation. Some caregivers had to choose not to attend work (impacting their income) or the adult antiretroviral clinic in order to attend the paediatric PMTCT clinic appointment. The acceptability of the Xpert testing process was high among the caregiver participants and more than half received the Xpert result on the same day as testing. Short turnaround time of the near POC EID testing enabled the caregivers to find out their infants' HIV status quicker, thereby shortening the stressful waiting time for results. CONCLUSION: Our study identified important access challenges facing caregivers of HIV exposed infants and high acceptability of near POC EID testing. Improving the retention rate in the PMTCT and EID programs necessitates careful attention of program managers and policy makers to these challenges, and POC EID represents a potential solution.
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