South Africa (SA) has the largest number of HIV infections in the world. Although initial reports suggested that rates of ART adherence in sub-Saharan Africa were high, recent data indicate that adherence may be a major obstacle to actualizing the full benefits of ART. Inadequate adherence and associated drug resistance are factors contributing to high rates of treatment failure often observed within the first 12 months of ART initiation. Patient understanding of HIV disease and the necessity for high ART adherence, as well as the social support for maintenance of adherence are key to the long-term success of ART. Given the ratio of physicians/nurses to patients, ART adherence counseling in SA is conducted mostly by lay counselors with varied expertise and skills, and minimal supervision. Lack of standardization and variability in quality of counseling has prompted urgent calls for an effective adherence intervention that can be delivered by trained lay staff (with fidelity) to establish optimal adherence among patients initiating ART. With the support of an NIMH R34 grant, we developed Masivukeni, an innovative, multi-media computer-based intervention developed by our US-SA research team with SA patients and care providers using community based participatory research methods. Based on Social Action Theory, Masivukeni addresses contextual factors that may promote or impede adherence, and self-regulation and social support factors that can improve behavioral and biological outcomes. The utilization of computer-based technology by counselors working with patients and their treatment support partners enables lay counselors with minimal training and supervision to teach complex medical information and problem-solving skills, with culturally relevant, interactive imagery. The intervention also enhances counselor capacity for screening and making referrals for mental health and substance use problems among patients initiating ART. Our pilot study demonstrated high acceptability and feasibility, as well as promising effects on key primary and secondary outcomes. Through a collaboration among City and Provincial DOHs in Cape Town, research and clinical partners in SA (University of Cape Town) and the US (HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at NYS Psychiatric Institute/RFMH and CCNMTL at Columbia University), we propose to compare Masivukeni to """"""""standard care"""""""" by randomly assigning 360 patients initiating ART to one of the two study conditions in two publicly financed medical clinics serving predominantly poor communities with high HIV prevalence. Patients will be followed over the course of one year. Assessments will be administered to patients at baseline, 6 months and 12 months post baseline. Through partnership with clinicians and DOH policy-makers, the intervention will be quickly available for wide-scale dissemination if shown to be efficacious. Further, an efficacious intervention of this modality could readily be culturally tailored and implemented in other regions of the world, including the US where long-term adherence remains a challenge, particularly for patients with low literacy and mental health and substance use problems.

Public Health Relevance

It is well established that adherence to HIV treatment and care at the time or ART initiation is one of the most significant predictors of long-term clinical success and outcomes for HIV-patients. Further, with optimal medication adherence, patients can achieve undetectable viral loads, significantly reducing the risk of HIV transmission to others. Thus, strategies for enhancing adherence among patients initiating ART are in great demand, particularly in regions of the world with staggering numbers of people living with and still becoming infected with HIV. In the context of (1) Test, Treat, and Linkage to Care approaches to improve the public health, and (2) task-shifting to lay personnel for adherence counseling, improving the delivery of adherence counseling holds promise for improving both individual and public health.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Behavioral and Social Science Approaches to Preventing HIV/AIDS Study Section (BSPH)
Program Officer
Stirratt, Michael J
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
New York State Psychiatric Institute
New York
United States
Zip Code
Scott, Travis M; Gouse, Hetta; Joska, John et al. (2018) Home-versus acquired-language test performance on the Hopkins Verbal Learning Test-Revised among multilingual South Africans. Appl Neuropsychol Adult :1-8
Robbins, Reuben N; Gouse, Hetta; Brown, Henry G et al. (2018) A Mobile App to Screen for Neurocognitive Impairment: Preliminary Validation of NeuroScreen Among HIV-Infected South African Adults. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth 6:e5
Gouse, H; Robbins, R N; Mellins, C A et al. (2018) Empowering Lay-Counsellors with Technology: Masivukeni, a Standardized Multimedia Counselling Support Tool to Deliver ART Counselling. AIDS Behav 22:3345-3356
Gouse, Hetta; Henry, Michelle; Robbins, Reuben N et al. (2017) Psychosocial Aspects of ART Counseling: A Comparison of HIV Beliefs and Knowledge in PMTCT and ART-Naïve Women. J Assoc Nurses AIDS Care 28:504-517
Robbins, Reuben N; Mellins, Claude A; Leu, Cheng-Shiun et al. (2015) Enhancing Lay Counselor Capacity to Improve Patient Outcomes with Multimedia Technology. AIDS Behav 19 Suppl 2:163-76
Robbins, Reuben N; Spector, Anya Y; Mellins, Claude A et al. (2014) Optimizing ART adherence: update for HIV treatment and prevention. Curr HIV/AIDS Rep 11:423-33
Remien, Robert H; Mellins, Claude A; Robbins, Reuben N et al. (2013) Masivukeni: development of a multimedia based antiretroviral therapy adherence intervention for counselors and patients in South Africa. AIDS Behav 17:1979-91