Many patients in HIV care in Africa considered lost to follow up (LTFU) at one facility are reportedly accessing care in another. The success of these unofficial transfers as measured by time to re-entry at the new-facility, prevalence of treatment interruptions, speed of ART-initiation, and overall continuity of care is not well characterized but may reveal opportunities for improvement. We traced a random sample of LTFU HIV-infected patients in Zambia. Among those found alive and reported in care at a new-facility, we reviewed records at the receiving facility to verify transfer; and when verified, documented the transfer experience. We used Kaplan-Meier methods to examine incidence of ART-initiation after transfer to new clinic. We assessed demographic and clinical characteristics, official and cross-provincial transfer for associations with HIV treatment re-engagement using Poisson regression models and associations between official-transfer and same-day ART initiation at the new-facility. Among 350 LTFU-patients, 178 (51%) were successfully verified through chart review at the new-facility. 132 (74.2%) were female, 72 (40.4%) aged 25–35, and 51% were ever recorded as previously being on ART. 110 patients (61.8%) were registered under new ART-IDs and 97 (54.5%) received a new HIV test. 54% of those previously on ART-initiated on the same-day. Using the same ART-ID was associated with same-day initiation compared to those receiving a new ART-ID (p = 0.07). 80% (n = 91) of those ever on ART had evidence of medication initiation at new clinic. Among these, initiation reached 66% (95% CI: 56–75) by 30 days, 77.5% (95% CI: 68–86) by 90 days after new-facility presentation. Many patients use new identifiers at new facilities, indicative of inefficiencies. Re-entry into new facilities among the unofficial-transfer population is often delayed and timely treatment initiation is inconsistent, suggesting interruptions in treatment. Health systems innovations to ensure smooth and safe transfers are needed to maintain quality HIV care.
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