Care in HIV drug trial closure: perspectives of research participants and staff in Uganda

Nalubega, Sylivia (2017) Care in HIV drug trial closure: perspectives of research participants and staff in Uganda. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Background: After three decades, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) continues to pose significant threats globally. The efforts to curb the HIV epidemic have required investment in research, with clinical trials being a major focus, to develop HIV prevention, treatment, and cure interventions. A large portion of such research has been undertaken within low income settings, due to the high burden of HIV and the availability of willing volunteers within this setting. HIV research calls for the implementation of ethical research practice which is informed by policy guidelines. However, current policies are largely informed by inputs from high income countries, and lack the voices of those closely involved in research implementation. In order to contribute to ethics policy development in HIV research, it is essential to involve different stakeholders by exploring their experiences/views on the issue. Existing research in this field has mainly explored experience of recruitment and trial conduct, while very little has been done on trial closure, indicating a significant evidence gap worth exploring. This research therefore sought to illuminate, explore and understand the significant issues regarding the care of HIV positive drug trial participants during closure of HIV clinical trials, within a low income setting, specifically, Uganda.

Study aim: The study aimed to explore how care is perceived and enacted in HIV drug trial closure in Uganda, by addressing the following specific objectives:

1. From the perspective of research participants and research staff, to explore the views, opinions and understandings of the ethical/legal/moral post-trial obligations in HIV drug trials.

2. From the perspective of research staff, to explore the experiences, practices and processes related to care for HIV drug post-trial participants in a low income setting.

3. From the perspective of research participants, to explore the experiences of care at trial closure.

4. From the perspective of research participants, to explore the experiences of transitioning from HIV research to care/community.

Methodology: The study adopted an interpretive-constructivist approach, and employed a social constructivist grounded theory methodology. The study included a total of 21 trial participants and 22 research staff from three different HIV drug trials, in two Ugandan research institutions. In addition, relevant ethical documents were reviewed from two of the included trials. Data collection and analysis followed the principles of grounded theory, with data collection and preliminary analysis being undertaken concurrently, and earlier data informing subsequent data collection. Data collection strategies included individual interviews, focus group discussions, and key informant interviews. Data was collected over a period of 10 months, from October 2014 to August, 2015. NVivo10 software was used to manage the data. Ethical approval was received from the University of Nottingham UK and The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) Uganda, Research Ethics Committees (RECs). The study was registered with the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST), as SS 3608. Permission to conduct the research was granted by the respective research institutions, and written informed consent was received from all respondents.

Findings: The findings showed that trial closure was often stressful for HIV positive participants in Uganda, and often resulted in negative psychological, socio-economic and health impacts. The negative effects mainly resulted from being stopped from accessing research related health care, which was of a significantly higher quality, and the inability to find alternative care to match the research standards. The main concerns which arose during the transition process of participants from HIV drug trials to usual care facilities include: the loss of the quality care and valued relationships in research, the need to find and link to alternative care facilities, the need to meet the increased financial needs, and worries about the effects/outcomes of research participation. These concerns demanded a range of additional care and supportive strategies from researchers (and other stakeholders).

A conceptual model, the model of ‘Facilitated Transition’ was developed, which summarises the findings of this research and provides a diagrammatic representation of the research findings, showing the links and relationships between the different elements. The research established that the transition of HIV positive trial participants from research to usual care facilities is a process, which appears to consist of three overlapping phases. These phases include: The pre-closure phase which represents events occurring before the actual trial closure but that underpin post-trial care, the trial closure phase which is the active phase of the closure, in which trial participants are prepared and exited from the trials, and the post-trial phase which represents the events occurring after trial participants have been linked to post-trial care facilities until 12 months later. These phases are demarcated by specific time points, which reflect how the transition process evolves, proceeds and concludes. At the various phases of the process, specific concerns (care needs) arise, being influenced by the participants’ previous care experiences and perceptions, plus their health and socio-economic positions. Specific actions are required to proactively facilitate trial participants during these phases. These actions are underpinned by the perceived ethical and moral responsibilities of the researchers, and are principally aimed at establishing a continuum of HIV care and treatment after trial closure, promoting positive care experiences for trial participants during the transition, and enabling the settlement and adaptation of trial participants to care in the public healthcare system.

Conclusions: This is the first known study to investigate perspectives on post-trial care among HIV positive trial participants in a low income setting, from those closely engaged in the research process. This study has provided novel contributions in the area of HIV research ethics and post-trial care in general. The study has established that trial closure involving HIV positive participants raises significant ethical, moral and practical concerns in the Ugandan context. The findings further demonstrated that current post-trial care practice does not meet all the care needs of the HIV positive trial participants. Existing ethical recommendations on post-trial care place an emphasis on the need to ensure access to trial drugs and provision of trial results, where as less attention is given to other important aspects, as revealed in this research. To meet the post-trial care needs of HIV positive participants in Uganda, a comprehensive trial closure strategy is required. In addition to the already existing aspects of post-trial care, the new strategy should aim to: (i) address the financial needs of trial participants through financial assessment, support and empowerment, (ii) provide practical support during linkage to post-trial care, and (iii) offer post-trial follow-up to monitor and support the participants. Implementing these recommendations may require involvement of various stakeholders, including researchers, ethics authorities, research funders and donors, public healthcare workers, families, trial participants, and the community.

Recommendations for future research: Further research is required to ascertain the rates of linkage to care, and to assess the health outcomes of post-trial participants following trial exit. In addition, a study to target the views of other stakeholders, such as the public healthcare facility workers, the family, and ethics authorities on post-trial care may be essential to understand better the ways in which to support HIV positive trial participants in Uganda. Furthermore, a longitudinal prospective study on a larger sample is required to test the model proposed in this research. And finally, there is need to deliberate more on the ethical and moral implications of financial benefits in HIV research involving HIV positive participants in a low income setting.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Evans, C.
Cox, K.J.
Keywords: Trial closure, Post-trial care, HIV, Trial participants, Uganda, Research staff, Research ethics
Subjects: W Medicine and related subjects (NLM Classification) > WC Communicable diseases
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Health Sciences
Item ID: 43339
Depositing User: Nalubega, Sylivia
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2017 13:38
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2017 22:50

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