Selecting patients for anti-retroviral care at a rural clinic in Lesotho: results from a case study analysis

Armstrong, Russell
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ABSTRACT The number of people in immediate need of anti-retroviral treatment (ART) in the southern African region continues to significantly exceed the capacity of health systems to provide it. Approaches to this complex rationing dilemma have evolved in different directions. The ethical concepts of fairness and equity have been suggested as a basis guiding rationing or patient selection processes for ART. The purpose of the study was to examine whether or not such concepts had relevance or operative value for a treatment team providing ART in rural Lesotho. Using an exploratory, single case study design the study found that while concepts of fairness and equity were relevant to the work of the treatment team, patient selection practices did not necessarily reflect what these concepts entail. The idea of fairness as a structured, formalized selection process did not figure in the approach to ART provision at St. Charles. A less formal, ‘first-come-first-served’ approach was adopted. While there was knowledge amongst some team members that social, economic or geographic conditions inhibit individuals and groups from gaining access to ART and that this was inequitable, it was felt that there was little they could do to try to mediate the impact of these conditions. The study findings pose importance questions about the approach to ART programming in resource constrained settings. The findings also question the relevance of trying to achieve fairness and equity when the gap between need for care and capacity to provide it remains so large.
patient selection, anti-retroviral treatment, Lesotho