HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an essential prevention strategy being scaled up for priority populations in Kenya, including for HIV serodiscordant couples. The COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges to PrEP rollout. We conducted a qualitative study of PrEP providers to understand how clinics adjusted PrEP delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since 2017, the Partners Scale-Up Project has integrated PrEP into 25 HIV clinics in Central and Western Kenya. We conducted qualitative interviews with 40 purposively sampled clinic personnel. We interviewed personnel once during the first pandemic wave (May-Aug 2020) and again after some decline in COVID-19 rates (Nov-Jan 2021). We analysed data using inductive memo-writing and summarized data by themes along the PrEP delivery cascade, guided by the Framework for Reporting Adaptation and Modifications (FRAME).
We interviewed 27 clinical officers, five nurses, four health records and information officers, and four counsellors from Central (n = 20) and Western (n = 20) Kenya. About half (n = 19) were female, with a median age of 32 (IQR: 29-34) and 2.3 years of experience delivering PrEP (IQR: 2-3). All participants reported clinic changes in PrEP demand creation and service delivery during the pandemic. Modifications occurred during PrEP implementation and sustainment phases, were partly reactive to the pandemic and also facilitated by interim Ministry of Health guidance on PrEP delivery during COVID, and were made by PrEP delivery teams, clients and clinic managers. Commonly reported modifications included dispensing multiple-month PrEP refills, intensifying phone-based client engagement and collaborating with other HIV clinics to ensure that clients with prolonged stays in other regions could continue to access PrEP. Some clinics also adopted practices to streamline visits, such as within clinical-room PrEP dispensing, pre-packing PrEP and task-shifting. Most providers liked these changes and hoped they would continue after the pandemic subsides.
COVID-19 served as a catalyst for PrEP delivery innovations in Kenya. HIV clinics successfully and rapidly adapted their PrEP demand creation, refill and retention strategies to promote PrEP uptake and effective use. These modified implementation strategies highlight opportunities to streamline the delivery of PrEP, as well as other HIV and chronic care services, and strengthen engagement with populations post-pandemic.

© 2023 The Authors. Journal of the International AIDS Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of the International AIDS Society.