Same-day ART Initiation Versus Standard of Care After Positive HIV-test Result in Rural Lesotho (CASCADE)


Swiss Tropical and Public Health (TPH) Institute

Status and phase

Phase 3


HIV Infection


Other: Standard of care
Other: Same-day ART initiation

Study type


Funder types




Details and patient eligibility


The CASCADE-trial is a two-armed open-label randomized controlled trial conducted in rural Lesotho. Participants who were tested HIV-positive during community-based HIV testing and counseling campaigns are randomized to the intervention or control arm. Allocation is 1:1 with parallel assignment. Participants in the control arm follow the standard of care after a community-based HIV test result: They are referred to the nearest clinic where they will receive baseline laboratory testing and adherence counseling. After at least 2 clinic visits for adherence counseling they can start anti-retroviral therapy (ART). After ART-initiation they have to attend monthly follow-up at the clinic for drug refill. Individuals randomized to the intervention arm are proposed same day community-based ART initiation combined with less frequent follow-up visits. The primary outcomes are linkage to care at 3 months and viral suppression at 12 months after having tested HIV-positive during the community-based HIV testing and counseling campaigns.

Full description

A published version of the trial protocol can be downloaded at: Background In November 2014 the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) published the 90-90-90 targets for 2020 (UNAIDS 2014). The strategy aims at a massive scale-up in coverage of antiretroviral therapy (ART) among individuals infected with HIV. Based on accumulated evidence that viral suppression through successful ART reduces the risk of transmission(Cohen 2011), it is expected that - if achieved - the 90-90-90 targets would lead to a reduction of the yearly global HIV-incidence from 2 million currently to 500'000 by 2020 (Jones 2014). In 2015 two randomized controlled trials showed the benefit of starting ART as early as possible for infected individuals - even if CD4-cell counts were above the threshold of 500 cells/mL (TEMPRANO 2015; INSIGHT START 2015), leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to recommend that anyone infected with HIV should start ART as soon as possible after diagnosis (WHO 2015). A "seek-test-treat" strategy bears, however, unprecedented challenges in settings where HIV is hyperendemic and resources may be limited (Hull 2014; Delva 2015). The Continuum of Care Cascade ("the cascade") involves the steps HIV-infected individuals have to take in order to achieve viral suppression. It starts with knowing one's HIV status, continues with linkage to care after a positive HIV test, initiation of ART, uninterrupted continuation of ART (retention in care and adherence to medication), and ends with viral suppression (MacCarthy 2015). Already prior to announcement of the "seek-test-and-treat" approach, weaknesses in the cascade often hampered the effectiveness of HIV programs in resource-rich as well as resource-poor settings (Yehia 2015; Kratzer 2012). In Sub-Saharan Africa the care cascade is still far from the 90-90-90 targets with only 29% of infected individuals estimated to be on ART and virally suppressed in 2013. In order to achieve the UNAIDS targets innovative, effective, and practical approaches for improving the care cascade are thus urgently needed (Mills 2013; Piot 2015). Linkage to care after an initial positive HIV test has been described as the "Achilles' heel" of the care cascade (Nachega 2014). Most studies from Sub-Saharan Africa report linkage rates lower than 50% (Naik 2015; Parker 2015; Clouse 2013; Gerdts 2014). In a cluster-randomized trial comparing home-based with mobile-clinic HIV testing and counselling (HTC) in Lesotho, only 25% of newly tested HIV-positive individuals accessed care within one month after the test (Labhardt 2014). Several interventions have been shown to improve linkage to care, such as point-of-care CD4 count directly after a positive HIV test, immediate start of cotrimoxazole prophylaxis, incentives such as food-assistance, extended post-test counselling during home-visits, or community-workers accompaniment. However, controlled studies testing programmatic intervention packages for improving linkage to care are still largely lacking (Okeke 2014; Govindasamy 2014). Furthermore, it must be noted that interventions, such as patient-accompaniment or food support are resource intensive and may work in small NGO-driven projects, but are not sustainable on a larger scale (Posse 2013). In a systematic review addressing barriers for linkage to care, transport cost and distance were the most frequently cited factors for patients not enrolling in care after a positive HIV test (Govindasamy 2012). Objective of the trial This CASCADE trial tests the effectiveness of same day home-based ART initiation after a positive HIV test in combination with a reduction of the frequency of follow-up visits to the clinic as a pragmatic and programmatically feasible approach to improve linkage to care, retention in care, and viral suppression. It is a two-armed open-label randomized controlled trial. Allocation is 1:1 with parallel assignment. The intervention is targeted to individuals who tested HIV-positive during community-based HTC. Recruitment and participants Participants will be recruited during community-based HTC campaigns in the district of Butha-Buthe, in northern Lesotho. Home-based HTC campaigns will be conducted for an anticipated period of 3 months beginning at the end of February in the catchment areas of six health care facilities - four nurse-led health centers, one missionary and one public hospital. Three teams consisting of 4 lay counsellors, each supervised by one professional counsellor and a nurse visit all households in randomly pre-selected areas proposing HTC to all household members. If a household member tests HIV positive during the HTC campaign and eligible for the CASCADE trial, he/she will be randomized to one of the two arms.


276 patients




18+ years old


No Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion criteria

  • HIV infection newly diagnosed during community-based HTC-campaigns
  • Never been on triple-ART
  • Lives and/or works in the district of Butha-Buthe and declares to seek follow-up at one of the 6 health facilities involved in the study
  • Signed written informed consent

Exclusion criteria

  • Pregnant or breast-feeding
  • Already enrolled in chronic care for another disease, such as tuberculosis or diabetes
  • Clinical WHO-stage 4 or active tuberculosis
  • Positive cryptococcal antigen test

Trial design

Primary purpose

Health Services Research



Interventional model

Parallel Assignment


None (Open label)

276 participants in 2 patient groups

Standard of care
Active Comparator group
Standard of care in Lesotho. ART-initiation after at least two clinic visits for pre-ART counseling and monthly follow-up visits at the clinic thereafter.
Other: Standard of care
Same-day ART initiation with less frequent follow-up visits
Experimental group
Proposition of same-day ART initiation with less frequent follow-up visits thereafter.
Other: Same-day ART initiation

Trial contacts and locations



Data sourced from

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