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Patient and healthcare provider perspectives on adherence with antihypertensive medications: an exploratory qualitative study in Tanzania

Edward A, Campbell B, Manase F and Appel L
BMC Health Service Research

Background: Poor medication adherence is an extraordinarily common problem worldwide that contributes to inadequate control of many chronic diseases, including Hypertension (HT). Globally, less than 14% of the estimated 1.4 billion patients with HT achieve optimal control. A myriad of barriers, across patient, healthcare provider, and system levels, contributes to poor medication adherence. Few studies have explored the reasons for poor medication adherence in Tanzania and other African countries.

A qualitative study applying grounded theory principles was conducted in the catchment area of two semi-urban clinics in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to determine the perceived barriers to HT medication adherence. Ten key informant interviews were conducted with healthcare providers who manage HT patients. Patients diagnosed with HT (SBP ≥ 140 and DBP ≥ 90), were randomly selected from patient registers, and nine focus group discussions were conducted with a total 34 patients. Inductive codes were developed separately for the two groups, prior to analyzing key thematic ideas with smaller sub-categories.

Affordability of antihypertensive medication and access to care emerged as the most important barriers. Fee subsidies for treatment and medication, along with health insurance, were mentioned as potential solutions to enhance access and adherence. Patient education and quality of physician counseling were mentioned by both providers and patients as major barriers to medication adherence, as most patients were unaware of their HT and often took medications only when symptomatic. Use of local herbal medicines was mentioned as an alternative to medications, as they were inexpensive, available, and culturally acceptable. Patient recommendations for improving adherence included community-based distribution of refills, SMS text reminders, and family support. Reliance on religious leaders over healthcare providers emerged as a potential means to promote adherence in some discussions.

Effective management of hypertensive patients for medication adherence will require several context-specific measures. These include policy measures addressing financial access, with medication subsidies for the poor and accessible distribution systems for medication refill; physician measures to improve health provider counseling for patient centric care; and patient-level strategies with reminders for medication adherence in low resource settings.