Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 26, Issue 12, pp 1479–1491 | Cite as

A Systematic Review of Adherence to Cardiovascular Medications in Resource-Limited Settings

  • Ashna D. K. Bowry
  • William H. Shrank
  • Joy L. Lee
  • Margaret Stedman
  • Niteesh K. ChoudhryEmail author


Medications are a cornerstone of the prevention and management of cardiovascular disease. Long-term medication adherence has been the subject of increasing attention in the developed world but has received little attention in resource-limited settings, where the burden of disease is particularly high and growing rapidly. To evaluate prevalence and predictors of non-adherence to cardiovascular medications in this context, we systematically reviewed the peer-reviewed literature.


We performed an electronic search of Ovid Medline, Embase and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts from 1966 to August 2010 for studies that measured adherence to cardiovascular medications in the developing world. A DerSimonian-Laird random effects method was used to pool the adherence estimates across studies. Between-study heterogeneity was estimated with an I2 statistic and studies were stratified by disease group and the method by which adherence was assessed. Predictors of non-adherence were also examined.


Our search identified 2,353 abstracts, of which 76 studies met our inclusion criteria. Overall adherence was 57.5% (95% confidence interval [CI] 52.3% to 62.7%; I2 0.98) and was consistent across study subgroups. Studies that assessed adherence with pill counts reported higher levels of adherence (62.1%, 95% CI 49.7% to 73.8%; I2 0.83) than those using self-report (54.6%, 95% CI 47.7% to 61.5%; I2 0.93). Adherence did not vary by geographic region, urban vs. rural settings, or the complexity of a patient’s medication regimen. The most common predictors of poor adherence included poor knowledge, negative perceptions about medication, side effects and high medication costs.


Our study indicates that adherence to cardiovascular medication in resource-limited countries is sub-optimal and appears very similar to that observed in resource-rich countries. Efforts to improve adherence in resource-limited settings should be a priority given the burden of heart disease in this context, the central role of medications in their management, and the clinical and economic consequences of non-adherence.


cardiovascular medications cardiovascular disease compliance cardiovascular risk reduction 



This work was not funded by any external sources.

Conflict of Interest

None disclosed.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ashna D. K. Bowry
    • 1
    • 2
  • William H. Shrank
    • 1
  • Joy L. Lee
    • 1
  • Margaret Stedman
    • 1
  • Niteesh K. Choudhry
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, Department of MedicineBrigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Family and Community Medicine, St. Michael’s HospitalUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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