Articles tagged as "Biomedical interventions and prevention tools"

HIV risk – where do perception and reality overlap?

Editor’s notes: Whereas pregnancy occurs quite frequently after unprotected sex, as discussed in the previous commentary, HIV is not transmitted so easily.  In their guidance on PrEP in 2015, WHO refers to substantial risk at a level of around 3% per year, which of course means that 97% of people in that risk group do not become HIV-positive in that year.  However, risk can only be measured at a group level.  Not only does this mean that there may be unrecognized risk factors, but also at the individual level we seldom calculate a mathematical risk of something happening to us.  So a better understanding of how people perceive their risk and how this relates to their actual likelihood of becoming HIV-positive is important for many aspects of HIV prevention and behaviour change communication.  Among gay men and other men who have sex with men in Europe, Australia and the US, self-identification, combined with a few screening questions could distinguish men at very high risk for whom PrEP is an obvious choice.  Adherence in this group tends to be good and the benefits far outweigh the costs, both financial and other.

In other populations, the equation is not so straightforward.  People at lower risk of HIV may still choose to take PrEP (or use other prevention technologies in the future) but the financial costs of preventing new HIV infections will always be higher for people who adhere less and are at lower risk.  Two papers this month consider aspects of this question.  Haberer et al. considered the overlap between PrEP adherence and risky periods within the Partners Demonstration Project, in Kenya and Uganda.  In this project, serodiscordant couples were recruited and offered PrEP if they met criteria that showed that the seronegative partner had a risk of seroconversion modelled at 3-4% per year.  Thus the seronegative population as a whole was at substantial risk.  The authors then further classified those periods where the HIV-positive participant had not yet had six months of ART and the couple had not used condoms all the time as high risk.  Prevention-effective adherence was defined as taking sufficient PrEP tablets to be effective during the periods when sex could be considered high risk.  The authors found that, reassuringly, during 75% of the time periods in their study, participants should have been protected.  This helps to explain the overall high effectiveness observed in the study and suggests that in this context people make rational decisions about when to adhere to their PrEP and when they do not need to worry so much.

The study contrasts somewhat with a study from South Africa by Maughan-Brown and Venkataramani.  The authors were able to use some of the most detailed information to have been collected on perceived risk of HIV infection among participants in the Cape Area Panel Study which ran from 2002 – 2009.  Detailed questionnaires on risk perception and behaviours were collected in successive surveys.  In the final survey in 2009, HIV testing was included which allowed the authors to test whether perception of risk translated into HIV seroconversion.  Their conclusions are that perception of risk did NOT translate into actual risk.  They acknowledge that perceptions may have changed over the ensuing years but it is a cautionary study that challenges our assumptions that people who consider themselves at risk are the most likely beneficiaries of prevention efforts.  On the other hand, it is impossible to offer prevention technology to people who do not consider themselves at risk.  The challenge is to find communication and delivery systems that will encourage the perfect combination of people who are genuinely at risk, people who want to use the technology and people who will adhere to it faithfully.  A key determinant remains the costs.  Focusing on this perfect combination maximizes the cost-effectiveness of prevention technologies, but that should not preclude allowing people who want to use it to do so at their own cost.

Some potential technologies are still very expensive.  Infusions of broadly neutralizing antibodies are being tested in the Antibody Mediated Prevention (AMP) study in order to define the level and duration of protection of such a strategy.  This will help design future vaccine strategies or could be used for specific protection needs if the cost of antibody production falls.  So, the study from Sok et al. is exciting if still a long way from the field.  Until now, generating broadly neutralizing antibodies in the laboratory has proved challenging.  Standard approaches require multiple sequential immunogens to be administered to drive the antibody maturation process in rabbits or macaques, followed by purification of the relevant monoclonal antibody.  However, cows have a rather different antibody configuration, and in this study, four cows developed useful cross-clade coverage after regular boosts with just a single immunogen.  Of particular interest was the fact that the antibody response continued to evolve so that the later antibodies showed broader activity, despite no additional immunogens.  During the Paris IAS HIV Science conference, Dr Fauci foresaw a future where people living with HIV might be maintained in long-term remission without ART by regular doses of powerful antibodies possibly given subcutaneously.  Science fiction or a realistic avenue?

Finally, we need to remember that some risk factors for HIV transmission are only just being elucidated.  There has been considerable interest in the vaginal microbiome.  Women whose vaginas are largely colonized by lactobacilli are less likely to become HIV-positive, whereas women with bacterial vaginosis, or dysbiosis are more likely to.  Liu et al. have study the microbiome of the foreskin in uncircumcised men in the control arm of one of the large randomized trials of voluntary medical male circumcision in Uganda.  The authors show that men in whom they could demonstrate bacterial species such as prevotella, dialister, finegoldia, and peptoniphilus were significantly more likely to become HIV-positive on follow up than men who did not have these anaerobic microorganisms.  Furthermore, they point out that these same bacteria can be passed on to the woman, where they may also cause colonization and thus transmit an increased susceptibility to the female partner too.  The challenge is that while a simple course of antibiotics may kill the relevant organisms in both men and women, recurrence is common.  Microbiomes are an essential part of sexual and reproductive health.  Another up and coming area for research. 

 

Alignment of adherence and risk for HIV acquisition in a demonstration project of pre-exposure prophylaxis among HIV serodiscordant couples in Kenya and Uganda: a prospective analysis of prevention-effective adherence.

Haberer JE, Kidoguchi L, Heffron R, Mugo N, Bukusi E, Katabira E, Asiimwe S, Thomas KK, Celum C, Baeten JM. J Int AIDS Soc. 2017 Jul 25;20(1):1-9. doi: 10.7448/IAS.20.1.21842.

Introduction: Adherence is essential for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to protect against HIV acquisition, but PrEP use need not be life-long. PrEP is most efficient when its use is aligned with periods of risk - a concept termed prevention-effective adherence. The objective of this paper is to describe prevention-effective adherence and predictors of adherence within an open-label delivery project of integrated PrEP and antiretroviral therapy (ART) among HIV serodiscordant couples in Kenya and Uganda (the Partners Demonstration Project).

Methods: We offered PrEP to HIV-uninfected participants until the partner living with HIV had taken ART for ≥6 months (a strategy known as "PrEP as a bridge to ART"). The level of adherence sufficient to protect against HIV was estimated in two ways: ≥4 and ≥6 doses/week (per electronic monitoring). Risk for HIV acquisition was considered high if the couple reported sex with <100% condom use before six months of ART, low if they reported sex but had 100% condom use and/or six months of ART and very low if no sex was reported. We assessed prevention-effective adherence by cross-tabulating PrEP use with HIV risk and used multivariable regression models to assess predictors of ≥4 and ≥6 doses/week.

Results: A total of 985 HIV-uninfected participants initiated PrEP; 67% were male, median age was twenty-nine years, and 67% reported condomless sex in the month before enrolment. An average of ≥4 doses and ≥6 doses/week were taken in 81% and 67% of participant-visits, respectively. Adherence sufficient to protect against HIV acquisition was achieved in 75-88% of participant-visits with high HIV risk. The strongest predictor of achieving sufficient adherence was reporting sex with the study partner who was living with HIV; other statistically significant predictors included no concerns about daily PrEP, pregnancy or pregnancy intention, females aged >25 years, older male partners and desire for relationship success. Predictors of not achieving sufficient adherence were no longer being a couple, delayed PrEP initiation, >6 months of follow-up, ART use >6 months by the partner living with HIV and problem alcohol use.

Conclusions: Over three-quarters of participant-visits by HIV-uninfected partners in serodiscordant couples achieved prevention-effective adherence with PrEP. Greater adherence was observed during months with HIV risk and the strongest predictor of achieving sufficient adherence was sexual activity.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

 

Accuracy and determinants of perceived HIV risk among young women in South Africa.

Maughan-Brown B, Venkataramani AS. BMC Public Health. 2017 Jul 21;18(1):42. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4593-0.

Background: HIV risk perceptions are a key determinant of HIV testing. The success of efforts to achieve an AIDS-free generation - including reaching the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target - thus depends critically on the content of these perceptions. We examined the accuracy of HIV-risk perceptions and their correlates among young black women in South Africa, a group with one of the highest HIV incidence rates worldwide.

Methods: We used individual-level longitudinal data from the Cape Area Panel Study (CAPS) from 2005 to 2009 on black African women (20-30 years old in 2009) to assess the association between perceived HIV-risk in 2005 and the probability of testing HIV-positive four years later. We then estimated multivariable logistic regressions using cross-sectional data from the 2009 CAPS wave to assess the relationship between risk perceptions and a wide range of demographic, sexual behaviour and psychosocial covariates of perceived HIV-risk.

Results: We found that the proportion testing HIV-positive in 2009 was almost identical across perceived risk categories in 2005 (no, small, moderate, great) (χ 2 = 1.43, p = 0.85). Consistent with epidemiologic risk factors, the likelihood of reporting moderate or great HIV-risk perceptions was associated with condom-use (aOR: 0.57; 95% CI: 0.36, 0.89; p < 0.01); having ≥3 lifetime partners (aOR: 2.38, 95% CI: 1.53, 3.73; p < 0.01); knowledge of one's partner's HIV status (aOR: 0.67; 95% CI: 0.43, 1.07; p = 0.09); and being in an age-disparate partnership (aOR: 1.73; 95% CI: 1.09, 2.76; p = 0.02). However, the likelihood of reporting moderate or great self-perceived risk did not vary with sexually transmitted disease history and respondent age, both strong predictors of HIV risk in the study setting. Risk perceptions were associated with stigmatising attitudes (aOR: 0.53; 95% CI: 0.26, 1.09; p = 0.09); prior HIV testing (aOR: 0.21; 95% CI: 0.13, 0.35; p < 0.01); and having heard that male circumcision is protective (aOR: 0.38; 95% CI: 0.22, 0.64; p < 0.01).

Conclusions: Results indicate that HIV-risk perceptions are inaccurate. Our findings suggest that this inaccuracy stems from HIV-risk perceptions being driven by an incomplete understanding of epidemiological risk and being influenced by a range of psycho-social factors not directly related to sexual behaviour. Consequently, new interventions are needed to align perceived and actual HIV risk.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

 

Rapid elicitation of broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV by immunization in cows.

Sok D, Le KM, Vadnais M, Saye-Francisco KL, Jardine JG, Torres JL, Berndsen ZT, Kong L, Stanfield R, Ruiz J, Ramos A, Liang CH, Chen PL, Criscitiello MF, Mwangi W, Wilson IA, Ward AB, Smider VV, Burton DR. Nature. 2017 Aug 3;548(7665):108-111. doi: 10.1038/nature23301. Epub 2017 Jul 20.

No immunogen to date has reliably elicited broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV in humans or animal models. Advances in the design of immunogens that antigenically mimic the HIV envelope glycoprotein (Env), such as the soluble cleaved trimer BG505 SOSIP, have improved the elicitation of potent isolate-specific antibody responses in rabbits and macaques, but so far failed to induce broadly neutralizing antibodies. One possible reason for this failure is that the relevant antibody repertoires are poorly suited to target the conserved epitope regions on Env, which are somewhat occluded relative to the exposed variable epitopes. Here, to test this hypothesis, we immunized four cows with BG505 SOSIP. The antibody repertoire of cows contains long third heavy chain complementary determining regions (HCDR3) with an ultralong subset that can reach more than 70 amino acids in length. Remarkably, BG505 SOSIP immunization resulted in rapid elicitation of broad and potent serum antibody responses in all four cows. Longitudinal serum analysis for one cow showed the development of neutralization breadth (20%, n = 117 cross-clade isolates) in 42 days and 96% breadth (n = 117) at 381 days. A monoclonal antibody isolated from this cow harboured an ultralong HCDR3 of 60 amino acids and neutralized 72% of cross-clade isolates (n = 117) with a potent median IC50 of 0.028 μg ml-1. Breadth was elicited with a single trimer immunogen and did not require additional envelope diversity. Immunization of cows may provide an avenue to rapidly generate antibody prophylactics and therapeutics to address disease agents that have evolved to avoid human antibody responses.

Abstract access  

 

Penile anaerobic dysbiosis as a risk factor for HIV infection.

Liu CM, Prodger JL, Tobian AAR, Abraham AG, Kigozi G, Hungate BA, Aziz M, Nalugoda F, Sariya S, Serwadda D, Kaul R, Gray RH, Price LB. MBio. 2017 Jul 25;8(4). pii: e00996-17. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00996-17.

Sexual transmission of HIV requires exposure to the virus and infection of activated mucosal immune cells, specifically CD4+ T cells or dendritic cells. The foreskin is a major site of viral entry in heterosexual transmission of HIV. Although the probability of acquiring HIV from a sexual encounter is low, the risk varies even after adjusting for known HIV risk factors. The genital microbiome may account for some of the variability in risk by interacting with the host immune system to trigger inflammatory responses that mediate the infection of mucosal immune cells. We conducted a case-control study of uncircumcised participants nested within a randomized-controlled trial of male circumcision in Rakai, Uganda. Using penile (coronal sulcus) swabs collected by study personnel at trial enrollment, we characterized the penile microbiome by sequencing and real-time PCR and cytokine levels by electrochemiluminescence assays. The absolute abundances of penile anaerobes at enrollment were associated with later risk of HIV seroconversion, with a 10-fold increase in Prevotella, Dialister, Finegoldia, and Peptoniphilus increasing the odds of HIV acquisition by 54 to 63%, after controlling for other known HIV risk factors. Increased abundances of anaerobic bacteria were also correlated with increased cytokines, including interleukin-8, which can trigger an inflammatory response that recruits susceptible immune cells, suggesting a mechanism underlying the increased risk. These same anaerobic genera can be shared between heterosexual partners and are associated with increased HIV acquisition in women, pointing to anaerobic dysbiosis in the genital microbiome and an accompanying inflammatory response as a novel, independent, and transmissible risk factor for HIV infection.

Importance: We found that uncircumcised men who became infected by HIV during a 2-year clinical trial had higher levels of penile anaerobes than uncircumcised men who remained HIV negative. We also found that having higher levels of penile anaerobes was also associated with higher production of immune factors that recruit HIV target cells to the foreskin, suggesting that anaerobes may modify HIV risk by triggering inflammation. These anaerobes are known to be shared by heterosexual partners and are associated with HIV risk in women. Therefore, penile anaerobes may be a sexually transmissible risk factor for HIV, and modifying the penile microbiome could potentially reduce HIV acquisition in both men and women.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

 

 [SC1]Unsure if this matters as they mean the same – but the guidelines literally refer to “substantial risk” which is what you also use in line 8 of the para that follows

Africa
Kenya, South Africa, Uganda
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Key populations need so much more than HIV-specific services – involve them at every stage of planning and programming

Editor’s notes: This month sees a welcome set of papers covering female sex workers in West Africa; gay men and other men who have sex with men in the Middle East and in East Africa; people who inject drugs in the USA and eastern Europe.

Sex work is legal in Cote d’Ivoire although soliciting and pandering are criminalized, which creates legal barriers to practicing sex work.  Legalization does not necessarily prevent widespread abuse of power. Lyons and colleagues recruited 466 female sex workers in Abidjan through a respondent driven sampling approach.  A structured interview and rapid HIV test was performed.  Around 11% of the women were found to be living with HIV and it is clear that there are large unmet needs for HIV-specific services.  Only one quarter of those living with HIV reported that they knew their status and of these, only a few were already taking ART.  However, the focus of this study was on violence, both physical and sexual, which was alarmingly common, with around 54% of women reporting physical violence and 43% sexual violence.  The violence was most often perpetrated by spouses and boyfriends as well as by paying customers.  Other sex workers, pimps or managers and uniformed officers were also responsible for violence, both physical and sexual.  16% of women said that they had been tortured.  Collecting reliable data on sensitive areas with vulnerable populations is challenging.  The sampling method may introduce biases, and the interviews may lead to reported behaviours to “please” the interviewer.  However, this study included major efforts to work with the community of sex workers and their networks, and considerable trust has been built, so the results seem credible.  The authors call for structural interventions and policy reforms that have little to do with HIV directly, but would lead to an environment where HIV and other harms were greatly reduced.  There is also a direct need to ensure that sex workers have good access to HIV and other sexual and reproductive health services.

People who inject drugs also have many needs besides HIV services.  In the USA, the number of people who inject drugs is increasing.  This has led to a rising number of deaths from opioid overdose (around 30 000 in 2014), as well as increased HIV transmission, which makes the headlines of the news, when it occurs in settings where HIV is otherwise rare.  Cost-effective HIV prevention programmes for people who inject drugs are essential to the long-term health outcomes for this population and other high-risk groups in the USA.  Bernard and colleagues used a mathematical model and economic analysis to identify the most cost-effective interventions for HIV prevention programmes for people who inject drugs in the USA.

The authors found that under many likely assumptions about potential scale up, the best buy was always to provide opioid agonist therapy, which reduces injecting frequency and results in multiple, immediate quality-of-life improvements.  Needle and syringe exchange programmes are less expensive, but in these models produced fewer benefits, making them the next most cost-effective intervention, alone or in combination. PrEP was not likely to be cost-effective in this population except in the very highest risk settings.  This is in line with the values and preference expressed by many people who use drugs around the world.  The priority should be for “standard” harm reduction approaches, which will reduce HIV transmission, but have far wider benefits on the health and well-being of drug users and their communities.

Relatively little research is carried out with key populations in the Middle East.  Heimer and colleagues also used respondent driven sampling (with the same potential biases as above) to recruit 292 men who have sex with men in Beirut.  Although one quarter of the participants had been born in Syria and moved recently to Lebanon, the sampling method does reduce the precision of this estimate.  Of 36 people living with HIV identified, 32 were on HIV treatment, which is encouraging.  If the 32 on treatment were virally suppressed, the prevalence of “infectious HIV” in the survey was around 1.4%.  As we move forward into the viral load era, notions of risk for sexual behaviour will change, and we need to think about explicit descriptions such as “condomless sex” rather than simply referring to “unprotected sex”.  As stated above, the benefits of condoms for other sexually transmitted infections as well as for HIV need to be emphasized and the full range of ARV-based prevention made available in order to minimize the epidemic of HIV among gay men and other men who have sex with men in Lebanon and beyond.

The dynamics of the HIV epidemic in Ukraine are shifting.  Increasingly sexual transmission is becoming more common, and transmission through injecting drug use reducing.  Fearnhill and colleagues’ study of phylogenetics and recent infections among 876 newly diagnosed people living with HIV in Kiev highlights these trends.  The study also demonstrates plenty of uncertainty and suggests that the stigma associated with both injecting drug use and with gay men and other men having sex with men may lead to significant under-reporting of both in traditional epidemiological surveillance.  Although phylogenetics cannot prove misclassification, it is highly suggestive when large clusters of HIV from known gay men and other men who have sex with men include no women, but do include other men, who self-report to be heterosexual.  Transmission was most common among gay men and other men who have sex with men, and from those with recent infections.  HIV strains from women often cluster with those from people who inject drugs.  In a complex and dynamic environment with overlapping risk factors for HIV infection, phylogenetics adds a useful lens through which to examine what is happening.  Yet again, the challenge is to translate more granular understanding of the epidemics into clear public health policy and practice.

What do men who have sex with men in Kenya think about participating in HIV prevention research, such as a vaccine trial?  Doshi and colleagues used a social network-based approach to conduct in-depth interviews with 70 gay men and other men who have sex with men.  Here is what some of them said:

“He [the potential study participant] keeps hearing there is a research [study] that is starting, that there is money – one thousand or two, three thousand – he will run for the money…because it is someone’s life you have to be sure of what is going on…. You run for the better option because research comes in every type and researchers are everywhere in town.”

“Ok, you know most of the research coming to Kenya starts with MSM. Those are the ones that are tested on first so if there are side effects, those will be the first victims”

“It will benefit many of us…on my side…because sometimes I’m drunk I go out and meet people and they tell me they do not use condom…or… I’m drunk, I don’t know myself and I have already come to the bed with someone. Even I don’t know what he will do to me, if he will do me with a condom or if he will do me without a condom. Now the [HIV] vaccine…will be beneficial to me and the whole community”

This is a rich paper, giving insights into the reasons that people do or do not want to participate in vaccine trials.  It raises plenty of ethical questions about the balance between self-interest, altruism, coercion and consent.  It is encouraging that on the whole most participants saw the potential benefits to the wider community and would consider volunteering their time despite the associated risks.  Their perceptions were also coloured by previous research studies and how researchers had met their responsibilities for the care and well-being of their participants.  A good advertisement for the UNAIDS-AVAC Good Participatory Practice guidance!

Physical and sexual violence affecting female sex workers in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire: prevalence, and the relationship with the work environment, HIV, and access to health services

Lyons CE, Grosso A, Drame FM, Ketende S, Diouf D, Ba I, Shannon K, Ezouatchi R, Bamba A, Kouame A, Baral S. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 May 1;75(1):9-17. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001310.

Background: Violence is a human rights violation, and an important measure in understanding HIV among female sex workers (FSW). However, limited data exist regarding correlates of violence among FSW in Côte d'Ivoire. Characterizing prevalence and determinants of violence and the relationship with structural risks for HIV can inform development and implementation of comprehensive HIV prevention and treatment programs.

Methods: FSW > 18 years were recruited through respondent driven sampling (RDS) in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. In total, 466 participants completed a socio-behavioral questionnaire and HIV testing. Prevalence estimates of violence were calculated using crude and RDS-adjusted estimates. Relationships between structural risk factors and violence were analyzed using χ2 tests and multivariable logistic regression.

Results: The prevalence of physical violence was 53.6% (250/466), and sexual violence was 43.2% (201/465) among FSW in this study. Police refusal of protection was associated with physical (adjusted Odds Ratio [aOR]: 2.8; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.7 to 4.4) and sexual violence (aOR: 3.0; 95% CI: 1.9 to 4.8). Blackmail was associated with physical (aOR: 2.5; 95% CI: 1.5 to 4.2) and sexual violence (aOR: 2.4; 95% CI: 1.5 to 4.0). Physical violence was associated with fear (aOR: 2.2; 95% CI: 1.3 to 3.1) and avoidance of seeking health services (aOR: 2.3; 95% CI: 1.5 to 3.8).

Conclusions: Violence is prevalent among FSW in Abidjan and associated with features of the work environment and access to care. These relationships highlight layers of rights violations affecting FSW, underscoring the need for structural interventions and policy reforms to improve work environments, and to address police harassment, stigma, and rights violations to reduce violence and improve access to HIV interventions.

Abstract

Estimation of the cost-effectiveness of HIV prevention portfolios for people who inject drugs in the United States: a model-based analysis

Bernard CL, Owens DK, Goldhaber-Fiebert JD, Brandeau ML. PLoS Med. 2017 May 24;14(5):e1002312 doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002312. eCollection 2017 May.

Background: The risks of HIV transmission associated with the opioid epidemic make cost-effective programs for people who inject drugs (PWID) a public health priority. Some of these programs have benefits beyond prevention of HIV-a critical consideration given that injection drug use is increasing across most United States demographic groups. To identify high-value HIV prevention program portfolios for US PWID, we consider combinations of four interventions with demonstrated efficacy: opioid agonist therapy (OAT), needle and syringe programs (NSPs), HIV testing and treatment (Test & Treat), and oral HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Methods and Findings: We adapted an empirically calibrated dynamic compartmental model and used it to assess the discounted costs (in 2015 US dollars), health outcomes (HIV infections averted, change in HIV prevalence, and discounted quality-adjusted life years [QALYs]), and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) of the four prevention programs, considered singly and in combination over a 20-y time horizon. We obtained epidemiologic, economic, and health utility parameter estimates from the literature, previously published models, and expert opinion. We estimate that expansions of OAT, NSPs, and Test & Treat implemented singly up to 50% coverage levels can be cost-effective relative to the next highest coverage level (low, medium, and high at 40%, 45%, and 50%, respectively) and that OAT, which we assume to have immediate and direct health benefits for the individual, has the potential to be the highest value investment, even under scenarios where it prevents fewer infections than other programs. Although a model-based analysis can provide only estimates of health outcomes, we project that, over 20 y, 50% coverage with OAT could avert up to 22 000 (95% CI: 5200, 46 000) infections and cost US$18 000 (95% CI: US$14 000, US$24 000) per QALY gained, 50% NSP coverage could avert up to 35 000 (95% CI: 8900, 43 000) infections and cost US$25 000 (95% CI: US$7000, US$76 000) per QALY gained, 50% Test & Treat coverage could avert up to 6700 (95% CI: 1200, 16 000) infections and cost US$27 000 (95% CI: US$15 000, US$48 000) per QALY gained, and 50% PrEP coverage could avert up to 37 000 (22 000, 58 000) infections and cost US$300 000 (95% CI: US$162 000, US$667 000) per QALY gained. When coverage expansions are allowed to include combined investment with other programs and are compared to the next best intervention, the model projects that scaling OAT coverage up to 50%, then scaling NSP coverage to 50%, then scaling Test & Treat coverage to 50% can be cost-effective, with each coverage expansion having the potential to cost less than US$50 000 per QALY gained relative to the next best portfolio. In probabilistic sensitivity analyses, 59% of portfolios prioritized the addition of OAT and 41% prioritized the addition of NSPs, while PrEP was not likely to be a priority nor a cost-effective addition. Our findings are intended to be illustrative, as data on achievable coverage are limited and, in practice, the expansion scenarios considered may exceed feasible levels. We assumed independence of interventions and constant returns to scale. Extensive sensitivity analyses allowed us to assess parameter sensitivity, but the use of a dynamic compartmental model limited the exploration of structural sensitivities.

Conclusions: We estimate that OAT, NSPs, and Test & Treat, implemented singly or in combination, have the potential to effectively and cost-effectively prevent HIV in US PWID. PrEP is not likely to be cost-effective in this population, based on the scenarios we evaluated. While local budgets or policy may constrain feasible coverage levels for the various interventions, our findings suggest that investments in combined prevention programs can substantially reduce HIV transmission and improve health outcomes among PWID.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

HIV risk, prevalence, and access to care among men who have sex with men in Lebanon

Heimer R, Barbour R, Khoury D, Crawford FW, Shebl FM, Aaraj E, Khoshnood K. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2017 Jun 29 doi: 10.1089/AID.2016.0326. [Epub ahead of print].

Objective: Little is known about HIV prevalence and risk among men who have sex with men in much of the Middle East, including Lebanon. Recent national level surveillance has suggested an increase in HIV prevalence concentrated among men in Lebanon. We undertook a biobehavioral study to provide direct evidence for the spread of HIV.

Design: MSM were recruited by respondent driven sampling, interviewed, and offered HIV testing anonymously at sites located in Beirut, Lebanon from October 2014 through February 2015. The interview questionnaire was designed to obtain information on participants' sociodemographic situation, sexual behaviors, alcohol and drug use, health, HIV testing and care, experiences of stigma and discrimination. Individuals not reporting an HIV diagnosis were offered optional, anonymous HIV testing.

Results: Among the 292 MSM recruited, we identified 36 cases of HIV (12.3%). A quarter of the MSM were born in Syria and recently arrived in Lebanon. Condom use was uncommon; 65% reported unprotected sex with other men. Group sex encounters were reported by 22% of participants. Among the 32 individuals already aware of their infection, 30 were in treatment and receiving antiretroviral therapy.

Conclusions: HIV prevalence was substantially increased over past estimates. Efforts to control future increases will have to focus on reducing specific risk behaviors and experienced stigma and abuse, especially among Syrian refugees.

Abstract

A phylogenetic analysis of HIV-1 sequences in Kiev: findings among key populations

Fearnhill E, Gourlay A, Malyuta R, Simmons R, Ferns RB, Grant P, Nastouli E, Karnets I, Murphy G, Medoeva A, Kruglov Y, Yurchenko A, Porter K; CASCADE Collaboration in EuroCoord. Clin Infec Dis 2017 May 29: doi: 10.1093/cid/cix499. [Epub ahead of print].

Background: The HIV epidemic in Ukraine has been driven by a rapid rise among people who inject drugs, but recent studies have shown an increase through sexual transmission.

Methods: Protease and RT sequences from 876 new HIV diagnoses (April 2013 - March 2015) in Kiev were linked to demographic data. We constructed phylogenetic trees for 794 subtype A1 and 64 subtype B sequences and identified factors associated with transmission clustering. Clusters were defined as ≥ 2 sequences, ≥ 80% local branch support and maximum genetic distance of all sequence pairs in the cluster ≤ 2.5%. Recent infection was determined through the LAg avidity EIA assay. Sequences were analysed for transmitted drug resistance (TDR) mutations.

Results: 30% of subtype A1 and 66% of subtype B sequences clustered. Large clusters (maximum 11 sequences) contained mixed risk groups. In univariate analysis, clustering was significantly associated with subtype B compared to A1 (OR 4.38 [95% CI 2.56-7.50]), risk group (OR 5.65 [3.27-9.75]) for men who have sex with men compared to heterosexual males, recent, compared to long-standing, infection (OR 2.72 [1.64-4.52]), reported sex work contact (OR 1.93 [1.07-3.47]) and younger age groups compared to age ≥36 (OR 1.83 [1.10-3.05] for age ≤25). Females were associated with lower odds of clustering than heterosexual males (OR 0.49 [0.31-0.77]). In multivariate analysis, risk group, subtype and age group were independently associated with clustering (p<0.001, p=0.007 and p=0.033). 18 sequences (2.1%) indicated evidence of TDR.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest high levels of transmission and bridging between risk groups.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Contextualizing willingness to participate: recommendations for engagement, recruitment & enrolment of Kenyan MSM in future HIV prevention trials

Doshi M, Avery L, Kaddu RP, Gichuhi M, Gakii G, du Plessis E, Dutta S, Khan S, Kimani J, Lorway RR. BMC Public Health. 2017 May 18;17(1):469 doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4395-4.

Background: The HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men (MSM) continues to expand globally. The addition of an efficacious, prophylactic vaccine to combination prevention offers immense hope, particularly in low- and middle- income countries which bear the greatest global impact. However, in these settings, there is a paucity of vaccine preparedness studies that specifically pertain to MSM. Our study is the first vaccine preparedness study among MSM and female sex workers (FSWs) in Kenya. In this paper, we explore willingness of Kenyan MSM to participate in HIV vaccine efficacy trials. In addition to individual and socio-cultural motivators and barriers that influence willingness to participate (WTP), we explore the associations or linkages that participants draw between their experiences with or knowledge of medical research both generally and within the context of HIV/AIDS, their perceptions of a future HIV vaccine and their willingness to participate in HIV vaccine trials.

Methods: Using a social network-based approach, we employed snowball sampling to recruit MSM into the study from Kisumu, Mombasa, and Nairobi. A field team consisting of seven community researchers conducted in-depth interviews with a total of 70 study participants. A coding scheme for transcribed and translated data was developed and the data was then analysed thematically.

Results: Most participants felt that an HIV vaccine would bring a number of benefits to self, as well as to MSM communities, including quelling personal fears related to HIV acquisition and reducing/eliminating stigma and discrimination shouldered by their community. Willingness to participate in HIV vaccine efficacy trials was highly motivated by various forms of altruism. Specific researcher responsibilities centred on safe-guarding the rights and well-being of participants were also found to govern WTP, as were reflections on the acceptability of a future preventive HIV vaccine.

Conclusion: Strategies for engagement of communities and recruitment of trial volunteers for HIV vaccine efficacy trials should not only be grounded in and informed by investigations into individual and socio-cultural factors that impact WTP, but also by explorations of participants' existing experiences with or knowledge of medical research as well as attitudes and acceptance towards a future HIV vaccine.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

Africa, Asia, Northern America
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How do we know which activities make a difference to HIV prevention?

Editor’s notes: In order to be fairly certain that an intervention is responsible for changes in HIV or HIV-related behaviours, the gold standard is randomization. This allows for fair comparisons between groups, since factors that might alter the outcomes will be more or less equally balanced between the study groups.  This is true whether such confounding factors are expected, but also importantly, even those factors that are unknown, unexpected and unmeasured will also be balanced between the arms. 

A second key determinant of high quality research is to use an approach that maximizes full engagement and follow-up of participants in the study.  One such approach that is widely recognized is to use Good Participatory Practice.  

Rhodes and colleagues study condom promotion and HIV testing among the Hispanic/Latino community of gay men and other men who have sex with men in North Carolina, USA.  Although gay men and other men who have sex with men represent approximately 4% of the adult male population in the United States of America, they account for more than 80% of new HIV infections among men.  Around one quarter of gay men and other men who have sex with men are Hispanic or Latino.  The authors therefore wanted to use research to make a difference to the HIV burden of the Hispanic/Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men community in North Carolina, USA.  They found that despite the impact of HIV on Hispanic/ Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men, they were only able to identify one evidence-based behavioural HIV prevention programme focussed on this population.

The authors used an extensive community based participatory research partnership, whose members represented the Hispanic/ Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men community, AIDS service organizations, Hispanic/Latino-serving community organizations, and universities to develop, implement, and evaluate a Spanish-language, small group intervention designed to increase condom use and HIV testing among Hispanic/Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men (HOLA en Grupos).

304 participants were randomly allocated to the HOLA en Grupos intervention, or to a general health education comparison intervention having the same number of sessions (4) and duration (16 hours in total) that focussed on prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers; diabetes; high cholesterol; cardiovascular disease; and alcohol misuse. These topics for the control group were identified on the basis of identified needs and priorities of Hispanic/Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men.

HOLA en Grupos is grounded on social cognitive theory, empowerment education, and traditional Hispanic/Latino cultural values and includes four interactive modules of four hours each delivered in groups.  Participants in both intervention and control arms received reimbursement for their time, certificates of completion and meals and a celebration at the completion of the course.  In other words this was an intensive intervention that might be hard to replicate in most settings, but it follows very high standards both for developing and conducting the research and also for determining the impact of the intervention.

The intervention was associated with a large effect on both condom usage (four-fold higher in the intervention arm than the control) and HIV test uptake (an astonishing 14-fold higher, reflecting the relatively low testing rate in the control group).

A major limitation in many HIV prevention studies, including this one, is that the outcome is based on reported behaviour.  The challenge is that the real outcome of interest, which is new HIV infections, is relatively rare in almost all communities so that studies have to be huge and expensive, and the large majority of participants in both intervention and control arms do not in fact acquire HIV.  This is in contrast to most studies of treatment, where there are clearly defined biological, standardized measures which many or all participants are likely to reach.  Nonetheless, there are many examples of studies that find changes in reported behaviour that are not associated with biological markers of such change (such as incidence of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections, or pregnancy). 

There are also many observational or ecological studies that report changes in new HIV infections but that cannot truly say why the number of infections fell and whether the interventions used in the study were responsible for the changes.  For example Nwokolo and colleagues report in a short research letter on the dramatic decline in new HIV diagnoses in the large London clinic where they work.  New infections in that clinic, and in fact in other large clinics in London, have dropped by a remarkable 40% from 2015 to 2016, as originally reported in the popular science press before any scientific publication or presentation. The authors of the research letter are suitably cautious about how to account for the impressive decline.  Various systems have been improved over the past few years in this clinic to make it easier to have an HIV test and start treatment immediately.  However, most of the clinic team (and many other commentators) assume that it is also due to the rapid rise in the use of PrEP.  Although it is still not available through the UK National Health Service, the clinic has been at the forefront of encouraging gay men and other men who have sex with men who might benefit from PrEP to purchase it from on-line pharmacies.  The clinic then provides the appropriate monitoring and follow up to ensure that their clients get the best possible PrEP service given the current constraints.  Whatever the cause, we should be celebrating the rapid fall in new HIV infections across London, which is home to a substantial proportion of the new HIV infections in the UK.

The challenges of demonstrating evidence of effectiveness for HIV prevention is also felt among black women in the USA.  Although they have the highest burden of HIV among women in the USA, the incidence rates are such that a traditional randomized trial design would need to be huge, and consequently hugely expensive.  Adimora and colleagues consider whether an alternative trial design might be to use data from high HIV incidence settings and then to develop proxies of protection, such as the concentration of a PrEP medicine to infer whether black women are protected.  An alternative that has been proposed for men who have sex with men would be to look for other markers of high risk, such as sexually transmitted infections, reported partners, age, and substance use and estimate the likely risk of HIV acquisition in the absence of PrEP from these parameters.  Then the observed incidence could be compared to this modelled counterfactual, much as was done in the open label extension of the Partners PrEP study in Kenyan and Ugandan sero-different couples.  However, translating risk factors for infection across populations, and even continents when there is such heterogeneity in risk of infection is not at all straightforward.  So there is still plenty to think about and no clear answers yet!

A useful addition to the tool box for designing studies and assessing the effectiveness of interventions, would be better tools for measuring recent infection.  There are several assays all with differing characteristics but increasingly these differences and how they interact with different clades of HIV are becoming clear.  Key determinants for each assay are the mean duration of recent infection (MDRI) estimate (which does seem to vary by clade) and the false recency rate (FRR) which needs to be less than 2% to be considered useful.  Hargrove and colleagues used three different assays to test samples from 101 women who seroconverted during the ZVITAMBO trial.  The MDRI measured using standard cut-off points, were considerably shorter than those published for the general population.  The authors point out that changes in antibody properties among women who have recently given birth or other unspecified physiological states, mean that incidence assays may give different results from those published and expected.  Yet more caution when comparing incidence estimates between studies.  As an endpoint in a comparison between two groups in the same population, the assays are still attractive. Although, given typical MDRIs of around six to nine months, these assays will still need to be embedded in very large samples to give reliable estimates of incidence and statistically significant differences between groups.

This month saw the production of a useful supplement on many aspects of how data from different sources, including incidence assays are used to inform the sophisticated models on which so much HIV planning, programming and financing is based.  An example is Mahiane and colleagues’ paper on the development of a new tool to fit existing programme data into the spectrum suite of models in order to estimate incidence.

Finally in this section, for those who are keen on laboratory studies, Richardson-Harman and colleagues describe the current state of ex-vivo challenge models for assessing potential candidates as microbicides.  In these models, biopsies of rectal, cervical or vaginal tissue, taken during other procedures, or from volunteers, are kept alive in the laboratory.  The tissues can then be challenged with HIV in the presence or absence of potential microbicide products.  The current model works best for rectal tissues, in which infection occurs promptly and consistently, so that the effect of a microbicide can clearly be seen by a reduction in the production of HIV p24 antigen.  However, for cervical and vaginal tissues, the infection (in the absence of any microbicide) was less consistent, slower and lasted longer making it less easy to determine statistical differences between those tissues with microbicide and those without.  Further work of this sort may help to streamline the choice of microbicide or PrEP products that can most sensibly be taken out of the laboratory and into the (almost) real world of clinical trials.

Small-group randomized controlled trial to increase condom use and HIV testing among Hispanic/Latino gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.

Rhodes SD, Alonzo J, Mann L, Song EY, Tanner AE, Arellano JE, Rodriguez-Celedon R, Garcia M, Freeman A, Reboussin BA, Painter TM. Am J Public Health. 2017 Jun;107(6):969-976. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.303814. Epub 2017 Apr 20.

Objectives: To evaluate the HOLA en Grupos intervention, a Spanish-language small-group behavioral HIV prevention intervention designed to increase condom use and HIV testing among Hispanic/Latino gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.

Methods: In 2012 to 2015, we recruited and randomized 304 Hispanic/Latino men who have sex with men, aged 18 to 55 years in North Carolina, to the 4-session HOLA en Grupos intervention or an attention-equivalent general health education comparison intervention. Participants completed structured assessments at baseline and 6-month follow-up. Follow-up retention was 100%.

Results: At follow-up, relative to comparison participants, HOLA en Grupos participants reported increased consistent condom use during the past 3 months (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 4.1; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.2, 7.9; P < .001) and HIV testing during the past 6 months (AOR = 13.8; 95% CI = 7.6, 25.3; P < .001). HOLA en Grupos participants also reported increased knowledge of HIV (P < .001) and sexually transmitted infections (P < .001); condom use skills (P < .001), self-efficacy (P < .001), expectancies (P < .001), and intentions (P < .001); sexual communication skills (P < .01); and decreased fatalism (P < .001).

Conclusions: The HOLA en Grupos intervention is efficacious for reducing HIV risk behaviors among Hispanic/Latino men who have sex with men.

Abstract access 

Not just PrEP: other reasons for London's HIV decline.

Nwokolo N, Whitlock G, McOwan A. Lancet HIV. 2017 Apr;4(4):e153. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30044-9.

The reduction in HIV diagnoses in London in 2016 is attributed to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). We believe that the causes of the 42% decline seen at our clinic are likely to be multifactorial. 56 Dean Street diagnoses one in four of London's HIV cases, 50% of whom have incident infection (ie, within 4 months of infection). Because of this, and following the results of the START study, we actively recommend treatment at, or close to, diagnosis, reducing the risk of transmission in people who would otherwise be highly infectious.

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US black women and HIV prevention: time for new approaches to clinical trials.

Adimora AA, Cole SR, Eron JJ Clin Infect Dis. 2017 Apr 5. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix313. [Epub ahead of print]. 

Black women bear the highest burden of HIV infection among US women. Tenofovir/ emtricitabine HIV prevention trials among women in Africa have yielded varying results. Ideally, a randomized controlled trial (RCT) among US women would provide data for guidelines for US women's HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis use. However, even among US black women at high risk for HIV infection, sample size requirements for an RCT with HIV incidence as its outcome are prohibitively high. We propose to circumvent this large sample size requirement by evaluating relationships between HIV incidence and drug concentrations measured among participants in traditional phase 3 trials in high incidence settings - and then applying these observations to drug concentrations measured among at risk individuals in lower incidence settings, such as US black women. This strategy could strengthen the evidence base to enable black women to fully benefit from prevention research advances and decrease racial disparities in HIV rates.

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Heightened HIV antibody responses in postpartum women as exemplified by recent infection assays: implications for incidence estimates.

Hargrove JW, van Schalkwyk C, Humphrey JH, Mutasa K, Ntozini R, Owen SM, Masciotra S, Parekh BS, Duong YT, Dobbs T, Kilmarx PH, Gonese E. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2017 May 24. doi: 10.1089/AID.2016.0319. [Epub ahead of print].

Laboratory assays that identify recent HIV infections are important for assessing impacts of interventions aimed at reducing HIV incidence. Kinetics of HIV humoral responses can vary with inherent assay properties, and between HIV subtypes, populations, and physiological states. They are important in determining mean duration of recent infection (MDRI) for antibody-based assays for detecting recent HIV infections. We determined MDRIs for multi-subtype peptide representing subtypes B, E and D (BED)-capture enzyme immunoassay, limiting antigen (LAg), and Bio-Rad Avidity Incidence (BRAI) assays for 101 seroconverting postpartum women, recruited in Harare from 1997 to 2000 during the Zimbabwe Vitamin A for Mothers and Babies trial, comparing them against published MDRIs estimated from seroconverting cases in the general population. We also compared MDRIs for women who seroconverted either during the first 9 months, or at later stages, postpartum. At cutoffs (C) of 0.8 for BED, 1.5 for LAg, and 40% for BRAI, estimated MDRIs for postpartum mothers were 192, 104, and 144 days, 33%, 32%, and 52% lower than published estimates of 287, 152 and 298 days, respectively, for clade C samples from general populations. Point estimates of MDRI values were 7%-19% shorter for women who seroconverted in the first 9 months postpartum than for those seroconverting later. MDRI values for three HIV incidence biomarkers are longer in the general population than among postpartum women, particularly those who recently gave birth, consistent with heightened immunological activation soon after birth. Our results provide a caution that MDRI may vary significantly between subjects in different physiological states.

Abstract access 

Improvements in Spectrum's fit to program data tool.

Mahiane SG, Marsh K, Grantham K, Crichlow S, Caceres K, Stover J.  AIDS. 2017 Apr;31 Suppl 1:S23-S30. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001359.

Objective: The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS-supported Spectrum software package (Glastonbury, Connecticut, USA) is used by most countries worldwide to monitor the HIV epidemic. In Spectrum, HIV incidence trends among adults (aged 15-49 years) are derived by either fitting to seroprevalence surveillance and survey data or generating curves consistent with program and vital registration data, such as historical trends in the number of newly diagnosed infections or people living with HIV and AIDS related deaths. This article describes development and application of the fit to program data (FPD) tool in Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS' 2016 estimates round.

Methods: In the FPD tool, HIV incidence trends are described as a simple or double logistic function. Function parameters are estimated from historical program data on newly reported HIV cases, people living with HIV or AIDS-related deaths. Inputs can be adjusted for proportions undiagnosed or misclassified deaths. Maximum likelihood estimation or minimum chi-squared distance methods are used to identify the best fitting curve. Asymptotic properties of the estimators from these fits are used to estimate uncertainty.

Results: The FPD tool was used to fit incidence for 62 countries in 2016. Maximum likelihood and minimum chi-squared distance methods gave similar results. A double logistic curve adequately described observed trends in all but four countries where a simple logistic curve performed better.

Conclusion: Robust HIV-related program and vital registration data are routinely available in many middle-income and high-income countries, whereas HIV seroprevalence surveillance and survey data may be scarce. In these countries, the FPD tool offers a simpler, improved approach to estimating HIV incidence trends.

Abstract access 

Analytical advances in the ex vivo challenge efficacy assay.

Richardson-Harman N, Parody R, Anton P, McGowan I, Doncel G, Thurman AR, Herrera C, Kordy K, Fox J, Tanner K, Swartz G, Dezzutti CS. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2017 Apr;33(4):395-403. doi: 10.1089/AID.2016.0073. Epub 2016 Dec 16.

The ex vivo challenge assay is being increasingly used as an efficacy endpoint during early human clinical trials of HIV prevention treatments. There is no standard methodology for the ex vivo challenge assay, although the use of different data collection methods and analytical parameters may impact results and reduce the comparability of findings between trials. In this analysis, we describe the impact of data imputation methods, kit type, testing schedule and tissue type on variability, statistical power, and ex vivo HIV growth kinetics. Data were p24 antigen (pg/ml) measurements collected from clinical trials of candidate microbicides where rectal (n = 502), cervical (n = 88), and vaginal (n = 110) tissues were challenged with HIV-1BaL ex vivo. Imputation of missing data using a nonlinear mixed effect model was found to provide an improved fit compared to imputation using half the limit of detection. The rectal virus growth period was found to be earlier and of a relatively shorter duration than the growth period for cervical and vaginal tissue types. On average, only four rectal tissue challenge assays in each treatment and control group would be needed to find a one log difference in p24 to be significant (alpha = 0.05), but a larger sample size was predicted to be needed for either cervical (n = 21) or vaginal (n = 10) tissue comparisons. Overall, the results indicated that improvements could be made in the design and analysis of the ex vivo challenge assay to provide a more standardized and powerful assay to compare efficacy of microbicide products.

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Post-exposure prophylaxis – does it matter which medicines we use?

Editor’s notes: Two studies this month looked at alternative post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) regimens.  PEP is often not well tolerated and this leads to non-completion of the one month course.  In London a randomized trial by Milinkovic A and colleagues compared the tolerability and completion rates between 213 individuals given twice daily maraviroc or ritonavir-boosted lopinavir in addition to daily tenofovir disproxil fumarate with emitricitabine (TDF-FTC) daily.  Completion rates were very similar (71% vs. 65%) but maraviroc was associated with fewer mild-moderate side effects (70% vs. 91%) and less use of anti-diarrhoeal medication (25% vs. 67%).  There were no serious side effects in either arm and similar numbers of individuals stopped taking their medication (18%). In Australia, in an open label, non-randomized study, 100 individuals were offered once daily dolutegravir as the third drug (also with TDF-FTC). 90 people completed the one month course, 9 were lost to follow up and one stopped because of headaches.  Side effects were also common in this study (similar to the London study); around a quarter of people complained of fatigue, nausea or diarrhoea [Mcallister J et al.]. Although no seroconversions were seen in either study, despite well documented risks at entry to treatment, the studies are not large enough to shed much light on the effectiveness of the regimens.  They demonstrate the ongoing challenges in finding PEP regimens that have fewer side effects.  Whether completion rates would be as high in less controlled settings than a clinical trial is not clear.  Nonetheless it seems that dolutegravir daily or maraviroc twice daily may be a suitable replacement for ritonavir-boosted lopinavir as the third drug for use as PEP.

 

Randomized controlled trial of the tolerability and completion of maraviroc compared with Kaletra® in combination with Truvada® for HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (MiPEP Trial).

Milinkovic A, Benn P, Arenas-Pinto A, Brima N, Copas A, ClarkeA, Fisher M, Schembri G, Hawkins D, Williams A, Gilson R; MiPEP Trial Team.J Antimicrob Chemother. 2017 Mar 20. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkx062. [Epub ahead ofprint]

Objectives: Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for HIV is often poorly tolerated and not completed. Alternative PEP regimens may improve adherence and completion, aiding HIV prevention. We conducted a randomized controlled trial of a maraviroc-based PEP regimen compared with a standard-of-care regimen using ritonavir-boosted lopinavir.

Methods: Patients meeting criteria for PEP were randomized to tenofovir disoproxil/emtricitabine (200/245 mg) once daily plus ritonavir-boosted lopinavir (Kaletra ® 400/100 mg) or maraviroc 300 mg twice daily. The composite primary endpoint was completion of 28 days of the allocated PEP regimen without grade 3or 4 clinical or laboratory adverse events (AEs) related to the PEP medication.

Results: Two hundred and thirteen individuals were randomized (107 to maraviroc; 106 to Kaletra ® arm). Follow-up rates were high in both groups. There was no difference in the primary endpoint; 70 (71%) in the maraviroc and 64 (65%) in the Kaletra ® arm ( P  =   0.36) completed PEP without grade 3 or 4 AEs. Discontinuation of PEP was the same (18%) in both groups. There were no grade 3or 4 clinical AEs in either arm, but more grade 1 or 2 clinical AEs in the Kaletra ® arm (91% versus 70%; P < 0.001). Antidiarrhoeal medication use was higher in the Kaletra ® arm (67% versus 25%; P < 0.001). There were no HIV seroconversions in the study period.

Conclusions: The completion rate in the absence of grade 3 or 4 AEs was similar with both regimens. Maraviroc-based PEP was better tolerated, supporting its use as an option for non-occupational PEP.

Abstract access 

Dolutegravir with tenofovir disoproxil fumarate - emtricitabine as HIV post-exposure prophylaxis in gay and bisexual men.

Mcallister J, Towns JM, Mcnulty A, Pierce AB, Foster R, Richardson R, Carr A. AIDS. 2017 Mar 15. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001447. [Epub ahead of print]

Objectives: Completion rates for HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) are often low. We investigated the adherence and safety of dolutegravir (DTG 50 mg daily) with tenofovir disoproxil fumarate 300 mg/emtricitabine 200 mg (TDF-FTC) as3-drug PEP in gay and bisexual men (GBM).

Design: Open-label, single-arm study at 3 sexual health clinics and 2 emergency departments in Australia.

Methods: One hundred HIV-uninfected GBM requiring PEP received DTG plus TDF-FTC for 28 days. The primary endpoint was PEP failure (premature PEP cessation or primary HIV infection through Week 12). Additional endpoints were: adherence by self-report (n = 98) and pill count (n = 55); safety; and plasma drug levels at Day 28.

Results: PEP completion was 90% (95%CI 84% to 96%). Failures (occurring at a median 9 days, IQR 3-16) comprised loss to follow-up (9%) and adverse event resulting in study drug discontinuation (headache, 1%). No participant was found to acquire HIV through Week 12. Adherence to PEP was 98% by self-report and in the 55 participants with corresponding pill count data. The most common clinical adverse events (AEs) were fatigue (26%), nausea (25%), diarrhoea (21%), and headache (10%). There were only four Grade 3-4 subjective AEs. The most common laboratory AE was raised alanine aminotransferase (22%), but there was no case of clinical hepatitis. At Day 28, the mean estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) decrease was 14 ml/min/1.73m (SD 17, p = 0.001); an eGFR of<60 ml/min/1.73m occurred in 3%.

Conclusions: DTG with TDF-FTC is a safe and well-tolerated option for once-daily PEP.

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Europe, Oceania
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Cure and vaccination – more steps forward in understanding persistence of HIV and how we might deal with it

Editor’s notes: CD32a is the exciting new marker for T-lymphocytes that seem to harbour the reservoir for HIV in peripheral blood.  These cells form a very small proportion of all CD4 T-lymphocytes, but they host copies of the virus in their DNA that can be woken up and start replicating again.  While this is still a discovery at the level of basic immunology, it raises important possibilities for measuring the reservoir and perhaps for intervening directly to drain it.  It may also lead on to further basic biological understanding of why this particular transmembrane protein should be so significantly expressed in latently infected cells but not in bystanders [Descours B et al., Richman DD].

Two papers are relevant to the push for an HIV vaccine.  A new mathematical model by Medlock J et al. highlights the potential contribution of a vaccine (or indeed other prevention technologies) over and above the impact of better diagnosis, linkage and treatment of people living with HIV as framed in the 90:90:90 treatment target of UNAIDS.  Of course, a significant advantage of a vaccine or a prevention technology is that primary prevention leads to a more rapid reduction in the number of people living with HIV and the associated costs of lifelong ART. UNAIDS strategy already includes a major push for those prevention tools that have been shown to work, with emphasis on combination prevention including structural (such as incentives to keep girls in school and improving access to condoms), behavioural (such as increasing condom usage) and biomedical (such as PrEP) elements within an approach that prioritizes the highest burdened locations and populations.  It is not clear that this new model has incorporated these wider prevention programmes in their baseline scenarios. Nonetheless the conclusion is still that we should maintain our enthusiasm for the ongoing and imminent large scale clinical trials of vaccine candidates!

And finally for this month, another encouraging immunotherapy study from NIAID.  In a macaque model using a humanized SHIV (a virus that still infects macaques but has been engineered to express HIV proteins), Nishimura Y et al. found a big difference when treatment was stopped between standard ART and infusions of broadly neutralizing antibodies infused around the time of infection.  Whereas the viral load rebounded soon after the ART was stopped, several of the macaques were able to continue to suppress the SHIV for up to two years after the infusion of antibodies.  The mechanism was shown to be through the CD8 T cell pathway, since removal of these cells led to rapid viral rebound in the antibody treated animals. With each new discovery in the animal and immunology laboratories, we get a little closer to understanding what it might take to develop an effective vaccine that could provide durable protection against HIV or provide effective treatment or therapeutic enhancement that allowed people living with HIV to no longer require ART.  That is a goal that we are all pushing towards!

CD32a is a marker of a CD4 T-cell HIV reservoir harbouring replication-competent proviruses.

Descours B, Petitjean G, López-Zaragoza JL, Bruel T, Raffel R, Psomas C, Reynes J, Lacabaratz C, Levy Y, Schwartz O, Lelievre JD, Benkirane M. Nature. 2017 Mar 23;543(7646):564-567. doi: 10.1038/nature21710.Epub 2017 Mar15.

The persistence of the HIV reservoir in infected individuals is a major obstacle to the development of a cure for HIV. Here, using an in vitro model of HIV-infected quiescent CD4 T cells, we reveal a gene expression signature of 103 upregulated genes that are specific for latently infected cells, including genes for 16 transmembrane proteins. In vitro screening for surface expression in HIV-infected quiescent CD4 T cells shows that the low-affinity receptor for the immunoglobulin G Fc fragment, CD32a, is the most highly induced, with no detectable expression in bystander cells. Notably, productive HIV-1 infection of T-cell-receptor-stimulated CD4 T cells is not associated with CD32a expression, suggesting that a quiescence-dependent mechanism is required for its induction. Using blood samples from HIV-1-positive participants receiving suppressive antiretroviral therapy, we identify a subpopulation of 0.012% of CD4 T cells that express CD32a and host up to three copies of HIV DNA per cell. This CD32a+ reservoir was highly enriched in inducible replication-competent proviruses and can be predominant in some participants. Our discovery that CD32a+ lymphocytes represent the elusive HIV-1 reservoir may lead to insights that will facilitate the specific targeting and elimination of this reservoir.

Abstract access 

HIV: Finding latent needles in a haystack.

Richman DD. Nature. 2017 Mar 23;543(7646):499-500. doi: 10.1038/nature21899. Epub 2017 Mar15.

Antiretroviral therapy can keep HIV at bay, but a few cells remain infected, so the disease cannot be cured. The discovery of a protein that marks out these infected cells will facilitate crucial studies of this latent viral reservoir. 

Abstract access 

Effectiveness of UNAIDS targets and HIV vaccination across 127 countries.

Medlock J, Pandey A, Parpia AS, Tang A, Skrip LA, Galvani AP. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Mar 20. pii: 201620788. doi:10.1073/pnas.1620788114. [Epub ahead of print]

The HIV pandemic continues to impose enormous morbidity, mortality, and economic burdens across the globe. Simultaneously, innovations in antiretroviral therapy, diagnostic approaches, and vaccine development are providing novel tools for treatment-as-prevention and prophylaxis. We developed a mathematical model to evaluate the added benefit of an HIV vaccine in the context of goals to increase rates of diagnosis, treatment, and viral suppression in 127 countries. Under status quo interventions, we predict a median of 49 million [first and third quartiles 44M, 58M] incident cases globally from 2015 to 2035. Achieving the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS 95-95-95 target was estimated to avert 25 million [20M, 33M] of these new infections, and an additional 6.3 million [4.8M, 8.7M] reduction was projected with the 2020 introduction of a 50%-efficacy vaccine gradually scaled up to 70% coverage. This added benefit of prevention through vaccination motivates imminent and ongoing clinical trials of viable candidates to realize the goal of HIV control.

Abstract access 

Early antibody therapy can induce long-lasting immunity to SHIV.

Nishimura Y, Gautam R, Chun TW, Sadjadpour R, Foulds KE, Shingai M, Klein F, Gazumyan A, Golijanin J, Donaldson M, Donau OK, Plishka RJ, Buckler-White A, Seaman MS, Lifson JD, Koup RA, Fauci AS, Nussenzweig MC, Martin MA. Nature. 2017 Mar 23;543(7646):559-563. doi: 10.1038/nature21435. Epub 2017 Mar13.

Highly potent and broadly neutralizing anti-HIV-1 antibodies (bNAbs) have been used to prevent and treat lentivirus infections in humanized mice, macaques, and humans. In immunotherapy experiments, administration of bNAbs to chronically infected animals transiently suppresses virus replication, which invariably returns to pre-treatment levels and results in progression to clinical disease. Here we show that early administration of bNAbs in a macaque simian/human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV) model is associated with very low levels of persistent viraemia, which leads to the establishment of T-cell immunity and resultant long-term infection control. Animals challenged with SHIVAD8-EO by mucosal or intravenous routes received a single 2-week course of two potent passively transferred bNAbs (3BNC117 and 10-1074 (refs 13, 14)). Viraemia remained undetectable for 56-177 days, depending on bNAb half-life in vivo. Moreover, in the 13 treated monkeys, plasma virus loads subsequently declined to undetectable levels in 6 controller macaques. Four additional animals maintained their counts of T cells carrying the CD4 antigen (CD4+) and very low levels of viraemia persisted for over 2 years. The frequency of cells carrying replication-competent virus was less than 1 per 106 circulating CD4+ T cells in the six controller macaques. Infusion of a T-cell-depleting anti-CD8β monoclonal antibody to the controller animals led to a specific decline in levels of CD8+ T cells and the rapid reappearance of plasma viraemia. In contrast, macaques treated for 15 weeks with combination anti-retroviral therapy, beginning on day 3 after infection, experienced sustained rebound plasma viraemia when treatment was interrupted. Our results show that passive immunotherapy during acute SHIV infection differs from combination anti-retroviral therapy in that it facilitates the emergence of potent CD8+ T-cell immunity able to durably suppress virus replication.

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Keeping up appearances – the reasons people living with HIV who are not yet ill, give for starting ART

Factors that motivated otherwise healthy HIV-positive young adults to access HIV testing and treatment in South Africa.

Lambert RF, Orrell C, Bangsberg DR, Haberer JE. AIDS Behav. 2017 Feb 11. doi: 10.1007/s10461-017-1704-y. [Epub ahead of print]

The World Health Organization recommends early initiation of HIV antiretroviral therapy (ART) for all those infected with the virus at any CD4 count. Successfully reaching individuals with relatively high CD4 counts depends in large part on healthy individuals seeking testing and treatment; however, little is known about factors motivating this decision. We conducted a qualitative study to explore this issue among 25 young HIV-positive adults (age 18-35) with a CD4 count >350 cells/mm3 who recently started or made the decision to start ART in Gugulethu, South Africa. Using an inductive content analytical approach, we found that most individuals sought testing and treatment early in the disease progression because of a desire to appear healthy thereby avoiding stigma associated with AIDS. Other factors included social support, responsibilities and aspirations, normalcy of having HIV, and accessible services. These findings suggest that maintenance of physical appearance should be included in the development of novel testing and treatment interventions.

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Editor’s notes: A lot has been written on why people delay entry into care, when they are living with HIV. The guidance that all people living with HIV should now start treatment means that many people who are healthy are being offered treatment. The authors of this paper found that in a small sample of people in South Africa, looking healthy mattered. There was a value in the message that ART could maintain health, and in the words of one participant in their study, to ‘remain beautiful’. In addition, other positive anticipated results of taking ART emerged from the data. Young people saw the benefit in maintaining their health so they can help their family in the future, for example. However, despite the positive messages on appearance and a future role for the family and society, many concerns remained. Participants wanted privacy to live with HIV without others knowing. Fears of stigma, fears of an altered appearance and faltering strength haunted participants. The authors stress the value of the positive messaging of ART as an aid to sustaining a healthy appearance. They suggest that this messaging could be used to encourage people to start ART promptly. 

Africa
South Africa
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Sexual risk behaviour, HIV prevalence unchanged in Kenya as more men are circumcised

Changes in male circumcision prevalence and risk compensation in the Kisumu, Kenya population, 2008-2013.

Westercamp M, Jaoko W, Mehta S, Abuor P, Siambe P, Bailey RC. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 Feb 1;74(2):e30-e37. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001180.

Background: Three randomized controlled trials showed that voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) reduces the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by approximately 60%. However, data from communities where VMMC programs have been implemented are needed to assess changes in circumcision prevalence and whether men and women compensate for perceived reductions in risk by increasing their HIV risk behaviors.

Methods: Scale-up of free VMMC began in Kisumu, Kenya in 2008. Between 2009 and 2013, a sequence of 3 unlinked cross-sectional surveys were conducted. All individuals 15-49 years of age residing in randomly selected households were interviewed and offered HIV testing. Male circumcision status was confirmed by examination. Design-adjusted bivariate comparisons and multivariable analyses were used for statistical inference.

Results: The prevalence of male circumcision increased from 32% (95% CI: 26% to 38%) in 2009 to 60% (95% CI: 56% to 63%) in 2013. The adjusted prevalence ratio of HIV and genital ulcer disease in circumcised compared with uncircumcised men was 0.48 (95% CI: 0.36 to 0.66) and 0.51 (95% CI: 0.37 to 0.69), respectively. There was no association between circumcision status and sexual behaviors, HIV knowledge, or indicators of risk perception.

Conclusions: The conditions necessary for the VMMC program to have a significant public health impact are present in Kisumu, Kenya. Between 2009 and 2013, circumcision prevalence increased from 30% to 60%; HIV prevalence in circumcised men was half that of uncircumcised men, and there was no or minimal sexual risk compensation.

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Editor’s notes: Evidence of the protective effect of male circumcision on HIV incidence has led many countries in sub-Saharan Africa to promote voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC). Mathematical models have illustrated that VMMC programmes will reduce HIV prevalence over time when VMMC uptake is high, and when men who have had VMMC do not substantially increase their sexual risk behaviours. In Kenya, the VMMC programme has exceeded its targets, with over 1.1 million procedures conducted between 2008 and 2015. In this paper, the authors assessed the assumptions behind the models, using data from three population-based cross-sectional surveys conducted among male and female adult residents of Kisumu, Kenya between 2009 and 2013. During this time, VMMC prevalence among men almost doubled from 32% to 60%, yet, HIV prevalence did not change for men or women. In addition, men who had VMMC reported the same levels of sexual risk behaviours as men who were not circumcised, yet had half the prevalence of HIV and genital ulcer disease. This study re-confirms the individual benefit of VMMC in a non-trial population, while demonstrating no evidence for sexual risk compensation. This study is notable for its large sample size, population-based sampling design, visual confirmation of circumcision status, and HIV testing protocol. Studies of longer duration are required to confirm the population-level impacts of VMMC– i.e. a protection benefit beyond men who had VMMC - on HIV prevalence, and to monitor the longer-term trend in sexual risk behaviours.

Africa
Kenya
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The value of religious leaders in promoting healthy behaviour

Educating religious leaders to promote uptake of male circumcision in Tanzania: a cluster randomised trial.

Downs JA, Mwakisole AH, Chandika AB, Lugoba S, Kassim R, Laizer E, Magambo KA, Lee MH, Kalluvya SE, Downs DJ, Fitzgerald DW. Lancet. 2017 Mar 18;389(10074):1124-1132.doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)32055-4. Epub 2017 Feb 15

Background: Male circumcision is being widely deployed as an HIV prevention strategy in countries with high HIV incidence, but its uptake in sub-Saharan Africa has been below targets. We did a study to establish whether educating religious leaders about male circumcision would increase uptake in their village.

Methods: In this cluster randomised trial in northwest Tanzania, eligible villages were paired by proximity (<60 km) and the time that a free male circumcision outreach campaign from the Tanzanian Ministry of Health became available in their village. All villages received the standard male circumcision outreach activities provided by the Ministry of Health. Within the village pairs, villages were randomly assigned by coin toss to receive either additional education for Christian church leaders on scientific, religious, and cultural aspects of male circumcision (intervention group), or standard outreach only (control group). Church leaders or their congregations were not masked to random assignment. The educational intervention consisted of a 1-day seminar co-taught by a Tanzanian pastor and a Tanzanian clinician who worked with the Ministry of Health, and meetings with the study team every 2 weeks thereafter, for the duration of the circumcision campaign. The primary outcome was the proportion of male individuals in a village who were circumcised during the campaign, using an intention-to-treat analysis that included all men in the village. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT 02167776.

Findings: Between June 15, 2014, and Dec 10, 2015, we provided education for church leaders in eight intervention villages and compared the outcomes with those in eight control villages. In the intervention villages, 52.8% (30 889 of 58 536) of men were circumcised compared with 29.5% (25 484 of 86 492) of men in the eight control villages (odds ratio 3.2 [95% CI, 1.4-7.3]; p=0.006).

Interpretation: Education of religious leaders had a substantial effect on uptake of male circumcision, and should be considered as part of male circumcision programmes in other sub-Saharan African countries. This study was conducted in one region in Tanzania; however, we believe that our intervention is generalisable. We equipped church leaders with knowledge and tools, and ultimately each leader established the most culturally-appropriate way to promote male circumcision. Therefore, we think that the process of working through religious leaders can serve as an innovative model to promote healthy behaviour, leading to HIV prevention and other clinically relevant outcomes, in a variety of settings.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Voluntary medical male circumcision is recommended for HIV prevention in settings with high prevalence of HIV. However, uptake of male circumcision has been lower in some settings than is optimal to reduce population-level HIV incidence. Religious beliefs can be an important barrier to acceptance of VMMC. In this community randomised trial, the investigators sought to improve uptake of male circumcision in Tanzania through an education programme delivered to religious leaders alongside a VMMC outreach campaign. Following educational seminars, each religious leader was asked to decide how best to address issues of male circumcision in his or her own community. Overall, there was a three-fold increase in uptake of male circumcision in the programme villages compared with control villages.

Deep commitment to religious faith and practices is common in many sub-Saharan countries. In this study, investigators used an innovative approach to promote healthy behaviour by tapping into the power of religious leaders. The impressive results illustrate the importance of addressing social and structural determinants of behaviour. This is a model that could be extended to address other challenging health behaviours in this and other similar settings. 

Africa
United Republic of Tanzania
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Thai PrEP Open-label study illustrates better adherence in people at higher risk of HIV

Factors associated with the uptake of and adherence to HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis in people who have injected drugs: an observational, open-label extension of the Bangkok Tenofovir Study.

Martin M, Vanichseni S, Suntharasamai P, Sangkum U, Mock PA, Chaipung B, Worrajittanon D, Leethochawalit M, Chiamwongpaet S, Kittimunkong S, Gvetadze RJ, McNicholl JM, Paxton LA, Curlin ME, Holtz TH, Samandari T, Choopanya K, on behalf of the Bangkok Tenofovir Study Group. Lancet HIV. 2017 Feb;4(2):e59-e66. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30207-7. Epub 2016 Nov 18.

Background: Results of the randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled Bangkok Tenofovir Study (BTS) showed that taking tenofovir daily as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can reduce the risk of HIV infection by 49% in people who inject drugs. In an extension to the trial, participants were offered 1 year of open-label tenofovir. We aimed to examine the demographic characteristics, drug use, and risk behaviours associated with participants' uptake of and adherence to PrEP.

Methods: In this observational, open-label extension of the BTS (NCT00119106), non-pregnant, non-breastfeeding, HIV-negative BTS participants, all of whom were current or previous injecting drug users at the time of enrolment in the BTS, were offered daily oral tenofovir (300 mg) for 1 year at 17 Bangkok Metropolitan Administration drug-treatment clinics. Participant demographics, drug use, and risk behaviours were assessed at baseline and every 3 months using an audio computer-assisted self-interview. HIV testing was done monthly and serum creatinine was assessed every 3 months. We used logistic regression to examine factors associated with the decision to take daily tenofovir as PrEP, the decision to return for at least one PrEP follow-up visit, and greater than 90% adherence to PrEP.

Findings: Between Aug 1, 2013, and Aug 31, 2014, 1348 (58%) of the 2306 surviving BTS participants returned to the clinics, 33 of whom were excluded because they had HIV (n=27) or grade 2-4 creatinine results (n=6). 798 (61%) of the 1315 eligible participants chose to start open-label PrEP and were followed up for a median of 335 days (IQR 0-364). 339 (42%) participants completed 12 months of follow-up; 220 (28%) did not return for any follow-up visits. Participants who were 30 years or older (odds ratio [OR] 1.8, 95% CI 1.4-2.2; p<0.0001), injected heroin (OR 1.5, 1.1-2.1; p=0.007), or had been in prison (OR 1.7, 1.3-2.1; p<0.0001) during the randomised trial were more likely to choose PrEP than were those without these characteristics. Participants who reported injecting heroin or being in prison during the 3 months before open-label enrolment were more likely to return for at least one open-label follow-up visit than those who did not report injecting heroin (OR 3.0, 95 % CI 1.3-7.3; p=0.01) or being in prison (OR 2.3, 1.4-3.7; p=0.0007). Participants who injected midazolam or were in prison during open-label follow-up were more likely to be greater than 90% adherent than were those who did not inject midazolam (OR 2.2, 95% CI 1.2-4.3; p=0.02) or were not in prison (OR 4.7, 3.1-7.2; p<0.0001). One participant tested positive for HIV, yielding an HIV incidence of 2.1 (95% CI 0.05-11.7) per 1000 person-years. No serious adverse events related to tenofovir use were reported.

Interpretation: More than 60% of returning, eligible BTS participants started PrEP, which indicates that a substantial proportion of PWID who are knowledgeable about PrEP might be interested in taking it. Participants who had injected heroin or been in prison were more likely to choose to take PrEP, suggesting that participants based their decision to take PrEP, at least in part, on their perceived risk of incident HIV infection.

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Editor’s notes: Following the clinical trials assessing the efficacy of oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention, several of the trial teams and others have undertaken open-label extension and implementation studies. These were conducted to investigate the ‘real-world’ delivery of PrEP among key populations in various settings throughout the world. This paper presents the open-label study following the Bangkok Tenofovir Study (BTS) where oral PrEP was offered to participants, people who inject (or injected) drugs, for one year in the BTS study clinics. Unique to this study was the element of observed daily dosing at the clinics where participants were required to attend in order to access their PrEP. Results of the study are largely in line with reports from other similar studies, where people with more HIV-associated risk factors tended to adhere better and were more likely to take up and use PrEP. Interestingly, having a casual partner was not associated with better adherence, however, the number of casual partners reported by participants decreased during the study period, and there was no observed increase in other risky behaviours such as injecting drug use or sharing needles. One other additional point of note was the relatively higher adherence seen among prisoners and other incarcerated people which could point to consistent and easy access as a strong motivator to take PrEP. These results are an important contribution to the growing body of evidence around PrEP implementation which seems to suggest that people with a higher risk will be appropriately self-selecting for uptake of the programme. 

Asia
Thailand
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How did SASA! reduce violence against women?

Exploring couples' processes of change in the context of SASA!, a violence against women and HIV prevention intervention in Uganda.

Starmann E, Collumbien M, Kyegombe N, Devries K, Michau L, Musuya T, Watts C, Heise L. Prev Sci. 2017 Feb; 18(2): 233–244. doi:  10.1007/s11121-016-0716-6. Epub 2016 Sep 29. 

There is now a growing body of research indicating that prevention interventions can reduce intimate partner violence (IPV); much less is known, however, about how couples exposed to these interventions experience the change process, particularly in low-income countries. Understanding the dynamic process that brings about the cessation of IPV is essential for understanding how interventions work (or don't) to reduce IPV. This study aimed to provide a better understanding of how couples' involvement with SASA!-a violence against women and HIV-related community mobilisation intervention developed by Raising Voices in Uganda-influenced processes of change in relationships. Qualitative data were collected from each partner in separate in-depth interviews following the intervention. Dyadic analysis was conducted using framework analysis methods. Study findings suggest that engagement with SASA! contributed to varied experiences and degrees of change at the individual and relationship levels. Reflection around healthy relationships and communication skills learned through SASA! activities or community activists led to more positive interaction among many couples, which reduced conflict and IPV. This nurtured a growing trust and respect between many partners, facilitating change in longstanding conflicts and generating greater intimacy and love as well as increased partnership among couples to manage economic challenges. This study draws attention to the value of researching and working with both women, men and couples to prevent IPV and suggests IPV prevention interventions may benefit from the inclusion of relationship skills building and support within the context of community mobilisation interventions.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Evidence from sub-Saharan Africa suggests community mobilization approaches work at many different levels to prevent intimate partner violence. However it is unclear how they work. This study interviewed ten couples (men and women interviewed separately) who participated in the SASA! activities and reported reductions in intimate partner violence over time. Findings suggest that engagement with SASA! by one or both members of the couple resulted in a range of change processes at the individual and relational levels. The biggest changes were seen in couples with severe intimate partner violence and in couples where one or both partners experienced high-intensity exposure to SASA! Changes were not usually universal or rapid but often uneven and slow. Overall, greater awareness of healthy relationship values and increased relational resources – communication and self-regulation skills – led to improved relationships.

Of interest to people involved in programmes on intimate partner violence, is that focusing on promoting positive relationship values and dynamics - such as love, respect and trust are effective.  Indeed, they were far more effective, than focusing on gender roles such as sharing of household tasks – which created conflict. The findings suggest intimate partner violence programmes should consider mixed-sex approaches that work with both men and women. These programmes should include promoting love and intimacy as a mechanism to achieve more balanced power in relationships and reduce violence. 

 

Africa
Uganda
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