Articles tagged as "HIV testing"

Improving access to HIV testing—still the most important step to improve the lives of people living with HIV?

Editor’s notes: The target for HIV testing is very clear and well understood as the first 90 in the UNAIDS treatment targets. However, estimating the proportion of people living with HIV who know their status is not completely straightforward.  UNAIDS uses various data sources and a well described algorithm to make its annual estimates.  For some countries, population based surveys allow a random sample of the population to be interviewed and tested for HIV.  Nonetheless, such surveys only occur periodically and so data may be out of date.  People who were HIV-negative a few years ago may now be HIV positive and people who know that they were tested a few years ago and think that they know their status may in fact have acquired HIV in the meantime.  Staveteig and colleagues have used the most recent demographic and health surveys from 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to estimate the first 90 and to analyse the demographic characteristics associated with knowing one’s HIV status.  The authors discuss some of the challenges in the assumptions needed for this estimation process.  However, the surveys had excellent participation and a high rate of acceptance of HIV testing, so that out of more than 14 000 people living with HIV across the countries, the authors are able to state that 54% know their status.  The proportion in different countries ranges from 26% in Sierra Leone to 84% in Rwanda.  Their analysis does not present very surprising associations.  We have come to expect that men, young people and those with less than primary education are found to be less likely to know their status.  However, the study provides a direct estimate from survey data and as such helps to triangulate with other estimates from the region.

In general, the West and Central African region lags behind the East and Southern African region when it comes to access to HIV testing, linkage to treatment and viral suppression.  A catch-up plan has been developed and endorsed at high level political meetings in most countries in the region. The study by Inghels and colleagues from Côte d’Ivoire is therefore important.  They demonstrate that among 273 people recently diagnosed with HIV at the blood donors’ centre, almost half could have been diagnosed up to five years earlier if health care staff had followed guidelines to propose testing for indicator clinical conditions such as extreme weight loss, repeated fevers or shingles.  Approximately a quarter of people recently diagnosed with HIV had recognized risk factors for HIV (apart from their clinical presentation), but only approximately one-sixth, a small minority, of people had mentioned it to their heathcare professional.  If we are to catch up and ensure that 90% of people living with HIV have known their status by 2020, we need to maximize efforts to use a full range of differentiated HIV testing approaches.  Health care staff must offer HIV tests routinely to people with clinical indicator conditions. Staff at all levels of the health system must also promote an environment in which people with risk behaviours for HIV infection feel comfortable to be able to raise it and discuss it.

Reaching the 'first 90': gaps in coverage of HIV testing among people living with HIV in 16 African countries.

Staveteig S, Croft TN, Kampa KT, Head SK. PLoS One. 2017 Oct 12;12(10):e0186316. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186316. eCollection 2017.

Background: UNAIDS has recently proposed a set of three ambitious targets that, if achieved, are predicted to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The targets, known as 90-90-90, call for 90% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) to know their status, 90% of PLHIV to receive antiretroviral therapy, and 90% of those on antiretroviral therapy to achieve viral suppression by the year 2020. We examine the first of these targets, focusing on sub-Saharan Africa, the region of the world most affected by HIV, to measure the proportion of PLHIV estimated to know their HIV status, and to identify background and behavioral characteristics significantly associated with gaps in ever testing among PLHIV.

Methods and findings: We analyze cross-sectional population-based data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and AIDS Indicator Surveys (AIS) fielded since 2010 in 16 sub-Saharan African countries where voluntary serological testing was recently conducted: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Survey response rates averaged 95.0% (range 89.3-99.5%), while consent to serotesting averaged 94.9% (range 88.7-99.6%). This study, which includes more than 14 000 respondents living with HIV, finds that 69% of PLHIV in the average study country have ever been tested for HIV (range 34-95%). Based on timing of the last test and on ART coverage, we estimate that 54% of PLHIV in the average country are aware of their status (range 26-84%). Adjusted logistic regression finds that men (median adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 0.38), adults with less than primary education (median AOR = 0.31), and adolescents (median AOR = 0.32) are consistently less likely to have ever been tested for HIV than women, adults with secondary and above education, and adults age 30-39, respectively. In most countries unadjusted logistic regression also finds significant gaps in testing among the poorest groups and those reporting never having had sex.

Conclusion: The fact that an average of 54% of PLHIV in these 16 countries are estimated to know their status reflects encouraging progress. However, not only is this average far short of the 90% target set by UNAIDS for 2020, but it also implies that in the average study country nearly one-half of PLHIV are unable to access lifesaving care and treatment because they are unaware that they are HIV-positive. Several gaps in HIV testing coverage exist, particularly among adolescents, the least educated, and men. While the need to target demographic groups at greatest risk of HIV continues, additional interventions focused on reaching men and on reaching socially vulnerable populations such as adolescents, the poorest, and the least educated are essential.

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Missed opportunities for HIV testing among newly diagnosed HIV-infected adults in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

Inghels M, Niangoran S, Minga A, Yoboue JM, Dohoun L, Yao A, Eholié S, Anglaret X, Danel C. PLoS One. 2017 Oct 4;12(10):e0185117. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185117. eCollection 2017

Background: HIV testing is crucial for starting ART earlier in HIV-infected people. We describe Missed Opportunities (MO) for HIV testing among adults newly diagnosed with HIV in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

Methods: Between April 2nd 2013 and April 1st 2014, a cross-sectional study was conducted among all adults newly diagnosed (< 1year) for HIV at the Blood Donors Medical Center of Abidjan with face to face questionnaire. An MO for HIV testing was defined as a medical consultation for a clinical indicator (e.g. symptoms, hospitalization, and pregnancy) or a non-clinical indicator (e.g. high-risk sexual behavior, HIV-infected partner) potentially related to an HIV infection but did not lead to HIV test proposal by a health care professional.

Results: Of the 341 patients who attended the center during this period, 273 (157 women and 116 men) were included in this analysis. 130 (47.6%) reported at least one medical consultation for an indicator relevant for a test proposal between 1 month and five years prior to their diagnosis. Among them, 92 (77.3%) experienced at least one MO for testing. The 273 included patients reported a total of 216 indicators; 146 (67.6%) were reported without test proposal and thus were MO. Hospitalization, extreme loss of weight, chronic or repeat fever and herpes zoster were the indicators with the largest number of MO. While 66 (24.2%) patients experienced non-clinical indicators relevant to risk of HIV infection, only 11 (4.0%) mentioned it to a health professional.

Conclusion: MO for HIV testing are frequent, even in situations for which testing is clearly recommended. Better train healthcare professionals and creating new opportunities of testing inside and, outside of medical settings are crucial to improve HIV control.

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Africa
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HIV testing and the HIV epidemic –vitally important to prevent HIV becoming endemic

Editor’s notes: Epidemics refer to situations where the number of infections rises (and subsequently falls) more quickly than might be expected compared to a disease that is endemic.  Endemic implies a stable situation, with natural fluctuations in the number of cases.  Medley and Vassal have written a provocative article in Science that considers how differently individuals, communities and society react to epidemic rather than endemic diseases.  They choose to call HIV in 2017 endemic, which carries a serious risk. As the authors state, “The contained public response, and the concurrent shift of responsibility to individuals to protect themselves from risk, means that endemic disease embeds itself further, as those at risk are often the very same people who do not have the private resources to avoid risk or access treatment.”  There are in fact multiple separate epidemics of HIV in different regions and in different populations.  Some are rising and some are falling. The latest UNAIDS’ report emphasizes the heterogeneity of HIV infections in the world.  New HIV infections have fallen by 29% since 2010 in East and Southern Africa, the region with the highest rates.  On the other hand, new HIV infections have risen by an alarming 60% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia over the same period, albeit from a much lower baseline.  There is widespread political consensus to pursue the UN agenda endorsed at the High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS in New York last year.  Let’s not throw in the towel too soon!

HIV testing services remain central to the HIV strategy and, as usual, this month there are several important papers on aspects of HIV testing, many of which illustrate challenges that need to be overcome.

There are several reasons to encourage people living with HIV to know their status.  First and foremost, we know that the earlier treatment is started in the course of HIV, the better the outlook for the individual.  People who start treatment become much less likely to transmit HIV infection to sexual partners. People who know their HIV status are also able to make informed decisions about their lives and their partnerships.  A study this month by Escudero et al. from New York City used agent-based modelling to understand the testing and care continuum for people who inject drugs. Their results remind us of the key role of HIV testing.  They estimated that 53% of the HIV transmission events from people who inject drugs arose from people who did not know their status, and a further 37% from people who had not been started ART.  In other words, they estimate that only 10-11% of infections from people who inject drugs could be prevented by improving quality of care for people on treatment.  The need to find effective ways to encourage people at risk to know their status and start treatment is stark.

Guanzhou is one of the largest cities in China, with a high population of migrants both national and international.  It is among the most prosperous regions of Guangdong province and has the highest rates of HIV.   Chen et al. added some HIV testing related questions to a wider population based health survey in two districts and showed that approximately a quarter of adults had previously been tested for HIV.  HIV testing was almost all provided through free government facilities or blood transfusion centres.  Despite early steps to make HIV self-testing more available, none of the 666 participants who answered the relevant questions in the survey had used a self-test.  Distance from an HIV testing site was a key determinant of the likelihood of getting tested.  It was not clear that people who might be at higher risk were more likely to be tested, although the numbers and sampling focused on the general population rather than people at special risk.

Wang et al. explored the different HIV test kits used in the first line screening in Xi’an.  In line with Chinese guidelines, but not in line with WHO guidance on HIV testing algorithms for low prevalence settings, they used third- or fourth-generation rapid tests and repeated the positive tests.  WHO’s algorithm for low prevalence settings includes three different rapid tests based on different antigens.   Among 665 people found to be positive on rapid tests, only 559 were confirmed to be HIV-positive by Western blotting.  Subsequent follow up with additional Western blots showed that two of the individuals in whom the first Western blot was indeterminate were seroconverting but the other 104 were HIV-negative and had had false-positive results on the original rapid tests.  False positives were more likely with the fourth-generation test (22% of positive tests) compared to the various third-generation tests used (9-11% of positive tests).  Fourth-generation assays are known to be more sensitive, detecting people with HIV around a week or two earlier in the window period than third-generation assays.  However, the authors point out that in low prevalence settings like Xi’an, the known lack of specificity of fourth-generation assays means that they may not provide sufficient advantages to be used as the first line test.  Overall, the paper emphasizes the importance of using clearly defined algorithms.  The WHO algorithms no longer use Western blots, but do recommend using multiple tests based on different antigens for testing people at low risk of infection, and at least two different tests with different antigens for testing people at high risk of infection.  Everyone should have additional confirmatory tests done prior to starting ART.

Harbertson et al. also focused on the accuracy of rapid diagnostic tests.  They screened samples from 459 military personnel in seven African countries who had reported that they were HIV-positive.  Using the WHO algorithm, they compared the results of quality assured HIV testing to the self-reported HIV status of the participants.  They found that, in different country surveys, between three and 91% of people who said that they were living with HIV were in fact HIV-negative.  The authors point out that several studies have demonstrated the importance of following the WHO guidance, and that the positive predictive value of a test (or algorithm) will always fall as the overall prevalence falls.  They discuss possible limitations such as misunderstanding the question or the terminology used, but discount these possibilities as causing many of the false-positive reports, particularly given the highly variable results across different countries.  There was a strong association between the likelihood of a false positive report and lower education level. People whose understanding of HIV was less good were also more likely to report themselves to be positive falsely.  Overall, the authors assume that quality of testing services needs to be an important priority, while not discounting the challenges of using self-reports to collect information about HIV status.

As more and more people chose to know their HIV status, it may be possible to use routine data from the health service to track the epidemiology of HIV, rather than to use special surveys. Traditionally surveys of antenatal mothers have been used to monitor trends in the HIV epidemic over time.  With the widespread adoption of routine testing for mothers, a large proportion of women have an HIV test.  However, the assays used vary.  For surveillance purposes, samples are often stored and transported as dried blood spots and assays are run in batches using automated ELISA technology.  Routine testing (as discussed above) is often done using an algorithm based on a number of different rapid tests.   Pereira et al. have explored the differences between these approaches among almost 40 000 Brazilian mothers who participated in the antenatal surveillance exercise.  They interviewed mothers and linked their routine ANC results to the surveillance database.  Overall the prevalence of HIV among expectant mothers in Brazil was similar whichever approach was used (0.36% or 0.38%).  However, there were interesting differences.  The performance accuracy in those found positive in the surveillance exercise (which was taken as the gold standard) was only 84% overall and varied between regions from 43% to 100%.  So these 14 false negative results among the 88 individuals who were truly positive were compensated for in the overall prevalence estimates by a similar number (18) of false positive results among around 30 000 individuals who were truly negative. This highlights the challenges of providing accurate results to people in low prevalence settings. The 13% of mothers who slipped through the routine services and were not tested or refused to be tested were significantly more likely to be HIV-positive (0.56%), reinforcing the potential biases involved.  Finding 90% of people living with HIV will require considerable attention to the detail and the quality of HIV testing services.

Adolescents are often a population left behind, and regular reports show that adolescents living with HIV are less likely to know their status or to be on treatment or virally supressed.  Simms et al. used provider initiated testing and counselling (PITC) in primary care clinics in Harare, Zimbabwe.  For two years, the research team supported the routine offer of HIV testing to all six to 15 year olds presenting to seven clinics in a well-defined area of Harare.  The authors then conducted a population-based survey to find out how many eight to 17 year olds (who had had two years of exposure to the intervention) were aware of their status. 141 (2.6%) were living with HIV and more than one-third of these were undiagnosed.  Some had rarely been to the clinic, and others had been taken to the clinic by a guardian who was unable to consent to HIV testing on behalf of the child or the child’s parents.  Others had slipped through the PITC net, possibly because, as Lightfoot et al. in an accompanying comment suggest, providers still find it hard to offer HIV tests to everyone, as they assume that people living with HIV will not appear healthy.  This fits with the researchers’ findings that adolescents living with HIV who were currently healthy, had no skin or other problems and had parents who were alive were less likely to be diagnosed.  Both papers suggest that community based testing is needed to find adolescents. However, this also raises challenges in settings with lower prevalence than the high-density suburbs of Harare chosen for this project.  As prevalence falls lower than the 2.6% observed, a huge testing effort is needed, with attendant costs, but also (as explored above) with the risks of inaccurate results and of the very people that we want to find most, not being around for testing at the right moment. 

 

When an emerging disease becomes endemic.

Medley GF, Vassall A. Science. 2017 Jul 14;357(6347):156-158. doi: 10.1126/science.aam8333.

Epidemics, such as HIV in the early 1980s and Ebola in 2014, inspire decisive government investment and action, and individual and societal concern, sometimes bordering on panic. By contrast, endemic diseases, such as HIV in 2017 and tuberculosis, struggle to maintain the same attention. For many, the paradox is that endemic disease, in its totality, continues to impose a far higher public health burden than epidemic disease. Overall, the swift political response to epidemics has resulted in success. It has proven possible to eradicate epidemic diseases, often without the availability of vaccines and other biomedical technologies. In recent times, only HIV has made the transition from epidemic to endemic, but diseases that have existed for centuries continue to cause most of the infectious disease burden.

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The risk of HIV transmission at each step of the HIV care continuum among people who inject drugs: a modeling study.

Escudero DJ, Lurie MN, Mayer KH, King M, Galea S, Friedman SR, Marshall BL. BMC Public Health. 2017 Jul 25;17(1):614. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4528-9.

Background: People who inject drugs (PWID) are at continued risk for HIV in the U.S., and experience disparities across the HIV care continuum compared to other high-risk groups. Estimates of the risk of HIV transmission at each stage of the care continuum may assist in identifying public health priorities for averting incident infections among PWID, in addition to transmissions to sexual partners of PWID.

Methods: We created an agent-based model simulating HIV transmission and the HIV care continuum for PWID in New York City (NYC) in 2012. To account for sexual transmission arising from PWID to non-PWID, the simulation included the entire adult NYC population. Using surveillance data and estimates from the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance system, we simulated a dynamic sexual and injecting network. We estimated the proportion of HIV transmission events attributable to PWID in the following categories, those: without an HIV diagnosis ('Undiagnosed'); diagnosed but not on antiretroviral therapy (ART) ('Diagnosed - not on ART'); those who initiated ART but were not virally suppressed ('Unsuppressed'); and, those who achieved viral suppression ('Suppressed').

Results: We estimated HIV incidence among PWID to be 113 per 100 000 person-years in 2012, with an overall incidence rate for the entire adult NYC population of 33 per 100 000 person-years. Despite accounting for only 33% of the HIV-infected PWID population, the Undiagnosed were associated with 52.6% (95% simulation interval [95% SI]: 47.1-57.0%) of total transmission events. The Diagnosed - not on ART population contributed the second-largest proportion of HIV transmissions, with 36.6% (95% SI: 32.2-41.5%). The Unsuppressed population contributed 8.7% (95% SI: 5.6-11.8%), and Suppressed 2.1% (95% SI: 1.1-3.9%), relatively little of overall transmission.

Conclusion: Among PWID in NYC, more than half (53%) of transmissions were from those who were unaware of their infection status and more than 36% were due to PWID who knew their status, but were not on treatment. Our results indicate the importance of early diagnosis and interventions to engage diagnosed PWID on treatment to further suppress population-level HIV transmission. Future HIV prevention research should focus on the elimination of identified and potential barriers to the testing, diagnosis, and retention of PWID on HIV treatment.

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Is there a relationship between geographic distance and uptake of HIV testing services? A representative population-based study of Chinese adults in Guangzhou, China.

Chen W, Zhou F, Hall BJ, Tucker JD, Latkin C, Renzaho AMN, Ling L. PLoS One. 2017 Jul 20;12(7):e0180801. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180801. eCollection 2017.

Achieving high coverage of HIV testing services is critical in many health systems, especially where HIV testing services remain centralized and inconvenient for many. As a result, planning the optimal spatial distribution of HIV testing sites is increasingly important. We aimed to assess the relationship between geographic distance and uptake of HIV testing services among the general population in Guangzhou, China. Utilizing spatial epidemiological methods and stratified household random sampling, we studied 666 adults aged 18-59. Computer-assisted interviews assessed self-reported HIV testing history. Spatial scan statistic assessed the clustering of participants who have ever been tested for HIV, and two-level logistic regression models assessed the association between uptake of HIV testing and the mean driving distance from the participant's residence to all HIV testing sites in the research sites. The percentage of participants who have ever been tested for HIV was 25.2% (168/666, 95%CI: 21.9%, 28.5%), and the majority (82.7%) of participants tested for HIV in Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, public hospitals or STIs clinics. None reported using self-testing. Spatial clustering analyses found a hotspot included 48 participants who have ever been tested for HIV and 25.8 expected cases (Rate Ratio = 1.86, P = 0.002). Adjusted two-level logistic regression found an inverse relationship between geographic distance (kilometers) and ever being tested for HIV (aOR = 0.90, 95%CI: 0.84, 0.96). Married or cohabiting participants (aOR = 2.14, 95%CI: 1.09, 4.20) and those with greater social support (aOR = 1.04, 95%CI: 1.01, 1.07) were more likely to be tested for HIV. Our findings underscore the importance of considering the geographical distribution of HIV testing sites to increase testing. In addition, expanding HIV testing coverage by introducing non-facility based HIV testing services and self-testing might be useful to achieve the goal that 90% of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status by the year 2020.

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The characteristics of screening and confirmatory test results for HIV in Xi'an, China.

Wang L, Zhou KH, Zhao HP, Wang JH, Zheng HC, Yu Y, Chen W. PLoS One. 2017 Jul 7;12(7):e0180071. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180071. eCollection 2017.

Objectives: Individuals with recent or acute HIV infection are more infectious than those with established infection. Our objective was to analyze the characteristics of detection among HIV infections in Xi'an.

Methods: A 4th-generation kit (Architect HIV Ag/Ab Combo) and three 3rd-generationEIA kits (WanTai, XinChuang and Livzon) were used for HIV screening. Overall, 665 individuals were identified as positive and were tested by western blotting (WB). The characteristics of the screening and confirmatory tests were analyzed, including the band patterns, the early detection performance and the false-positive rates.

Results: In total, 561 of the 665 patients were confirmed as having HIV-1 infection, and no HIV-2 specific band was observed. Among these 561 WB-positive cases, reactivity to greater than or equal to 9 antigens was the most commonly observed pattern (83.18%), and the absence of reactivity to p17, p31 and gp41 was detected in 6.44%, 5.9% and 2.86% of the cases, respectively. Two cases were positive by the 4th-generation assay but negative by the 3rd-generation assay for HIV screening and had seroconversion. The false-positive rate of the Architect HIV Ag/Ab Combo (22.01%) was significantly higher than those of WanTai (9.88%), XinChuang (10.87%) and Livzon (8.93%), p<0.05

Conclusion: HIV infection in Xi'an is mainly caused by HIV-1, and individuals are rarely identified at the early phase. Although the false-positive rate of the 4th-generation assay was higher than that of the 3rd-generation assay, it is still recommended for use as the initial HIV screening test for high-risk individuals. In Xi'an, a 3rd-generation assay for screening could be considered.

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Self-reported HIV-positive status but subsequent HIV-negative test result using rapid diagnostic testing algorithms among seven sub-Saharan African military populations.

Harbertson J, Hale BR, Tran BR, Thomas AG, Grillo M, Jacobs MB, McAnany J, Shaffer RA. PLoS One. 2017 Jul 7;12(7):e0180796. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180796. eCollection 2017.

HIV rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) combined in an algorithm are the current standard for HIV diagnosis in many sub-Saharan African countries, and extensive laboratory testing has confirmed HIV RDTs have excellent sensitivity and specificity. However, false-positive RDT algorithm results have been reported due to a variety of factors, such as suboptimal quality assurance procedures and inaccurate interpretation of results. We conducted HIV serosurveys in seven sub-Saharan African military populations and recorded the frequency of personnel self-reporting HIV positivity, but subsequently testing HIV-negative during the serosurvey. The frequency of individuals who reported they were HIV-positive but subsequently tested HIV-negative using RDT algorithms ranged from 3.3 to 91.1%, suggesting significant rates of prior false-positive HIV RDT algorithm results, which should be confirmed using biological testing across time in future studies. Simple measures could substantially reduce false-positive results, such as greater adherence to quality assurance guidelines and prevalence-specific HIV testing algorithms as described in the World Health Organization's HIV testing guidelines. Other measures to improve RDT algorithm specificity include classifying individuals with weakly positive test lines as HIV indeterminate and retesting. While expansion of HIV testing in resource-limited countries is critical to identifying HIV-infected individuals for appropriate care and treatment, careful attention to potential causes of false HIV-positive results are needed to prevent the significant medical, psychological, and fiscal costs resulting from individuals receiving a false-positive HIV diagnosis.

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Transitioning from antenatal surveillance surveys to routine HIV testing: a turning point in the mother-to-child transmission prevention programme for HIV surveillance in Brazil.

Pereira GFM, Sabidó M, Caruso A, Benzaken AS. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 Jul 5;17(1):469. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2540-4.

Background: In Brazil, due to the rapid increase in programmes for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), routine programme data are widely available. The objective of this study was to assess the utility of programmatic data to replace HIV surveillance based on the antenatal care (ANC) surveillance survey (SS).

Methods: We analysed ANC SS data from 219 maternity service clinics. PMTCT variables were extracted from the ANC SS data collection form, which allowed us to capture and compare the ANC SS data and PMTCT HIV test results for each pregnant woman who completed the ANC SS. Both the PMTCT programme and the ANC SS tested for HIV using sequential ELISA and western blot for confirmation. We assessed the completeness (% missing) of the PMTC data included in the ANC SS.

Results: Of the 36 713 pregnant women who had ANC SS HIV tests performed, 30 588 also underwent PMTCT HIV testing. The HIV prevalence rate from routine PMTCT testing was 0.36%, compared to 0.38% from the ANC SS testing (relative difference -0.05%; absolute difference -0.02%). The relative difference in prevalence rates between pregnant women in northern Brazil and pregnant women central-west Brazil was -0.98 and 0.66, respectively. Of the 29 856 women who had HIV test results from both the PMTCT and ANC SS, the positive percent agreement of the PMTCT versus the surveillance test was 84.1% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 74.8-91.0), and the negative percent agreement was 99.9% (95% CI: 99.9-100.0). The PMTCT HIV testing uptake was 86.4%. The ANC SS HIV prevalence was 0.33% among PMTCT non-refusers and 0.59% among refusers, with a percent bias of -10.80% and a differential prevalence ratio of 0.56. Syphilis and HIV testing results were complete in 98% and 97.6% of PMTCT reports, respectively. The reported HIV status for the women at clinic entry was missing.

Conclusion: Although there were consistent HIV prevalence estimates from the PMTCT data and the ANC SS, the overall positive percent agreement of 84.1% falls below the World Health Organization benchmark of 94.7%. Therefore, Brazil must continue to reinforce data collection practices and ensure the quality of recently introduced rapid HIV testing before replacing the PMTCT data with surveillance techniques. However, some regions with better results could be prioritized to pilot the use of PMTCT data for surveillance.

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Community burden of undiagnosed HIV infection among adolescents in Zimbabwe following primary healthcare-based provider-initiated HIV testing and counselling: A cross-sectional survey.

Simms V, Dauya E, Dakshina S, Bandason T, McHugh G, Munyati S, Chonzi P, Kranzer K, Ncube G, Masimirembwa C, Thelingwani R, Apollo T, Hayes R, Weiss HA, Ferrand RA. PLoS Med. 2017 Jul 25;14(7):e1002360. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002360. eCollection 2017 Jul.

Background: Children living with HIV who are not diagnosed in infancy often remain undiagnosed until they present with advanced disease. Provider-initiated testing and counselling (PITC) in health facilities is recommended for high-HIV-prevalence settings, but it is unclear whether this approach is sufficient to achieve universal coverage of HIV testing. We aimed to investigate the change in community burden of undiagnosed HIV infection among older children and adolescents following implementation of PITC in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Methods and Findings: Over the course of 2 years (January 2013-January 2015), 7 primary health clinics (PHCs) in southwestern Harare implemented optimised, opt-out PITC for all attendees aged 6-15 years. In February 2015-December 2015, we conducted a representative cross-sectional survey of 8-17-year-olds living in the 7 communities served by the study PHCs, who would have had 2 years of exposure to PITC. Knowledge of HIV status was ascertained through a caregiver questionnaire, and anonymised HIV testing was carried out using oral mucosal transudate (OMT) tests. After 1 participant taking antiretroviral therapy was observed to have a false negative OMT result, from July 2015 urine samples were obtained from all participants providing OMTs and tested for antiretroviral drugs to confirm HIV status. Children who tested positive through PITC were identified from among survey participants using gender, birthdate, and location. Of 7146 children in 4251 eligible households, 5486 (76.8%) children in 3397 households agreed to participate in the survey, and 141 were HIV positive. HIV prevalence was 2.6% (95% CI 2.2%-3.1%), and over a third of participants with HIV were undiagnosed (37.7%; 95% CI 29.8%-46.2%). Similarly, among the subsample of 2643 (48.2%) participants with a urine test result, 34.7% of those living with HIV were undiagnosed (95% CI 23.5%-47.9%). Based on extrapolation from the survey sample to the community, we estimated that PITC over 2 years identified between 18% and 42% of previously undiagnosed children in the community. The main limitation is that prevalence of undiagnosed HIV was defined using a combination of 3 measures (OMT, self-report, and urine test), none of which were perfect.

Conclusions: Facility-based approaches are inadequate in achieving universal coverage of HIV testing among older children and adolescents. Alternative, community-based approaches are required to meet the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) target of diagnosing 90% of those living with HIV by 2020 in this age group.

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Old fashioned AIDS is still with us – shocking in 2017

Editor’s notes: The term AIDS refers to advanced HIV disease with a CD4 count below 200 cells per microl. or with one of several typical opportunistic infections. It is more than twenty years since the revolutionary discovery of highly active combination antiretroviral therapy.  While deaths due to HIV have fallen steadily over the past two decades, it is shocking that so many people are still dying from AIDS.  In part this is due to the same issues of HIV testing discussed above.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published their most recent report on surveillance in the United States of America (USA).  The authors show very gradual progress in the right direction. But, still more than 20% of people are diagnosed with HIV infection in the USA when they already have AIDS.  In fact, in a further 20% of people, the stage of infection was not reported to CDC, so as a proportion of those with a known stage at diagnosis, as many as one quarter were diagnosed with AIDS. As might be expected, there are disparities between states with District of Columbia and California doing a little better.  There are big disparities by age (with over one third of people diagnosed at age greater than 45 years having AIDS) but surprisingly little difference by ethnicity.

Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) recently released a report highlighting the challenge of advanced disease, which was picked up in a commentary in the British Medical Journal by Cousins.  The report points out that in hospital settings in Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Kenya, and Malawi, MSF are still seeing an alarmingly high mortality rate, with one third of deaths occurring within the first 48 hours of admission.  As many as three quarters of the patients had been on antiretroviral therapy (ART), suggesting that their advanced disease was not a consequence of late presentation, but rather of failure of the health system to deliver quality care.  The importance of detecting treatment failure early and changing to effective second (or third) line ART was emphasized.  Once patients do present to hospital with advanced HIV disease, it is a clinical emergency and urgent effective care may make a big difference.  WHO has recently issued guidance on managing advanced HIV disease, and the Journal of the International AIDS Society has recently released a useful supplement on Differentiated Care and HIV.

Back in the USA, Braunstein et al. used existing laboratory and other data to construct a retrospective analysis of what happened in the intervenable period during which different treatment approaches might have prevented more than 11 000 people from dying with HIV between 2007 and 2013.  The intervenable period was defined as the 12 months before the last three months of life.  The authors pointed out that in the last three months of life, people might be in care that was not typical of their engagement during the preceding year.  So the intervenable period is therefore more important to see where change could happen.  Like the MSF team, they found that a substantial proportion of people were not properly treated, as shown by the finding that 60% of people did not have a suppressed viral load in the period analysed.  This was despite 98% having some engagement with the health system as shown by laboratory records, 80% being defined as linked to care, and 76% being prescribed ART. The challenge seemed to be to provide high quality care with continuity of care and decisions made promptly according to the findings in the laboratory.

The package of interventions recommended by WHO in their guidance for people presenting with advanced HIV disease includes screening, treatment and/or prophylaxis for major opportunistic infections, rapid ART initiation and intensified adherence support interventions.  Additional support for this approach comes from the REALITY randomized trial conducted by Hakim and colleagues in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Kenya.  In this trial, people with advanced HIV infection, judged by their CD4 count, were randomized in a factorial design.  1805 participants were randomized to different ART regimens; to nutritional support or not; and to a package of prophylaxis.  This paper reports on the differences seen according to whether or not participants were randomized to receive the enhanced prophylaxis.  The package consisted of at least 12 weeks of co-trimoxazole (against pneumocystis, malaria, and various bacterial and protozoal infections), co-formulated with isoniazid and pyridoxine (against tuberculosis), along with fluconazole (against cryptococcus, candida and other fungi) also for 12 weeks and azithromycin (against a broader range of invasive bacteria including salmonella) for five days.  The enhanced prophylaxis led to a 27% reduction in mortality six months after entering the study, and there was still a clear difference after one year, by when 127 people had died in the standard of care group compared to 98 in the enhanced prophylaxis group.  Nonetheless, the death rate was still considerable.  It is also worth noting that many of the people in whom the CD4 count was extremely low did not complain of any symptoms.  So CD4 testing is still needed at the point of clinical care to determine who needs urgent differentiated care for advanced HIV infection.

The final paper in this section is a randomised trial from GHESKIO in Haiti (Koenig et al.).  The investigators randomized 701 people diagnosed with HIV, to start ART on the same day as their diagnosis, or to wait for three weeks, as is standard of care at the centre.  12 months later, viral suppression was somewhat better in people who started ART on the same day (61% vs. 52% at a cut-off of 1000 copies per ml.).  The authors point out that this was a single centre study, and results from GHESKIO might not be generalizable to other treatment sites in Haiti.  Although there were still substantial losses to follow up, there was clearly no evidence that the policy to start people on HIV treatment immediately was too hasty.

 

Missed opportunities: adapting the HIV care continuum to reduce HIV-related deaths

Braunstein SL, Robbins RS, Daskalakis DC. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 Jul 26. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001509. [Epub ahead of print]

Introduction: With advances in HIV care, persons with HIV/AIDS (PWHA) can lead healthy lives, but avoidable, HIV-related deaths continue to occur in New York City (NYC).

Methods: We selected PWHA from our surveillance registry who died between 2007-2013, resided in NYC, and survived ≥15 months post-diagnosis to generate an HIV Mortality Reduction Continuum of Care (HMRCC) describing pre-death care patterns among PWHA. We used HIV laboratory test reports to measure care outcomes during an "intervenable period" (IP) during which deaths may have been avoided. The continuum was stratified by underlying cause of death (COD) (HIV-related vs. other), and the HIV-related HMRCC was stratified by demographic characteristics.

Results: 11 187 analysis-eligible PWHA died during 2007-2013. 98% linked to care; 80% were retained in care during the IP; 66% were prescribed ART; 47% had VL≤1500 copies/mL; 40% achieved viral suppression (VS). Half (47%) of deaths were HIV-related. Retention was higher among HIV-related COD (83% vs. 78%), but VS was lower (34% vs. 46%). The HIV-related HMRCC revealed disparities in VS. Despite comparable retention rates, Whites had the highest VS (42%, vs. 32% Blacks and 33% Latinos/Hispanics). Additionally, retention and VS increased with increasing age. People with a history of injection drug use had relatively high rates of retention (88%) and VS (37%).

Discussion: The HMRCC is a novel framework for evaluating pre-death care patterns among PWHA and identifying opportunities to reduce preventable deaths. In NYC, reducing mortality will require increasing VS among those already in care, particularly for Blacks and Latinos/Hispanics.

Abstract access

 

Enhanced prophylaxis plus antiretroviral therapy for advanced HIV infection in Africa

Hakim J, Musiime V, Szubert AJ, Mallewa J, Siika A, Agutu C, Walker S, Pett SL, Bwakura-Dangarembizi M, Lugemwa A, Kaunda S, Karoney M, Musoro G, Kabahenda S, Nathoo K, Maitland K, Griffiths A, Thomason MJ, Kityo C, Mugyenyi P, Prendergast AJ, Walker AS, Gibb DM; REALITY Trial Team. N Engl J Med. 2017 Jul 20;377(3):233-245. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1615822.

Background: In sub-Saharan Africa, among patients with advanced human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, the rate of death from infection (including tuberculosis and cryptococcus) shortly after the initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) is approximately 10%.

Methods: In this factorial open-label trial conducted in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Kenya, we enrolled HIV-infected adults and children 5 years of age or older who had not received previous ART and were starting ART with a CD4+ count of fewer than 100 cells per cubic millimeter. They underwent simultaneous randomization to receive enhanced antimicrobial prophylaxis or standard prophylaxis, adjunctive raltegravir or no raltegravir, and supplementary food or no supplementary food. Here, we report on the effects of enhanced antimicrobial prophylaxis, which consisted of continuous trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole plus at least 12 weeks of isoniazid-pyridoxine (co-formulated with trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole in a single fixed-dose combination tablet), 12 weeks of fluconazole, 5 days of azithromycin, and a single dose of albendazole, as compared with standard prophylaxis (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole alone). The primary end point was 24-week mortality.

Results: A total of 1805 patients (1733 adults and 72 children or adolescents) underwent randomization to receive either enhanced prophylaxis (906 patients) or standard prophylaxis (899 patients) and were followed for 48 weeks (loss to follow-up, 3.1%). The median baseline CD4+ count was 37 cells per cubic millimeter, but 854 patients (47.3%) were asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. In the Kaplan-Meier analysis at 24 weeks, the rate of death with enhanced prophylaxis was lower than that with standard prophylaxis (80 patients [8.9% vs. 108 [12.2%]; hazard ratio, 0.73; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.55 to 0.98; P=0.03); 98 patients (11.0%) and 127 (14.4%), respectively, had died by 48 weeks (hazard ratio, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.58 to 0.99; P=0.04). Patients in the enhanced-prophylaxis group had significantly lower rates of tuberculosis (P=0.02), cryptococcal infection (P=0.01), oral or esophageal candidiasis (P=0.02), death of unknown cause (P=0.03), and new hospitalization (P=0.03). However, there was no significant between-group difference in the rate of severe bacterial infection (P=0.32). There were nonsignificantly lower rates of serious adverse events and grade 4 adverse events in the enhanced-prophylaxis group (P=0.08 and P=0.09, respectively). Rates of HIV viral suppression and adherence to ART were similar in the two groups.

Conclusion: Among HIV-infected patients with advanced immunosuppression, enhanced antimicrobial prophylaxis combined with ART resulted in reduced rates of death at both 24 weeks and 48 weeks without compromising viral suppression or increasing toxic effects.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

Same-day HIV testing with initiation of antiretroviral therapy versus standard care for persons living with HIV: A randomized unblinded trial

Koenig SP, Dorvil N, Dévieux JG, Hedt-Gauthier BL, Riviere C, Faustin M, Lavoile K, Perodin C, Apollon A, Duverger L, McNairy ML, Hennessey KA, Souroutzidis A, Cremieux PY, Severe P, Pape JW. PLoS Med. 2017 Jul 25;14(7):e1002357. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002357. eCollection 2017 Jul.

Background: Attrition during the period from HIV testing to antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation is high worldwide. We assessed whether same-day HIV testing and ART initiation improves retention and virologic suppression.

Methods and Findings: We conducted an unblinded, randomized trial of standard ART initiation versus same-day HIV testing and ART initiation among eligible adults ≥18 years old with World Health Organization Stage 1 or 2 disease and CD4 count ≤500 cells/mm3. The study was conducted among outpatients at the Haitian Group for the Study of Kaposi's Sarcoma and Opportunistic infections (GHESKIO) Clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Participants were randomly assigned (1:1) to standard ART initiation or same-day HIV testing and ART initiation. The standard group initiated ART 3 weeks after HIV testing, and the same-day group initiated ART on the day of testing. The primary study endpoint was retention in care 12 months after HIV testing with HIV-1 RNA <50 copies/ml. We assessed the impact of treatment arm with a modified intention-to-treat analysis, using multivariable logistic regression controlling for potential confounders. Between August 2013 and October 2015, 762 participants were enrolled; 59 participants transferred to other clinics during the study period, and were excluded as per protocol, leaving 356 in the standard and 347 in the same-day ART groups. In the standard ART group, 156 (44%) participants were retained in care with 12-month HIV-1 RNA <50 copies, and 184 (52%) had <1000 copies/ml; 20 participants (6%) died. In the same-day ART group, 184 (53%) participants were retained with HIV-1 RNA <50 copies/ml, and 212 (61%) had <1000 copies/ml; 10 (3%) participants died. The unadjusted risk ratio (RR) of being retained at 12 months with HIV-1 RNA <50 copies/ml was 1.21 (95% CI: 1.04, 1.38; p = 0.015) for the same-day ART group compared to the standard ART group, and the unadjusted RR for being retained with HIV-1 RNA <1000 copies was 1.18 (95% CI: 1.04, 1.31; p = 0.012). The main limitation of this study is that it was conducted at a single urban clinic, and the generalizability to other settings is uncertain.

Conclusions: Same-day HIV testing and ART initiation is feasible and beneficial in this setting, as it improves retention in care with virologic suppression among patients with early clinical HIV disease.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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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.

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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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Technology is advancing rapidly, but are we making the most of it?

Editor’s notes: HIV self-testing was a key area of discussion in the Paris IAS meeting.  UNITAID signed the next phase of the STAR Initiative that is working with six countries in Southern Africa to transform the market for self-testing and understand the impact of different delivery systems.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are using their resources to lower prices of self-test kits.  Following WHO’s decision to prequalify an oral fluid test, many countries are including self-test commodities within their PEPFAR Country Operation Plans and Global Fund concept notes. WHO have issued guidance on self-testing and assisted partner notification. So we can expect to see more and more self-tests out there in the field!

In Malawi, Choko et al. reported on qualitative research done prior to a cluster randomized trial that involves providing self-tests to women attending antenatal care (ANC) for them to take home to their partners.  Although couples are welcomed at ANC clinics and couple testing is certainly beneficial, many men still feel that the clinic is not a place for them.  As one participant said: “Considering what happens here at the ANC clinic, I don’t see my husband escorting me anymore because you find he is alone among many women and he has to listen to some things concerning birth. . . .”

In contrast, many women and men engaged in conversations about how providing self-test kits could help communication, stigma, privacy, control and time pressure among other aspects of involving men in HIV testing.  Some concerns were raised around violence and it is clear that this approach will suit some but not all couples, so it needs to be delivered in a way that respects autonomy with no coercion.

In a very different context, Jamil et al. have conducted a randomized trial among Australian gay men and men who have sex with men.  The trial enrolled “high risk” men who reported multiple partners and condomless sex over the past months.  A central premise of public health strategies to control the HIV epidemic is to find people who have acquired HIV as early as possible.  So the trial aimed to determine whether the offer of free oral fluid self-tests led to earlier testing and more frequent testing.  They found that compared with standard care, availability of free oral-fluid self-testing increased testing frequency both in men who had not tested recently and in men who had not tested at all in the past years. Importantly there was no decline in facility-based testing for HIV or sexually transmitted infections, which might have implied replacement.  The men commented that self-testing was highly acceptable and easy to do.

Self-tests are not a panacea.  Oral fluid tests do have a slightly lower sensitivity than blood based tests.  This may be important when HIV-antibody levels are not high, particularly in people taking ART (either as treatment or as PrEP), or early in the course of infection.  Furthermore, both oral fluid and blood based test rely on visual identification of bands on the test strip that may be faint, leading to some people assuming that they are negative or failing to see the positive band.  Curlin et al. examined the performance of oral fluid tests in people seroconverting to HIV during three specific trials.  They found a considerable number of false negative results and a long delay before some individuals became positive on oral fluid tests.  There was also a clear suggestion that some test operators were less good than others at performing the test and the possibility that one batch of the test kits were less sensitive.  Overall they concluded that “caution must be exercised when interpreting a negative oral fluid test in settings where acute infection is likely, and where PrEP use, ART induced viral suppression, or profound immunosuppression may result in low HIV-specific antibody titers.”  However, as an additional screening tool to be used in populations where many of whom are “missing” from the first 90 are to be found, self-tests have much to offer.  Many of these people will have acquired HIV some time ago and by definition will not be taking ART.  So the cautions raised by Curlin et al. may be less relevant for the primary intended purpose of self-tests.  Nonetheless, they make it very clear that oral fluid self-tests are not an appropriate technology to follow people on treatment or on PrEP.  Nor are they recommended for the diagnosis of acute infection.

While self-tests may increase the proportion of adults knowing their HIV status, different technology is needed for infants.  Nucleic acid amplification is used to detect pro-viral DNA or viral RNA in samples from infants.  The technology is more complex and often centralized, leading to delays and loss to follow up in mother-infant pairs.  Several systems now aim to provide testing close to the point of care and the evaluation of the SAMBA HIV-1 Qual Whole Blood Test from Ondiek et al. is an encouraging report.  Sensitivity and specificity were high (98.5% and 99.8% on 745 infant samples) and comparable to the standard approach used in centralized labs.  Samples from those with discrepant results were rechecked by assays based on multiple targets and suggested that the SAMBA test and the standard approach were each responsible for some of the few false positive and negatives seen.  The advantages of the SAMBA system is that it has been designed to be used in peripheral health systems.  All the reagents are freeze dried and stable without refrigeration. Turnaround time is approximately 2 hours with minimal sample handling once the sample is put into the machine.  Costs will still need to come down, but competition with other manufacturers may help.

The SAMBA technology that was evaluated is a qualitative assay aimed at diagnosis of infants.  A larger market is for viral load assays that are central to the monitoring of the effectiveness of HIV treatment and form the indicator for UNAIDS’s third 90.  However, at the moment viral load assays are still too expensive. As a result the optimal strategy for their use remains uncertain within programmes that have to make difficult decisions about where their limited resources should be spent.

Negoescu et al. have built an interesting model to explore the economic trade-offs between different frequencies of performing viral load assays.  More importantly they explore models of adapting the frequency of assays according to characteristics of the person taking ART.  People who have been on treatment for longer periods, or are older, or report fewer problems with adherence could be selected for less frequent assays.  This could save resources, without compromising health outcomes.  However, for countries like Uganda, which was used as the example to calibrate the model, the best approach seems to still be a viral load assay once per year, regardless of other factors.  And indeed, many resource limited countries are having to make difficult choices about how to allocate stretched budgets between expansion of access to viral load assays to the possible detriment of basic prevention programmes such as male circumcision and condoms.  As more resources become available (or as the cost of viral load assays fall) countries may well choose to do more frequent viral load assays.  The authors showed that monthly assays were more expensive but did (unsurprisingly) lead to benefits in terms of earlier detection of virological failure.  Given the renewed attention to drug resistance and the role of late detection of HIV treatment failure in propagating it, such models may become increasingly important.  Adapting the viral load assay frequency to the characteristics of the person taking HIV treatment could be a sensible approach in middle and higher income settings.

For some years, WHO has recommended that nucleic acid amplification should also be used as the first line test for tuberculosis among people living with HIV.  The GeneXpert® system has been taken up quite widely in many countries where HIV is common among people with tuberculosis, most notably in South Africa.  However, Hermans et al. remind us that technology is only one part of the solution.  Although there is no doubt that Xpert is considerably more sensitive than sputum microscopy and considerably quicker than mycobacterial culture, incorporating the technology into routine practice is not always straightforward.  At the Infectious Disease Institute in Kampala, Uganda, where there are well trained clinicians and better resources than in much of the rest of Uganda, Xpert was made available at no cost for the diagnosis of tuberculosis in a one stop combined HIV-TB clinic.  In a cohort of people living with HIV with symptoms suggestive of possible tuberculosis and whose sputum smear microscopy result was negative, many clinicians still preferred to treat on the basis of their clinical judgement and chest radiography.  Xpert™ was requested in less than half the patients.  Similar numbers of people were started on treatment for tuberculosis regardless of whether Xpert was requested (22% vs 21%).  And among those in whom an Xpert™ was performed, more were started on anti-tuberculosis treatment who had had a negative test than a positive one.  So it was not really clear that Xpert was useful in the diagnosis and management of HIV-related tuberculosis in this setting.  Xpert is not 100% sensitive, so many clinicians will choose to treat patients who might have tuberculosis regardless of the results of new technology.  Xpert also give a result that includes resistance to rifampicin, but this was not such a major issue in Kampala and was not an objective of this study.  Those treated without a confirmed test result were more likely to die during the next 12 months, but the authors point out that there are many possible reasons for this.  Many clinicians are aware of the high rates of undiagnosed tuberculosis found at autopsy in people with HIV. Thus, empirical treatment is often given to those who are critically unwell, even when there is no clear evidence of tuberculosis.

GeneXpert® was also the technology used in another study of tuberculosis contact tracing among school children in Swaziland (Ustero et al.).  Despite a rapid and extensive response to look for additional cases in schools where a confirmed case of tuberculosis had been found, no secondary cases were identified.  In household contacts of the same children, they found an additional two cases.  WHO recommends contacts tracing in households of infectious tuberculosis patients.  Although there is still a large and important gap in the estimated number of tuberculosis cases and the number who are notified and treated by national programmes, the best ways to find the missing cases are not well established.  Even in settings where both infections are among the most important causes of mortality, tuberculosis is much less prevalent than HIV.  So the challenge for case-finding and screening approaches for tuberculosis is to select the populations most at risk. An alternative would be to develop tools that are so sensitive, specific and cheap that they can be used for widespread screening. GeneXpert® is not that tool.

While tuberculosis remains the single most important cause of mortality among people living with HIV in low resource settings, there is welcome and increasing attention being paid to human papillomaviruses (HPV).  Certain types of HPV are the cause of cervical cancer.  This is an AIDS-defining illness both because it is more common among women living with HIV and because it has such a high mortality when only detected at the late stages.  At the Paris conference there was a morning session on how to do more about cervical cancer and in particular how to build on the synergies of both HPV and HIV programmes to provide more integrated services for women who are at risk of both infections.  The most important types of HPV that cause cervical cancer can be prevented by vaccination.  However, to be most effective the vaccine has to be given prior to becoming infected with the relevant HPV strain.  So the study by Sudenga et al. in South Africa is useful as it demonstrates how many younger women aged 16-24 years in the Western Cape Province had antibodies against four of the important types included in the quadrivalent vaccine that they were testing.  The majority of participants (64%) had antibodies to two or more types present at enrolment and 12% had antibodies to all four.  Furthermore, among those participants who received placebo injections, the seroconversion rates were alarming high at 23% for HPV16 and 5% for HPV6 over the 7 months of the study among baseline seronegative participants.  South Africa has been a leader in the region in HPV vaccination for schoolgirls.  It is clear that vaccination needs to happen at a young enough age to catch most girls before they become sexually active.  This is in contrast to the offer of pre-exposure prophylaxis, which should be focused on young women who are already sexually active and at higher risk of acquiring HIV.  The specificities of synergies and integration need to be clearly delineated if we are to maximize efficiency.

HPV is also the principal cause of anal carcinoma, which is a significant problem among gay men and men who have sex with men.  Jin et al. have been building on the progress in cervical cancer screening, where new technologies such as nucleic acid detection or oncoprotein detection are leading to big improvements in some settings and replacing cytology as the first line screen for women.  The authors determined whether similar biomarkers including both nucleic acids and cellular markers could be used instead of anal cytology.  As with most advances in diagnostic technology, there is a trade-off between sensitivity and specificity.  Tests that do not miss any cases of neoplastic change are also likely to lead to many people being unnecessarily referred for further assessment and treatment.  However, both new approaches seem to be able to be calibrated in this Australian population to allow fewer referrals while still maintaining a similar sensitivity to the current cytological approach.

Acceptability of woman-delivered HIV self-testing to the male partner, and additional interventions: a qualitative study of antenatal care participants in Malawi.

Choko AT, Kumwenda MK, Johnson CC, Sakala DW, Chikalipo MC, Fielding K, Chikovore J, Desmond N, Corbett EL. J Int AIDS Soc. 2017 Jun 26;20(1):1-10. doi: 10.7448/IAS.20.1.21610.

Introduction: In the era of ambitious HIV targets, novel HIV testing models are required for hard-to-reach groups such as men, who remain underserved by existing services. Pregnancy presents a unique opportunity for partners to test for HIV, as many pregnant women will attend antenatal care (ANC). We describe the views of pregnant women and their male partners on HIV self-test kits that are woman-delivered, alone or with an additional intervention.

Methods: A formative qualitative study to inform the design of a multi-arm multi-stage cluster-randomized trial, comprised of six focus group discussions and 20 in-depth interviews, was conducted. ANC attendees were purposively sampled on the day of initial clinic visit, while men were recruited after obtaining their contact information from their female partners. Data were analysed using content analysis, and our interpretation is hypothetical as participants were not offered self-test kits.

Results: Providing HIV self-test kits to pregnant women to deliver to their male partners was highly acceptable to both women and men. Men preferred this approach compared with standard facility-based testing, as self-testing fits into their lifestyles which were characterized by extreme day-to-day economic pressures, including the need to raise money for food for their household daily. Men and women emphasized the need for careful communication before and after collection of the self-test kits in order to minimize the potential for intimate partner violence although physical violence was perceived as less likely to occur. Most men stated a preference to first self-test alone, followed by testing as a couple. Regarding interventions for optimizing linkage following self-testing, both men and women felt that a fixed financial incentive of approximately USD$2 would increase linkage. However, there were concerns that financial incentives of greater value may lead to multiple pregnancies and lack of child spacing. In this low-income setting, a lottery incentive was considered overly disappointing for those who receive nothing. Phone call reminders were preferred to short messaging service.

Conclusions: Woman-delivered HIV self-testing through ANC was acceptable to pregnant women and their male partners. Feedback on additional linkage enablers will be used to alter pre-planned trial arms.

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Effect of availability of HIV self-testing on HIV testing frequency in gay and bisexual men at high risk of infection (FORTH): a waiting-list randomised controlled trial.

Jamil MS, Prestage G, Fairley CK, Grulich AE, Smith KS, Chen M, Holt M, McNulty AM, Bavinton BR, Conway DP, Wand H, Keen P,Bradley J, Kolstee J, Batrouney C, Russell D, Law M, Kaldor JM, Guy RJ. Lancet HIV. 2017 Jun;4(6):e241-e250. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30023-1. Epub 2017 Feb 17.

Background: Frequent testing of individuals at high risk of HIV is central to current prevention strategies. We aimed to determine if HIV self-testing would increase frequency of testing in high-risk gay and bisexual men, with a particular focus on men who delayed testing or had never been tested before.

Methods: In this randomised trial, HIV-negative high-risk gay and bisexual men who reported condomless anal intercourse or more than five male sexual partners in the past 3 months were recruited at three clinical and two community-based sites in Australia. Enrolled participants were randomly assigned (1:1) to the intervention (free HIV self-testing plus facility-based testing) or standard care (facility-based testing only). Participants completed a brief online questionnaire every 3 months, which collected the number of self-tests used and the number and location of facility-based tests, and HIV testing was subsequently sourced from clinical records. The primary outcome of number of HIV tests over 12 months was assessed overall and in two strata: recent (last test ≤2 years ago) and non-recent (>2 years ago or never tested) testers. A statistician who was masked to group allocation analysed the data; analyses included all participants who completed at least one follow-up questionnaire. After the 12 month follow-up, men in the standard care group were offered free self-testing kits for a year. This trial is registered with the Australian New Zealand clinical trials registry, number actrn12613001236785.

Findings: Between Dec 1, 2013, and Feb 5, 2015, 182 men were randomly assigned to self-testing, and 180 to standard care. The analysis population included 178 (98%) men in the self-testing group (174 person-years) and 165 (92%) in the standard care group (162 person-years). Overall, men in the self-testing group had 701 HIV tests (410 self-tests; mean 4·0 tests per year), and men in the standard care group had 313 HIV tests (mean 1·9 tests per year); rate ratio (rr) 2·08 (95% ci 1·82-2·38; p<0·0001). Among recent testers, men in the self-testing group had 627 tests (356 self-tests; mean 4·2 per year), and men in the standard care group had 297 tests (mean 2·1 per year); rr 1·99 (1·73-2·29; p<0·0001). Among non-recent testers, men in the self-testing group had 74 tests (54 self-tests; mean 2·8 per year), and men in the standard care group had 16 tests (mean 0·7 per year); rr 3·95 (2·30-6·78; p<0·0001). The mean number of facility-based HIV tests per year was similar in the self-testing and standard care groups (mean 1·7 vs 1·9 per year, respectively; rr 0·86, 0·74-1·01; P=0·074). No serious adverse events were reported during follow-up.

Interpretation: HIV self-testing resulted in a two times increase in frequency of testing in gay and bisexual men at high risk of infection, and a nearly four times increase in non-recent testers, compared with standard care, without reducing the frequency of facility-based HIV testing. HIV self-testing should be made more widely available to help increase testing and earlier diagnosis.

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Analysis of false-negative human immunodeficiency virus rapid tests performed on oral fluid in 3 international clinical research studies.

Curlin ME, Gvetadze R, Leelawiwat W, Martin M, Rose C, Niska RW, Segolodi TM, Choopanya K, Tongtoyai J, Holtz TH, Samandari T, McNicholl JM; OraQuick Study Group. Clin Infect Dis. 2017 Jun 15;64(12):1663-1669. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix228.

Background: The OraQuick Advance Rapid HIV-1/2 Test is a point-of-care test capable of detecting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-specific antibodies in blood and oral fluid. To understand test performance and factors contributing to false-negative results in longitudinal studies, we examined results of participants enrolled in the Botswana TDF/FTC Oral HIV Prophylaxis Trial, the Bangkok Tenofovir Study, and the Bangkok MSM Cohort Study, 3 separate clinical studies of high-risk, HIV-negative persons conducted in Botswana and Thailand.

Methods: In a retrospective observational analysis, we compared oral fluid OraQuick (OFOQ) results among participants becoming HIV infected to results obtained retrospectively using enzyme immunoassay and nucleic acid amplification tests on stored specimens. We categorized negative OFOQ results as true-negative or false-negative relative to nucleic acid amplification test and/or enzyme immunoassay, and determined the delay in OFOQ conversion relative to the estimated time of infection. We used log-binomial regression and generalized estimating equations to examine the association between false-negative results and participant, clinical, and testing-site factors.

Results: Two-hundred thirty-three false-negative OFOQ results occurred in 80 of 287 seroconverting individuals.  Estimated OFOQ conversion delay ranged from 14.5 to 547.5 (median, 98.5) days. Delayed OFOQ conversion was associated with clinical site and test operator (P < .05), preexposure prophylaxis (P = .01), low plasma viral load (P < .02), and time to kit expiration (P < .01). Participant age, sex, and HIV subtype were not associated with false-negative results. Long OFOQ conversion delay time was associated with antiretroviral exposure and low plasma viral load.

Conclusions: Failure of OFOQ to detect HIV-1 infection was frequent and multifactorial in origin. In longitudinal trials, negative oral fluid results should be confirmed via testing of blood samples.

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Multi-country validation of SAMBA - A novel molecular point-of- care test for HIV-1 detection in resource-limited setting.

Ondiek J, Namukaya Z, Mtapuri-Zinyowera S, Balkan S, Elbireer A, Ushiro Lumb I, Kiyaga C, Goel N, Ritchie A, Ncube P, Omuomu K, Ndiege K, Kekitiinwa A,Mangwanya D, Fowler MG, Nadala L, Lee H. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 Jun 9. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001476. [Epub ahead of print]

Introduction: Early diagnosis of HIV-1 infection and the prompt initiation of antiretroviral therapy are critical to achieving a reduction in the morbidity and mortality of infected infants. The SAMBA HIV-1 Qual Whole Blood Test was developed specifically for early infant diagnosis and prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs implemented at the point-of-care in resource-limited settings.

Methods: We have evaluated the performance of this test run on the SAMBA I semi-automated platform with fresh whole blood specimens collected from 202 adults and 745 infants in Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Results were compared with those obtained with the Roche COBAS AmpliPrep/COBAS TaqMan (CAP/CTM) HIV-1 assay as performed with fresh whole blood or dried blood spots of the same subjects, and discrepancies were resolved with alternative assays.

Results: The performance of the SAMBA and CAP/CTM assays evaluated at five laboratories in the three countries was similar for both adult and infant samples. The clinical sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values for the SAMBA test were 100%, 99.2%, 98.7%, and 100%, respectively, with adult samples, and 98.5%, 99.8%, 99.7%, and 98.8%, respectively, with infant samples.

Discussion: Our data suggest that the SAMBA HIV-1 Qual Whole Blood Test would be effective for early diagnosis of HIV-1 infection in infants at point-of care settings in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Differentiated human immunodeficiency virus RNA monitoring in resource-limited settings: an economic analysis.

Negoescu DM, Zhang Z, Bucher HC, Bendavid E; Swiss HIV Cohort Study. Clin Infect Dis. 2017 Jun 15;64(12):1724-1730. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix177.

Background: Viral load (VL) monitoring for patients receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) is recommended worldwide. However, the costs of frequent monitoring are a barrier to implementation in resource-limited settings. The extent to which personalized monitoring frequencies may be cost-effective is unknown.

Methods: We created a simulation model parameterized using person-level longitudinal data to assess the benefits of flexible monitoring frequencies. Our data-driven model tracked human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected individuals for 10 years following ART initiation. We optimized the interval between viral load tests as a function of patients' age, gender, education, duration since ART initiation, adherence behavior, and the cost-effectiveness threshold. We compared the cost-effectiveness of the personalized monitoring strategies to fixed monitoring intervals every 1, 3, 6, 12, and 24 months.

Results: Shorter fixed VL monitoring intervals yielded increasing benefits (6.034 to 6.221 discounted quality-adjusted life-years [QALYs] per patient with monitoring every 24 to 1 month over 10 years, respectively, standard error = 0.005 QALY), at increasing average costs: US$3445 (annual monitoring) to US$5393 (monthly monitoring) per patient, respectively (standard error = US$3.7). The adaptive policy optimized for low-income contexts achieved 6.142 average QALYs at a cost of US$3524, similar to the fixed 12-month policy (6.135 QALYs, US$3518). The adaptive policy optimized for middle-income resource settings yields 0.008 fewer QALYs per person, but saves US$204 compared to monitoring every 3 months.

Conclusions: The benefits from implementing adaptive vs fixed VL monitoring policies increase with the availability of resources. In low- and middle-income countries, adaptive policies achieve similar outcomes to simpler, fixed-interval policies.

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Treatment decisions and mortality in HIV-positive presumptive smear-negative TB in the Xpert™ MTB/RIF era: a cohort study.

Hermans SM, Babirye JA, Mbabazi O, Kakooza F, Colebunders R, Castelnuovo B, Sekaggya-Wiltshire C, Parkes-Ratanshi R, Manabe YC. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 Jun 16;17(1):433. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2534-2.

Background: The Xpert™ MTB/RIF (XP) has a higher sensitivity than sputum smear microscopy (70% versus 35%) for TB diagnosis and has been endorsed by the WHO for TB high burden countries to increase case finding among HIV co-infected presumptive TB patients. Its impact on the diagnosis of smear-negative TB in a routine care setting is unclear. We determined the change in diagnosis, treatment and mortality of smear-negative presumptive TB with routine use of Xpert MTB/RIF (XP).

Methods: Prospective cohort study of HIV-positive smear-negative presumptive TB patients during a 12-month period after XP implementation in a well-staffed and trained integrated TB/HIV clinic in Kampala, Uganda. Prior to testing clinicians were asked to decide whether they would treat empirically prior to Xpert result; actual treatment was decided upon receipt of the XP result. We compared empirical and XP-informed treatment decisions and all-cause mortality in the first year.

Results: Of 411 smear-negative presumptive TB patients, 175 (43%) received an XP; their baseline characteristics did not differ. XP positivity was similar in patients with a pre-XP empirical diagnosis and those without (9/29 [17%] versus 14/142 [10%], P = 0.23). Despite XP testing high levels of empirical treatment prevailed (18%), although XP results did change who ultimately was treated for TB. When adjusted for CD4 count, empirical treatment was not associated with higher mortality compared to no or microbiologically confirmed treatment.

Conclusions: XP usage was lower than expected. The lower sensitivity of XP in smear-negative HIV-positive patients led experienced clinicians to use XP as a "rule-in" rather than "rule-out" test, with the majority of patients still treated empirically.

Keywords: Empirical treatment; HIV Infections/complications; Molecular diagnostic techniques/methods; Tuberculosis, pulmonary/diagnosis; Tuberculosis, pulmonary/epidemiology

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School and household tuberculosis contact investigations in Swaziland: Active TB case finding in a high HIV/TB burden setting.

Ustero PA, Kay AW, Ngo K, Golin R, Tsabedze B, Mzileni B,Glickman J, Wisile Xaba M, Mavimbela G, Mandalakas AM. PLoS One. 2017 Jun 5;12(6):e0178873. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0178873.eCollection 2017.

Background: Investigation of household contacts exposed to infectious tuberculosis (TB) is widely recommended by international guidelines to identify secondary cases of TB and limit spread. There is little data to guide the use of contact investigations outside of the household, despite strong evidence that most TB infections occur outside of the home in TB high burden settings. In older adolescents, the majority of infections are estimated to occur in school. Therefore, as part of a project to increase active case finding in Swaziland, we performed school contact investigations following the identification of a student with infectious TB.

Methods: The Butimba Project identified 7 adolescent TB index cases (age 10-20) with microbiologically confirmed disease attending 6 different schools between June 2014 and March 2015. In addition to household contact investigations, Butimba Project staff worked with the Swaziland School Health Programme (SHP) to perform school contact investigations. At 6 school TB screening events, between May and October 2015, selected students underwent voluntary TB screening and those with positive symptom screens provided sputum for TB testing.

Results: Among 2015 student contacts tested, 177 (9%) screened positive for TB symptoms, 132 (75%) produced a sputum sample, of which zero tested positive for TB. Household contact investigations of the same index cases yielded 40 contacts; 24 (60%) screened positive for symptoms; 19 produced a sputum sample, of which one case was confirmed positive for TB. The odds ratio of developing TB following household vs. school contact exposure was significantly lower (OR 0.0, 95% CI 0.0 to 0.18, P = 0.02) after exposure in school.

Conclusion: School-based contact investigations require further research to establish best practices in TB high burden settings. In this case, a symptom-based screening approach did not identify additional cases of tuberculosis. In comparison, household contact investigations yielded a higher percentage of contacts with positive TB screens and an additional tuberculosis case.

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HPV serostatus pre- and post-vaccination in a randomized phase II preparedness trial among young Western Cape, South African women: the EVRI trial.

Sudenga SL, Torres BN, Botha MH, Zeier M, Abrahamsen ME, Glashoff RH, Engelbrecht S, Schim Van der Loeff MF, Van der Laan LE, Kipping S, Taylor D, Giuliano AR. Papillomavirus Res. 2017 Jun;3:50-56. doi: 10.1016/j.pvr.2017.02.001. Epub 2017 Feb 16.

Background: HPV antibodies are a marker of past exposure to the virus. Our objective was to assess HPV serostatus pre- and post-vaccination among HIV-negative women.

Methods: Women aged 16-24 years old were randomized in a placebo controlled trial utilizing the 4-valent HPV (4vHPV) vaccine (NCT01489527, clinicaltrials.gov). Participants (n=389) received the 4vHPV vaccine or placebo following a three dose schedule. Sera were collected at Day 1 and Month 7 for assessment of HPV 6, 11, 16, and 18 neutralizing antibody levels using a multiplex competitive Luminex immunoassay (Merck) based on detecting the L1 capsid antigen for each HPV type.

Results: Seroprevalence was 73% for HPV6, 47% for HPV11, 33% for HPV16, and 44% for HPV18. Seroprevalence for any HPV type did not significantly differ by age or lifetime number of partners. The majority of participants (64%) had two or more 4vHPV antibodies present at enrollment and 12% had antibodies to all four. Among women in the vaccine arm, those that were seropositive for HPV16 at enrollment had higher titers at month 7 compared to women that were seronegative for HPV16 at enrollment; this trend holds for the other HPV types as well. Seroconversion among baseline seronegative participants in the placebo group ranged from 5% for HPV16 to 23% for HPV6.

Conclusion: HPV seroprevalence was high in this population, emphasizing the need to vaccinate prior to sexual debut.

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The performance of human papillomavirus biomarkers in predicting anal high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions in gay and bisexual men.

Jin F, Roberts JM, Grulich AE, Poynten IM, Machalek DA, Cornall A, Phillips S, Ekman D, McDonald RL, Hillman RJ, Templeton DJ, Farnsworth A, Garland SM, Fairley CK, Tabrizi SN; SPANC Research Team. AIDS. 2017 Jun 1;31(9):1303-1311. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001462.

Background: We evaluate the performance of human papillomavirus (HPV) biomarkers in prediction of anal histological high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions in gay and bisexual men (GBM) in Sydney, Australia.

Design: Baseline analysis of a 3-year cohort study.

Methods: The study of the prevention of anal cancer is natural history study of anal HPV infection in GBM aged at least 35 years. All participants completed cytological and histological assessments. Stored ThinPrep PreservCyt residua were tested for HPV genotyping (Linear Array and Cobas 4800) and viral load, E6/E7 mRNA expression (NucliSENS easyQ HPV v1) and dual cytology staining of p16/Ki 67 antibodies (CINtecPLUS). Performance of each biomarker was compared with liquid-based anal cytology. The hypothetical referral rates were defined as the proportion of men who had abnormal cytology or tested positive to each of the biomarkers.

Results: The median age of the 617 participants was 49 years (range: 35-79), and 35.7% were HIV-positive. All biomarkers were strongly associated with the grade of HPV-associated anal lesions (P < 0.001 for all). High-risk HPV (HR-HPV) viral load with a 33% cut-off and HR-HPV E6/E7 mRNA had similar sensitivity to anal cytology (78.4 and 75.4 vs. 83.2%, respectively), improved specificity (68.0 and 69.4 vs. 52.4%, respectively) and lower referral rates (47.0 and 45.0 vs. 59.2%, respectively). Specificity was significantly higher in the HIV-negative for HR-HPV viral load (72.3 vs. 58.2%, P = 0.005).

Conclusion: HR-HPV viral load and E6/E7 mRNA had similar sensitivity and higher specificity in predicting histological anal high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion with lower referrals in GBM than anal cytology.

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Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania
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90-90-90: a clear roadmap for HIV treatment. But each 90 brings with it opportunities and challenges

Editor’s notes: The discovery of effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) will go down in history as the greatest success of biomedical science of the past decades.  Landmark studies have shown that the earlier people living with HIV start ART, not only is their clinical outlook improved, but also their likelihood of transmitting infection to their sexual partners falls dramatically.  People who take their ART effectively and in whom the virus is suppressed to undetectable levels are no longer infectious.  A massive public health and social justice response has led to unprecedented scale up of this miraculous treatment.  There is widespread adoption of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target.  The target is easy to recite: 90% of people living with HIV know their status; 90% of people who know their status are on ART and 90% of people taking ART have suppressed their viral load.  Many mathematical models show that if these targets are achieved, there should be a substantial impact on the trajectory of the epidemic with a large reduction in new HIV infections and HIV-related deaths, leading to huge cost-savings in the future.

Several large community based studies have been established to examine both the necessary processes to reach these goals and the impact at community level of the wider coverage with effective ART.  We have commented in previous editions on the ANRS Treatment as Prevention (TasP) study in rural Kwazulu-Natal and on papers from the SEARCH study in rural Kenya and Uganda.  Not surprisingly, given the different contexts, approaches, methods and definitions, the studies each shed light on different aspects of the 90-90-90 target.

This month, there are two new papers from the PopART (HPTN071) study, along with an accompanying commentary from the TasP study team.  PopART is the largest of the large community randomized studies of the universal test and treat approach, nested within a broader combination prevention package.  The population covered by the trial is around one million people living in largely urban or peri-urban communities in Zambia and the Western Cape province of South Africa.  The approach used in two of the three arms of the trial, is to deliver HIV testing and other prevention services by means of community health workers.  These so called CHiPs (Community HIV care Providers) also encourage linkage of people either known to be or newly found to be living with HIV to the local government health facilities, where ART is started regardless of CD4 count in one arm of the study, or in line with government guidelines (which is now also regardless of CD4 count in both countries) in the other. In the third arm of the trial, there are no CHiPs and HIV testing and linkage to treatment is performed by routine services, with treatment also offered to all, regardless of CD4 count.

The papers in this month’s edition cover only the four Zambian communities receiving the most intensive package during the first year of the intervention. Shanaube and colleagues focus on the first 90, while Hayes and colleagues focus on the second 90.  The overall conclusion is that the CHiPs approach leads to a very high uptake of HIV testing, but that linkage to care still takes longer than expected.  However, there is a wealth of detail in both the process and the ways to measure these apparently straightforward statistics.  When the CHiPs actually see people, acceptance of HIV testing is very high, unless people have recently had an HIV test.  Even then, almost three quarters of women are happy to have another test four to six months after their most recent negative test, whereas for men, there is somewhat more reluctance.  The main challenges for the CHiPs are that people may need more than one visit to decide to test and that men are often not at home, despite multiple visits and scheduled appointments.  Furthermore, as Iwuju and Newell point out in their slightly pessimistic commentary, people move around and migration makes it hard to define a reliable denominator (a challenge also faced by the SEARCH team in Uganda and Kenya).  Around 20% of the people who knew they were HIV positive were not able to be seen at one year follow-up, so it is not possible to know whether they were linked to care or not.  The TasP study also found that the second 90 was the real challenges, with a very high coverage of HIV testing, but not enough linkage to lead to a reduction in incidence at the community level.

The PopART study is ongoing, and recent presentations suggest that with time, a larger proportion of people are indeed linking to care.  The lesson may be that it requires ongoing and continuing support in an urban and peri-urban community to achieve high levels of coverage.  We await eagerly the next instalments and final results demonstrating whether there is a wider public health impact which will not be available before 2019!

These huge longitudinal studies also remind us that the 90-90-90 target is defined as cross-sectional measurements, and does not take into account directly the length of time that it takes to start treatment or to become virally supressed.  The information from large cross-sectional studies, such as ICAP and PEPFAR’s population-based HIV impact assessments (PHIA) give a direct measurement of 90-90-90.  However, in contrast to PopART and the other community-based studies, gives no insight into the dynamics of the processes through which people decide to get tested, link to care and remain in care.

McCreesh and colleagues used an individual-based mathematical model of the flow through testing, linkage to treatment and retention based on data from Uganda and using a novel method of calibration.  They show that removing the CD4 threshold (as is recommended by WHO and the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target) is very likely to be the most cost-effective approach to reduce the burden of HIV over the years up to 2030.  However, they also found that their model predicts that efforts to improve linkage to and retention in care are likely to be more cost-effective than increased coverage of testing in Uganda.  This is in part because many Ugandans already know their HIV status as a result of previous efforts, so it should not be taken as a general recommendation not to work to improve the first 90 as well as the second two!  The authors state clear conclusions: “Our results strongly suggest that an increase in the rates of HIV testing in the general population in Uganda ….. should not be prioritized above interventions to improve linkage to, and retention in, care…..  In Uganda, interventions to improve retention in and movement through the HIV care pathway should be prioritized over case finding interventions in the general population.”

In rural Kwazulu-Natal, the challenge of retention among populations that are by necessity mobile was also shown in a study by Arnesen and colleagues.  In this study of risk factors for people on ART being lost to follow up they found that more than one quarter of the 3242 people on the treatment register in 15 primary care clinics were thought to be lost.  However, the authors found that one-third of these people labelled as lost were in fact taking treatment at another clinic.  As in other similar studies men were more likely to discontinue treatment, as were people with advanced immunosuppression (who are at high risk of dying in the absence of treatment) and being on ART for less than six months. This is a useful reminder of priorities.  Providing more support to men, and the sickest patients, maintaining closer supervision for the first year, might lead to better programme outcomes and (as predicted by the Ugandan model) save money in the medium term.

By comparison, a large records-based study in the United States of America by Youn and colleagues examined time trends in retention on treatment (persistence in the authors’ terminology).  The author used insurance claims for prescriptions for ART and for other medicines for heart disease, hypertension or diabetes taken regularly over a long time by both HIV positive and HIV-negative people.  They were able to examine persistence in over 40 000 people living with HIV starting treatment in 2001-2003 (when ART was more cumbersome and more toxic) compared to 2004-2006 and 2007-2010.  Persistence improved dramatically over this time period for ART, but hardly changed at all for the other medicines studied.  This demonstrates that the changes were not merely secular trends in the likelihood of remaining on treatment.  Interestingly, in people living with HIV, persistence on the non-HIV related medicines also improved, suggesting that HIV care provided additional benefits in terms of retention and adherence to medicines that went beyond ART. 

There was also good news from Australia, where Medland and colleagues used records from the two largest HIV treatment clinics in the state of Victoria to examine time trends in the delay from HIV diagnosis to starting ART.  Among 729 people started on ART, the proportion of patient in care and on ART within one year of diagnosis increased from 43.4% to 78.9% from 2011 to 2014.  By 2014, 50% of people were starting ART within 77 days of being diagnosed.  The authors point out that this is a key measurement of programme effectiveness that is not routinely captured.  Nor does it form part of the 90-90-90 targets.  Of course, it is important to remember that the period prior to HIV diagnosis is probably even more important in terms of risks of transmission, as there have been numerous studies showing that people who know their HIV status are less likely to transmit HIV.  So we really need to know the period from infection to HIV diagnosis, as well as the time from diagnosis to treatment, and perhaps also the time to become virally supressed.  Viral suppression can take months or even more than a year depending on an individual’s initial virological and immunological state and variations in response to treatment as well as with the choice of ART regimen.

Despite massive scale up of ART, there are still many people living with HIV who present to services late with a CD4 count of <200 cells per ml.  A recent report in MMWR, showed that in 10 PEPFAR supported countries, there are still as many as one third of people presenting late.  Many of these people have opportunistic infections that have characterised HIV infection since the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic.  Botswana has made huge progress towards 90-90-90, but Tenforde and colleagues show that cryptococcal meningitis is still a major health problem.  They were able to collect laboratory based data over the past decade, as well as more detailed records from the two largest referral centres.  Although the number of cases of cryptococcal meningitis has halved since 2004, when the scale up of ART in Botswana really got going, the two referral hospitals still see more than 150 cases per year.  Mortality is still horribly high.  Overall, the authors explored data from more than 5000 episodes of cryptococcal meningitis in 4702 individuals over the period 2004-2014.  For people who could be linked to their clinical medical records, they demonstrate that the risk rises dramatically as the CD4 count falls – people with a CD4 count of < 50 cells per ml have an incidence of around 2000/100 000 person years, whereas the rates of people with 50-100 or 100-200 cells per ml are around 350 and 80 respectively.  More than 90% of the cases identified occurred in people whose CD4 cell count was <200 cells per ml.  As other studies might have predicted, men are more affected, as they tend to present to services later.  The most useful medicines for cryptococcal meningitis, i.e., liposomal Amphotericin and 5 flucytosine, remain too expensive or not available in most African countries.  Not only do we need to bring the prices of these commodities down to affordable levels, but we also need continued efforts to engage men (and other populations who get left behind) earlier in the course of their HIV infection.

The improvements in overall survival and life expectancy for people living with HIV if they have access to effective treatments are well known.  A large collaborative study (the ART Cohort Collaboration) has brought together 18 European and North American cohorts in order to look at the mortality experienced in the first years after starting ART.  They found the biggest improvements in people who started treatment in the last period that they studied (2008-2010).  There were also greater changes in mortality in the second and third years after starting ART.  Even so, they conclude that life expectancy is still not as good as that of HIV negative people.  Previous studies have sometimes been biased towards people who survive longer, partly through not including as many people in the first year after ART when mortality is at its highest.  They propose that much of the improvement seen is due to newer drugs and more options for treatment failure.  They therefore caution against the temptation to save money on cheaper generics as they become available for older medicines that may be less palatable or less effective.

What works-reaching universal HIV testing: lessons from HPTN 071 (PopART) trial in Zambia

Shanaube K, Schaap A, Floyd S, Phiri M, Griffith S, Chaila J, Bock P, Hayes R, Fidler S, Ayles H; HPTN 071 (PopART) Study Team. AIDS. 2017 Jul 17;31(11):1555-1564. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001514..

Objective: To determine the uptake of home-based HIV counselling and testing (HCT) in four HPTN071 (PopART) trial communities (implementing a 'full' combination HIV prevention package that includes universal HIV testing and treatment) in Zambia. We also explore factors associated with uptake of HCT in these communities.

Design: HPTN071 (PopART) is a 3-arm community-randomized trial in 12 communities in Zambia and 9 communities in South Africa evaluating the impact of a combination HIV prevention package, including universal HIV testing and treatment, on HIV incidence.

Methods: Using a door-to-door approach that includes systematically re-visiting households, individuals were offered participation in the intervention and verbal consent was obtained. Data were analysed for the first 18 months of the intervention, December 2013 to June 2015 for individuals 18 years and older.

Results: Among 121 130 enumerated household members, 101 102 (83.5%) accepted the intervention. HCT uptake was 72.2% (66 894/92 612), similar by sex but varied across communities. HCT uptake was associated with younger age, sex, community, being symptomatic for TB and STI and longer time since previous HIV test. Knowledge of HIV status due to the intervention increased by 36% overall and by 66% among HIV positives; the highest impact was among 18-24 year olds.

Conclusion: Overall acceptance of HIV-testing through offering a door-to-door-based combination HIV prevention package was 72.2%. The intervention increased knowledge of HIV status from 50% to 90%. However, challenges still remain and a one-off intervention is unlikely to be successful but will require repeated visits and multiple strategies.

Abstract access

A universal testing and treatment intervention to improve HIV control: One-year results from intervention communities in Zambia in the HPTN 071 (PopART) cluster-randomised trial

Hayes R, Floyd S, Schaap A, Shanaube K, Bock P, Sabapathy K, Griffith S, Donnell D, Piwowar-Manning E, El-Sadr W, Beyers N, Ayles H, Fidler S; HPTN 071 (PopART) Study Team. PLoS Med. 2017 May 2;14(5):e1002292. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002292. eCollection 2017 May.

Objective: The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 90-90-90 targets require that, by 2020, 90% of those living with HIV know their status, 90% of known HIV-positive individuals receive sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART), and 90% of individuals on ART have durable viral suppression. The HPTN 071 (PopART) trial is measuring the impact of a universal testing and treatment intervention on population-level HIV incidence in 21 urban communities in Zambia and South Africa. We report observational data from four communities in Zambia to assess progress towards the UNAIDS targets after 1 y of the PopART intervention.

Methods and Findings: The PopART intervention comprises annual rounds of home-based HIV testing delivered by community HIV-care providers (CHiPs) who also support linkage to care, ART retention, and other services. Data from four communities in Zambia receiving the full intervention (including immediate ART for all individuals with HIV) were used to determine proportions of participants who knew their HIV status after the CHiP visit; proportions linking to care and initiating ART following referral; and overall proportions of HIV-infected individuals who knew their status (first 90 target) and the proportion of these on ART (second 90 target), pre- and post-intervention. We are not able to assess progress towards the third 90 target at this stage of the study. Overall, 121 130 adults (59 283 men and 61 847 women) were enumerated in 46 714 households during the first annual round (December 2013 to June 2015). Of the 45 399 (77%) men and 55 703 (90%) women consenting to the intervention, 80% of men and 85% of women knew their HIV status after the CHiP visit. Of 6197 HIV-positive adults referred by CHiPs, 42% (95% CI: 40%-43%) initiated ART within 6 mo and 53% (95% CI: 52%-55%) within 12 mo. In the entire population, the estimated proportion of HIV-positive adults who knew their status increased from 52% to 78% for men and from 56% to 87% for women. The estimated proportion of known HIV-positive individuals on ART increased overall from 54% after the CHiP visit to 74% by the end of the round for men and from 53% to 73% for women. The estimated overall proportion of HIV-positive adults on ART, irrespective of whether they knew their status, increased from 44% to 61%, compared with the 81% target (the product of the first two 90 targets). Coverage was lower among young men and women than in older age groups. The main limitation of the study was the need for assumptions concerning knowledge of HIV status and ART coverage among adults not consenting to the intervention or HIV testing, although our conclusions were robust in sensitivity analyses.

Conclusions: In this analysis, acceptance of HIV testing among those consenting to the intervention was high, although linkage to care and ART initiation took longer than expected. Knowledge of HIV-positive status increased steeply after 1 y, almost attaining the first 90 target in women and approaching it in men. The second 90 target was more challenging, with approximately three-quarters of known HIV-positive individuals on ART by the end of the annual round. Achieving higher test uptake in men and more rapid linkage to care will be key objectives during the second annual round of the intervention.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Universal test, treat, and keep: improving ART retention is key in cost-effective HIV control in Uganda

McCreesh N, Andrianakis I, Nsubuga RN, Strong M, Vernon I, McKinley TJ, Oakley JE, Goldstein M, Hayes R, White RG. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 May 3;17(1):322. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2420-y.

Background: With ambitious new UNAIDS targets to end AIDS by 2030, and new WHO treatment guidelines, there is increased interest in the best way to scale-up ART coverage. We investigate the cost-effectiveness of various ART scale-up options in Uganda.

Methods: Individual-based HIV/ART model of Uganda, calibrated using history matching. 22 ART scale-up strategies were simulated from 2016 to 2030, comprising different combinations of six single interventions (1. increased HIV testing rates, 2. no CD4 threshold for ART initiation, 3. improved ART retention, 4. increased ART restart rates, 5. improved linkage to care, 6. improved pre-ART care). The incremental net monetary benefit (NMB) of each intervention was calculated, for a wide range of different willingness/ability to pay (WTP) per DALY averted (health-service perspective, 3% discount rate).

Results: For all WTP thresholds above $210, interventions including removing the CD4 threshold were likely to be most cost-effective. At a WTP of $715 (1 × per-capita-GDP) interventions to improve linkage to and retention/re-enrolment in HIV care were highly likely to be more cost-effective than interventions to increase rates of HIV testing. At higher WTP (> ~ $1690), the most cost-effective option was 'Universal Test, Treat, and Keep' (UTTK), which combines interventions 1-5 detailed above.

Conclusion: Our results support new WHO guidelines to remove the CD4 threshold for ART initiation in Uganda. With additional resources, this could be supplemented with interventions aimed at improving linkage to and/or retention in HIV care. To achieve the greatest reductions in HIV incidence, a UTTK policy should be implemented.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Predictors of loss to follow-up among patients on ART at a rural hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Arnesen R, Moll AP, Shenoi SV. PLoS One. 2017 May 24;12(5):e0177168. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177168. eCollection 2017

Introduction: Improved HIV outcomes as a result of expanded antiretroviral therapy (ART) access is threatened by increasing rates of loss to follow up (LTFU) among those on ART, largely reported in urban populations. Some reports suggest that LTFU rates are overestimated due to patient movement to other facilities and inadequate medical records.

Study Objective: To define the proportion disengaging from HIV care as well as the characteristics of those LTFU in order to design and implement appropriate interventions to increase retention.

Methods: We performed a retrospective review of patients who discontinued ART at a central hospital ART clinic in rural South Africa and compared with patients receiving care at the 15 primary health clinics (PHCs) to determine the true proportion of those who were LTFU. We also compared those who discontinued ART with those who did not at the central hospital ART clinic to determine predictors of loss to follow up.

Results: Among 3242 patients on ART, 820 were originally marked as LTFU. Among all patients, 272 (8.4%) were found at a clinic on treatment, 56 (1.7%) were found at a clinic from which they had since discontinued treatment, and 10 (0.3%) returned to care between June and July 2016, leaving 475 (14.7%) unaccounted for and thus categorized as 'true' LTFU. Factors found to be associated with discontinuation include being male, age 18-35, having a CD4 count under 200 cells/μL, and being on ART for under six months.

Conclusions: Young men with low CD4 counts early after ART initiation are at highest risk of ART disengagement in this rural South African HIV clinic. Novel interventions targeting this group are needed to improve retention in care.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Ten-year trends in anti-retroviral therapy persistence among US Medicaid beneficiaries, 2001-2010

Youn B, Shireman TI, Lee Y, Galárraga O, Rana AI, Justice AC, Wilson IB. AIDS. 2017 May 16. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001541. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective: Whether the rate of HIV antiretroviral therapy (ART) persistence has improved over time in the U.S. is unknown. We examined ART persistence trends between 2001 and 2010, using non-HIV medications as a comparator.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective cohort study using Medicaid claims. We defined persistence as the duration of treatment from the first to the last fill date before a 90-day permissible gap, and used Kaplan-Meier curves and Cox proportional hazard models to assess crude and adjusted non-persistence. The secular trends of ART persistence in 43 598 HIV patients were compared with the secular trends of persistence with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE) or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB), statins, and metformin in (1) non-HIV-infected patients and (2) subgroups of HIV patients who started these control medications while using ART.

Results: Median time to ART non-persistence increased from 23.9 months in 2001-2003 to 35.4 months in 2004-2006, and was not reached for those starting ART in 2007-2010. In adjusted models, ART initiators in 2007-2010 had 11% decreased hazards of non-persistence compared with those who initiated in 2001-2003 (p < 0.001). For non-HIV patients initiating ACE/ARB, statins, and metformin, the hazard ratios (HR) for non-persistence comparing 2007-2010 to 2001-2003 were 1.07, 0.94, and 1.02, respectively (all p < 0.001). For HIV patients initiating the three control medications, the HRs of non-persistence comparing 2007-2010 to 2001-2003 were 0.71, 0.65, and 0.63, respectively (all p < 0.001).

Conclusions: Persistence with ART improved between 2001 and 2010. Persistence with control medications improved at a higher rate among HIV patients using ART than HIV-negative controls.

Abstract

Time from HIV diagnosis to commencement of antiretroviral therapy as an indicator to supplement the HIV cascade: Dramatic fall from 2011 to 2015

Medland NA, Chow EP, McMahon JH, Elliott JH, Hoy JF, Fairley CK. PLoS One. 2017 May 16;12(5):e0177634. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177634. eCollection 2017.

Introduction:  The HIV care cascade is increasingly used to evaluate HIV treatment programs at the population level. However, the cascade indicators lack the ability to show changes over time, which reduces their utility to guide health policy. Alternatives have been proposed but are complex or result in a delay in results. We propose a new indicator of ART uptake, the time from HIV diagnosis to commencement of ART, and compare it to the existing cascade indicator of proportion of patients on treatment and the WHO proposed cohort cascade indicator of proportion of patients on treatment within one year of diagnosis.

Methods and Materials: Records from patients from the two largest HIV treatment centres in the state of Victoria, Australia (Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and The Alfred Hospital Department of Infectious Diseases) from 2011 to 2015 were extracted. The intervals between date of diagnosis, entry into care and initiation of ART were compared.

Results and Discussion: From 2011 to 2015 the proportion of in-care patients who were on ART rose from 87% to 93% (p<0.0001). From 2011 to 2014, the proportion of patients in care and on ART within one year of diagnosis increased from 43.4% to 78.9% (p = 0.001). The median time from diagnosis to ART fell from 418 days (IQR: 91-1176) to 77 days (IQR: 39-290)(p<0.001) by calendar year in which ART was commenced.

Conclusions: From 2011 to 2015 there were substantial and clinically important falls in the median time from diagnosis to commencing ART in those that commenced ART. The size of this dramatic change was not apparent when only reporting the proportion of patients on ART. Time to ART is a useful indicator and can be used to supplement existing cascade indicators in measuring progress toward universal ART coverage.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Trends in prevalence of advanced HIV disease at antiretroviral therapy enrollment — 10 countries, 2004–2015

Auld AF, Shiraishi RW, Oboho I, Ross C, Bateganya M, Pelletier V, Dee J, Francois K, Duval N, Antoine M, Delcher C, Desforges G, Griswold M, Domercant JW, Joseph N, Deyde V, Desir Y, Van Onacker JD, Robin E, Chun H, Zulu I, Pathmanathan I, Dokubo EK, Lloyd S, Pati R, Kaplan J, Raizes E, Spira T, Mitruka K, Couto A, Gudo ES, Mbofana F, Briggs M, Alfredo C, Xavier C, Vergara A, Hamunime N, Agolory S, Mutandi G, Shoopala NN, Sawadogo S, Baughman AL, Bashorun A, Dalhatu I, Swaminathan M, Onotu D, Odafe S, Abiri OO, Debem HH, Tomlinson H, Okello V, Preko P, Ao T, Ryan C, Bicego G, Ehrenkranz P, Kamiru H, Nuwagaba-Biribonwoha H, Kwesigabo G, Ramadhani AA, Ng'wangu K, Swai P, Mfaume M, Gongo R, Carpenter D, Mastro TD, Hamilton C, Denison J, Wabwire-Mangen F, Koole O, Torpey K, Williams SG, Colebunders R, Kalamya JN, Namale A, Adler MR, Mugisa B, Gupta S, Tsui S, van Praag E, Nguyen DB, Lyss S, Le Y, Abdul-Quader AS, Do NT, Mulenga M, Hachizovu S, Mugurungi O, Barr BAT, Gonese E, Mutasa-Apollo T, Balachandra S, Behel S, Bingham T, Mackellar D, Lowrance D, Ellerbrock TV.MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017 Jun 2;66(21):558-563. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6621a3.

Monitoring prevalence of advanced human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease (i.e., CD4+ T-cell count <200 cells/μL) among persons starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) is important to understand ART program outcomes, inform HIV prevention strategy, and forecast need for adjunctive therapies. To assess trends in prevalence of advanced disease at ART initiation in 10 high-burden countries during 2004-2015, records of 694 138 ART enrollees aged ≥15 years from 797 ART facilities were analyzed. Availability of national electronic medical record systems allowed up-to-date evaluation of trends in Haiti (2004-2015), Mozambique (2004-2014), and Namibia (2004-2012), where prevalence of advanced disease at ART initiation declined from 75% to 34% (p<0.001), 73% to 37% (p<0.001), and 80% to 41% (p<0.001), respectively. Significant declines in prevalence of advanced disease during 2004-2011 were observed in Nigeria, Swaziland, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. The encouraging declines in prevalence of advanced disease at ART enrollment are likely due to scale-up of testing and treatment services and ART-eligibility guidelines encouraging earlier ART initiation. However, in 2015, approximately a third of new ART patients still initiated ART with advanced HIV disease. To reduce prevalence of advanced disease at ART initiation, adoption of World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended "treat-all" guidelines and strategies to facilitate earlier HIV testing and treatment are needed to reduce HIV-related mortality and HIV incidence.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Advanced HIV disease in Botswana following successful antiretroviral therapy rollout: Incidence of and temporal trends in cryptococcal meningitis

Tenforde MW, Mokomane M, Leeme T, Patel RK, Lekwape N, Ramodimoosi C, Dube B, Williams EA, Mokobela KO, Tawanana E, Pilatwe T, Hurt WJ, Mitchell H, Banda DL, Stone H, Molefi M, Mokgacha K, Phillips H, Mullan PC, Steenhoff AP, Mashalla Y, Mine M, Jarvis JN. Clin Infect Dis. 2017 May 13. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix430. [Epub ahead of print].

Background: Botswana has a well-developed antiretroviral therapy (ART) program which serves as a regional model. With wide ART availability, the burden of advanced HIV and associated opportunistic infections would be expected to decline. We performed a nationwide surveillance study to determine the national incidence of cryptococcal meningitis, and describe characteristics of cases 2000-2014 and temporal trends at two national referral hospitals.

Methods: Cerebrospinal fluid data from all 37 laboratories performing meningitis diagnostics in Botswana were collected 2000-2014 to identify cases of cryptococcal meningitis. Basic demographic and laboratory data were recorded. Complete national data from 2013-2014 were used to calculate national incidence using UNAIDS population estimates. Temporal trends in cases were derived from national referral centers 2004-2014.

Results: 5296 episodes of cryptococcal meningitis were observed in 4702 individuals; 60.6% were male, and median age was 36 years. Overall 2013-2014 incidence was 17.8 cases/100 000 person-years (95%CI 16.6 - 19.2). In the HIV-infected population, incidence was 96.8 cases/100 000 person-years (95%CI 90.0 - 104.0); male predominance was seen across CD4 strata. At national referral hospitals, cases decreased 2007-2009 but stabilized 2010-2014.

Conclusions: Despite excellent ART coverage in Botswana, there is still a substantial burden of advanced HIV, with 2013-2014 incidence of cryptococcal meningitis comparable to pre-ART era rates in South Africa. Our findings suggest a key population of individuals, often men, are developing advanced disease and associated opportunistic infections due to a failure to effectively engage in care, highlighting the need for differentiated care models.

Abstract

Survival of HIV-positive patients starting antiretroviral therapy between 1996 and 2013: a collaborative analysis of cohort studies

Trickey A, May MT, Vehreschild JJ, Obel N, Gill MJ, Crane HM, Boesecke C, Patterson S, Grabar S, Cazanave C, Cavassini M, Shepherd L, Monforte AD, van Sighem A, Saag M, Lampe F, Hernando V, Montero M, Zangerle R, Justice AC, Sterling T, Ingle SM, Sterne JAC (Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration). Lancet HIV. 2017 May 10. pii: S2352-3018(17)30066-8. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30066-8. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Health care for people living with HIV has improved substantially in the past two decades. Robust estimates of how these improvements have affected prognosis and life expectancy are of utmost importance to patients, clinicians, and health-care planners. We examined changes in 3 year survival and life expectancy of patients starting combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) between 1996 and 2013.

Methods: We analysed data from 18 European and North American HIV-1 cohorts. Patients (aged ≥16 years) were eligible for this analysis if they had started ART with three or more drugs between 1996 and 2010 and had at least 3 years of potential follow-up. We estimated adjusted (for age, sex, AIDS, risk group, CD4 cell count, and HIV-1 RNA at start of ART) all-cause and cause-specific mortality hazard ratios (HRs) for the first year after ART initiation and the second and third years after ART initiation in four calendar periods (1996-99, 2000-03 [comparator], 2004-07, 2008-10). We estimated life expectancy by calendar period of initiation of ART.

Findings: 88 504 patients were included in our analyses, of whom 2106 died during the first year of ART and 2302 died during the second or third year of ART. Patients starting ART in 2008-10 had lower all-cause mortality in the first year after ART initiation than did patients starting ART in 2000-03 (adjusted HR 0·71, 95% CI 0·61-0·83). All-cause mortality in the second and third years after initiation of ART was also lower in patients who started ART in 2008-10 than in those who started in 2000-03 (0·57, 0·49-0·67); this decrease was not fully explained by viral load and CD4 cell count at 1 year. Rates of non-AIDS deaths were lower in patients who started ART in 2008-10 (vs 2000-03) in the first year (0·48, 0·34-0·67) and second and third years (0·29, 0·21-0·40) after initiation of ART. Between 1996 and 2010, life expectancy in 20-year-old patients starting ART increased by about 9 years in women and 10 years in men.

Interpretation: Even in the late ART era, survival during the first 3 years of ART continues to improve, which probably reflects transition to less toxic antiretroviral drugs, improved adherence, prophylactic measures, and management of comorbidity. Prognostic models and life expectancy estimates should be updated to account for these improvements.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America, Oceania
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Increasing HIV testing by sharing the load and updating tasks and traditions for traditional birth attendants and lay providers

Editor’s notes: Nigeria still has the highest number of new HIV infections among children in the world, around 40 000 annually, with the large majority arising from mother to child transmission.  In Nigeria, less than 20% of pregnant women receive HIV testing. This is due to several issues which include a limited number of HIV testing service delivery points and a limited number of deliveries taking place at health facilities.  Around two thirds of deliveries take place at home, traditionally supported by traditional birth attendants (TBAs).  Many TBAs in Nigeria have little knowledge of either the benefits or practice of HIV testing, nor of ways to reduce transmission of HIV to infants.

Chizoba and colleagues have developed and tested a model of antenatal care that aims to integrate TBAs within the government primary health care (PHC) network.  The intervention consisted of PHC clinics identifying a few TBAs who operated in the catchment area of the clinic. Between one and five of these TBAs was invited to the PHC clinic for a one-day training on HIV point of care testing, and asked to refer all women found to be positive to the clinic for confirmation and follow up.  Once a month TBAs came to the clinic for encouragement and to provide data on tests performed.  Once a quarter, the clinic visited the TBAs to provide supervision, mentoring and quality improvement training.  The TBAs were also paid $2 for every pregnant woman whom they tested for HIV, in order to compensate them for any loss of earnings from pregnant women living with HIV who would now be seen in the clinic rather than delivering at home. 

The authors used a quasi-experimental design for this study. Out of the 74 PEPFAR supported PHC clinics that provided HIV services in their antenatal clinics in Ebonyi state of Nigeria, 34 were interested in this new integrated approach, whereas 40 expressed no interest.  20 clinics were chosen at random from each of these categories, to avoid additional selection bias.  (Although as the authors state, there may already be considerable differences between the clinics that were interested and clinics that were not).  Comparisons were made before and after the programme was put in place, and also between clinics in the intervention group and those in the group that had not been interested to integrate services with the TBAs.

Despite this non-randomized design, the results are quite striking with more than twice as many women receiving HIV testing in the intervention clinics in the six months after the intervention began (going up from 2501 to 5346 across the 20 clinics).  There was no such increase in the non-intervention areas (which saw a change from 1770 to 1892 across the 20 clinics).  Furthermore the large majority of the increase was among women who had been tested by the TBAs. 

While this is hugely encouraging and a big increase, it will be important to see if the increase can be sustained as it is a significant change in the way that the TBAs and the PHC clinic staff work.  It is also not clear how much the increase is a result of the integration model and how much it relates to the additional payment that TBAs receive, which seems to amount to around $100 per TBA over the 6 month period of the assessment.

A thorough review of the role of trained lay providers in performing HIV tests was carried out as part of the WHO process that led to the guidance in 2015 that “Lay providers who are trained and supervised to use rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) can independently conduct safe and effective HIV testing services.” Kennedy and colleagues now present the details of that systematic review.

Many national policies, particularly in African countries allow for HIV testing by trained lay providers using rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) and even more allow lay providers to perform pre- and post-test counselling (around 80% of African countries in one survey of policies).  However, some countries limit these roles to trained healthcare providers due to concerns about lay providers’ ability to perform the tests accurately and reliably and to deliver high quality pre- and post-test counselling, linkage to appropriate prevention and clinical care services, and coordination with laboratory services to ensure the delivery of correct test results.

Despite widespread use of lay providers, there are actually rather few studies that directly compare the outcomes of testing between lay and professional providers.  The authors reviewed over 6000 titles, abstracts or full articles and found only five that allowed a direct comparison, while an additional six studies allowed the values and preferences of clients and providers to be assessed.

While this evidence base is very limited, findings from the single randomized trial (in the US) and one observational study (in Malawi), that compared pre- and post-intervention time periods, suggest that using trained lay providers can increase HIV testing uptake.  Three studies compared the quality of testing between lay providers and professional providers and found that both can achieve similar testing quality. Unfortunately, no studies measured adverse events following testing, nor linkage to care. The six values and preferences studies, also found support for lay providers.

This is the key evidence that underpins the strong recommendation from WHO and now also from many national authorities, that trained lay providers are an essential component in the efforts to scale up HIV testing in order to reach the first 90.

Increasing HIV testing among pregnant women in Nigeria: evaluating the traditional birth attendant and primary health center integration (TAP-In) model.

Chizoba AF, Pharr JR, Oodo G, Ezeobi E, Ilozumb J, Egharevba J, Ezeanolue EE, Nwandu A. AIDS Care. 2017 Apr 18:1-5. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2017.1317325. [Epub ahead of print]

Engaging Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) may be critical to preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) in Nigeria. We integrated TBAs into Primary Health Centers (PHCs) and provided the TBAs with HIV counseling and testing (HCT) training for PMTCT (TAP-In). The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of TAP-In on HCT uptake among pregnant women. A quasi-experimental design was used for this study. Twenty PHCs were assigned to the intervention group that integrated TAP-In and 20 were assigned to the control group. Data were collected six months prior to the initiation of TAP-In and six months post, using antenatal clinic registries. Intervention PHCs more than doubled the number of pregnant women who received HCT in their catchment area post TAP-In while control PHCs had no significant change. After initiating TAP-In, intervention PHCs provided almost three times more HCT than the control PHCs (p < 0.01) with TBA provided over half of the HCT post TAP-In. The TAP-In model was effective for increasing HCT among pregnant women.

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Should trained lay providers perform HIV testing? A systematic review to inform World Health Organization guidelines.

Kennedy CE, Yeh PT, Johnson C, Baggaley R. AIDS Care. 2017 Apr 24:1-7. doi:10.1080/09540121.2017.1317710. [Epub ahead of print.]

New strategies for HIV testing services (HTS) are needed to achieve UN 90-90-90 targets, including diagnosis of 90% of people living with HIV. Task-sharing HTS to trained lay providers may alleviate health worker shortages and better reach target groups. We conducted a systematic review of studies evaluating HTS by lay providers using rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs). Peer-reviewed articles were included if they compared HTS using RDTs performed by trained lay providers to HTS by health professionals, or to no intervention. We also reviewed data on end-users' values and preferences around lay providers preforming HTS. Searching was conducted through 10 online databases, reviewing reference lists, and contacting experts. Screening and data abstraction were conducted in duplicate using systematic methods. Of 6113 unique citations identified, 5 studies were included in the effectiveness review and 6 in the values and preferences review. One US-based randomized trial found patients' uptake of HTS doubled with lay providers (57% vs. 27%, percent difference: 30, 95% confidence interval: 27-32, p < 0.001). In Malawi, a pre/post study showed increases in HTS sites and tests after delegation to lay providers. Studies from Cambodia, Malawi, and South Africa comparing testing quality between lay providers and laboratory staff found little discordance and high sensitivity and specificity (≥98%). Values and preferences studies generally found support for lay providers conducting HTS, particularly in non-hypothetical scenarios. Based on evidence supporting using trained lay providers, a WHO expert panel recommended lay providers be allowed to conduct HTS using HIV RDTs. Uptake of this recommendation could expand HIV testing to more people globally.

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Africa, Asia
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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.

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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.

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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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We still lack good data on many specific populations that are most severely affected by HIV

Editor’s notes: Transgender women are often under-represented in HIV research.  Yet they face many challenges in day to day life with discrimination at many levels.  Employment opportunities are few and many transgender women make a living through sex work.  It is well recognized that they are at specific and increased risks of HIV. Yet many intervention trials group them with gay men and other men who have sex with men, often meaning that the results cannot be disaggregated into more meaningful categories.  The number of transgender women in particular studies is also often too small to make strong conclusions from the data they provide to the study.  So it is encouraging to see Grinsztejn and colleagues establishing a major study specifically in the community of transgender women in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The authors recruited 345 transgender women through a respondent driven sampling process.  This non-random approach is necessitated by the nature of the population, as it would not be possible to make a complete sampling frame from census or other documentation.  However, statistical approaches to make best estimates of population measures are available and the authors found that almost one third of the women were living with HIV and that 29% had not previously been tested for HIV.  The high frequency of other sexually transmitted infections highlights the need for better engagement and services not just for HIV but for their wider sexual and reproductive health and rights needs.

Another population that is under-researched is people with disabilities.  “There is a tribe of Ugandans . . . whose issues and needs have not been given their due and appropriate attention in the fight. By all indications, persons with disabilities have been forgotten, consciously and unconsciously. They represent the forgotten tribe” (Mwesigwa Martin Babu, 2005). Abimanyi-Ochom and colleagues used data collected during the 2011 Ugandan demographic and health survey, which included questions about disabilities for the first time.  While HIV knowledge is similar in those with and without disabilities, people living with disabilities reported indicators of increased risk of acquiring HIV.  Findings included slightly earlier sexual debut and a higher frequency of reported sexually transmitted infections.  Other studies have demonstrated that people living with disabilities may have lower self-esteem and self-efficacy and that abuse, including sexual abuse is more common among this group than among their peers.

The findings are reinforced by a study from Cameroon.  De Beaudrap and colleagues used the same questionnaire that had been used in the Uganda DHS (the Washington short set of questions on disability) to identify people living with disability in a random sample of the population in Yaounde.  The prevalence of HIV was almost twice as high among those with disability than among controls matched by age, sex and residential area.  In line with the discussion in the Ugandan paper, the authors in Cameroon found that women with disability were more likely to receive money for sex and to be victims of sexual violence.  Both of these characteristics were, not surprisingly, associated with still higher rates of HIV infection.  Both papers call for more and better data and we also need to develop and test interventions to reduce the burden of HIV among those living with disabilities.

Unveiling of HIV dynamics among transgender women: a respondent-driven sampling study in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Grinsztejn B, Jalil EM, Monteiro L, Velasque L, Moreira RI, Garcia AC, Castro CV, Krüger A, Luz PM, Liu AY, McFarland W, Buchbinder S, Veloso VG, Wilson EC; Transcender Study Team. Lancet HIV. 2017 Apr;4(4):e169-e176. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30015-2. Epub 2017 Feb 8.

Background: The burden of HIV in transgender women (transwomen) in Brazil remains unknown. We aimed to estimate HIV prevalence among transwomen in Rio de Janeiro and to identify predictors of newly diagnosed HIV infections.

Methods: We recruited transwomen from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by respondent-driven sampling. Eligibility criteria were self-identification as transwomen, being 18 years of age or older, living in Rio de Janeiro or its metropolitan area, and having a valid peer recruitment coupon. We recruited 12 seed participants from social movements and formative focus groups who then used peer recruitment coupons to refer subsequent peers to the study. We categorised participants as HIV negative, known HIV infected, or newly diagnosed as HIV infected. We assessed predictors of newly diagnosed HIV infections by comparing newly diagnosed with HIV-negative participants. We derived population estimates with the Respondent-Driven Sampling II estimator.

Findings: Between Aug 1, 2015, and Jan 29, 2016, we enrolled 345 eligible transwomen. 29·1% (95% CI 23·2-35·4) of participants had no previous HIV testing (adjusted from 60 participants), 31·2% (18·8-43·6) had HIV infections (adjusted from 141 participants), and 7·0% (0·0-15·9) were newly diagnosed as HIV infected (adjusted from 40 participants). We diagnosed syphilis in 28·9% (18·0-39·8) of participants, rectal chlamydia in 14·6% (5·4-23·8), and gonorrhoea in 13·5% (3·2-23·8). Newly diagnosed HIV infections were associated with black race (odds ratio 22·8 [95% CI 2·9-178·9]; p=0·003), travesti (34·1 [5·8-200·2]; p=0·0001) or transsexual woman (41·3 [6·3-271·2]; p=0·0001) gender identity, history of sex work (30·7 [3·5-267·3]; p=0·002), and history of sniffing cocaine (4·4 [1·4-14·1]; p=0·01).

Interpretation: Our results suggest that transwomen bear the largest burden of HIV among any population at risk in Brazil. The high proportion of HIV diagnosis among young participants points to the need for tailored long-term health-care and prevention services to curb the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life of transwomen in Brazil.

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HIV/AIDS knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of persons with and without disabilities from the Uganda demographic and health survey 2011: differential access to HIV/AIDS information and services.

Abimanyi-Ochom J, Mannan H, Groce NE, McVeigh J  PLoS One. 2017 Apr 13;12(4):e0174877. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0174877. eCollection 2017.

Uganda is among the first to use the Washington Group Short Set of Questions on Disability to identify persons with disabilities in its Demographic and Health Survey. In this paper, we review the HIV knowledge, attitudes and behaviour component of the 2011 Ugandan demographic and health survey, analysing a series of questions comparing those with and without disabilities in relation to HIV/AIDS knowledge, attitudes and practices. We found comparable levels of knowledge on HIV/AIDS for those with and those without disabilities in relation to HIV transmission during delivery (93.89%, 93.26%) and through breastfeeding (89.91%, 90.63%), which may reflect increased attention to reaching the community of persons with disabilities. However, several gaps in the knowledge base of persons with disabilities stood out, including misconceptions of risk of HIV infection through mosquito bites and caring for a relative with HIV in own household (34.39%, 29.86%; p<0.001; 91.53%, 89.00%; p = 0.001, respectively). The issue is not just access to appropriate information but also equitable access to HIV/AIDS services and support. Here we found that persons with multiple disabilities were less likely than individuals without disabilities to return to receive results from their most recent HIV test (0.60[0.41-0.87], p<0.05). HIV testing means little if people do not return for follow-up to know their HIV status and, if necessary, to be connected to available services and supports. Additional findings of note were that persons with disabilities reported having a first sexual encounter at a slightly younger age than peers without disabilities; and persons with disabilities also reported having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) within the last 12 months at significantly higher rates than peers without disabilities (1.38[1.18-1.63], p<0.01), despite reporting comparable knowledge of the need for safer sex practices. This analysis is among the first to use HIV/AIDS-related questions from Demographic Health Surveys to provide information about persons with disabilities in Uganda in comparison to those without disabilities. These findings present a more complex and nuanced understanding of persons with disabilities and HIV/AIDS. If persons with disabilities are becoming sexually active earlier, are more likely to have an STD within the preceding 12 month period and are less likely to receive HIV test results, it is important to understand why. Recommendations are also made for the inclusion of disability measures in Uganda's AIDS Indicator Survey to provide cyclical and systematic data on disability and HIV/AIDS, including HIV prevalence amongst persons with disabilities.

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Prevalence of HIV infection among people with disabilities: a population-based observational study in Yaoundé, Cameroon (HandiVIH).

De Beaudrap P, Beninguisse G, Pasquier E, Tchoumkeu A, Touko A, Essomba F, Brus A, Aderemi TJ, Hanass-Hancock J, Eide AH, Mac-Seing M, Mont D. Lancet HIV. 2017 Apr;4(4):e161-e168. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30209-0. Epub 2017 Jan 24.

Background: In resource-limited settings, people with disabilities have been left behind in the response to HIV. In the HandiVIH study, we estimate and compare HIV prevalence and associated risk factors between people with and without disabilities.

Methods: In this cross-sectional, population-based, observational study, we used two-phase random sampling to recruit adults with disabilities and a control group matched for age, sex, and residential location from households of the general population. We used the Washington Group Short Set of Questions on Disability to identify people with disabilities. We administered an HIV test and a life-course history interview to participants. The primary outcome was the prevalence of HIV among participants with and without disabilities.

Findings: Between Oct 2, 2014, and Nov 30, 2015, we recruited 807 people with disabilities and 807 participants without disabilities from Yaoundé, Cameroon. 28 of 716 people in the control population had a positive HIV test result (crude prevalence 3·9%, 95% CI 2·9-5·3) compared with 50 of 739 people with disabilities (6·8%, 5·0-8·6; conditional odds ratio [OR] 1·7; p=0·04). Women with disabilities were more often involved in paid sexual relationships than were women without disabilities (2·5% vs 0·5%, p=0·05). People with disabilities were also at increased risk of sexual violence than were women without disabilities (11·0% vs 7·5%, OR 1·5; p=0·01). Sexual violence and sex work were strongly associated with increased risk of HIV infection among participants with disabilities but not among controls (OR 3·0, 95% CI 1·6-5·6 for sexual violence and 12·3, 4·4-34·6 for sex work). Analyses were done in men and women.

Interpretation: The higher prevalence of HIV infection in people with disabilities than people without disabilities reflects a higher exposure to HIV infection as well as the presence of disability-associated HIV infection. The susceptibility of people with disabilities to HIV infection seems to be shaped by social and environmental factors. Research is needed to inform firm recommendations on how to protect this vulnerable population.

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Africa, Latin America
Brazil, Cameroon, Uganda
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HIV self-tests– these women loved them!

Editor’s notes: Encouraging HIV testing, particularly among hard to reach populations such as men, young people and people who do not regularly attend health services is one of the key challenges for the HIV response.  Many countries have adopted the UNAIDS treatment target of 90:90:90, the goal of which is that 90% of all people living with HIV should know their status. WHO has recently released new guidance on the use of HIV self-tests as a screening test and on approaches to partner notification to encourage greater uptake of HIV testing. An interesting qualitative study by Maman S and colleagues explored in depth the attitudes and experiences of 18 female sex workers drawn from a larger ongoing study of HIV self-test approaches.  These women described to the researchers how they had distributed up to five oral fluid based self-test kits to their partners, friends and clients.  The results demonstrate the wide range of potential ways that such distribution might help not only with accessing HIV testing but also increasing dialogue about risk reduction.  Two of the women did experience verbal or sexual abuse, but it is important to realize that women were selected from the larger parent study precisely because they had reported such abuse, in order to understand the context better.  The women remained enthusiastic about distributing self-tests and felt that the benefits outweighed the risks in the challenging environment in which they work.  Nonetheless, as the authors point out, the potential considerable benefits of scaling up HIV self-testing approaches need to be combined with ensuring that there is good communication about the risks, efforts to increase the agency of vulnerable women and support services for women experiencing intimate partner violence whether related to HIV testing or not.

A qualitative study of secondary distribution of HIV self-test kits by female sex workers in Kenya.

Maman S, Murray KR, Napierala Mavedzenge S, Oluoch L, Sijenje F, Agot K, Thirumurthy H. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 27;12(3):e0174629. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0174629.eCollection 2017.

Promoting awareness of serostatus and frequent HIV testing is especially important among high risk populations such as female sex workers (FSW) and their sexual partners. HIV self-testing is an approach that is gaining ground in sub-Saharan Africa as a strategy to increase knowledge of HIV status and promote safer sexual decisions. However, little is known about self-test distribution strategies that are optimal for increasing testing access among hard-to-reach and high risk individuals. We conducted a qualitative study with 18 FSW who participated in a larger study that provided them with five oral fluid-based self-tests, training on how to use the tests, and encouragement to offer the self-tests to their sexual partners using their discretion. Women demonstrated agency in the strategies they used to introduce self-tests to their partners and to avoid conflict with partners. They carefully considered with whom to share self-tests, often assessing the possibility for negative reactions from partners as part of their decision making process. When women faced negative reactions from partners, they drew on strategies they had used before to avoid conflict and physical harm from partners, such as not responding to angry partners and forgoing payment to leave angry partners quickly. Some women also used self-tests to make more informed sexual decisions with their partners.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Africa
Kenya
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