Articles tagged as "Stigma and social exclusion"

HIV risk – where do perception and reality overlap?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

 

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

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

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

Abstract access  

 

Penile anaerobic dysbiosis as a risk factor for HIV infection.

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

Africa, Asia, Northern America
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Stigma and sex work

Editor’s notes: Two interesting studies this month looked at aspects of stigma.  There are big methodological challenges to the study of stigma.  Stigma comprises several different domains and few studies use standardized approaches to measurement that can be translated easily into other contexts.  A systematic review and meta-analysis concludes that people who feel more stigmatized are twice as likely to delay presenting for HIV care.  Gesesew HA and colleagues found only ten studies that met their pre-specified inclusion criteria, and five of these came from Ethiopia.  They acknowledge many of the challenges in combining the results of these ten studies into a single conclusion.  They recommend engagement of health care workers to try to reduce perceived stigma among people living with HIV.

The Nyblade L et al. study from Kenya emphasizes the perception of stigma among sex workers.  In a large sample of 497 females and 232 males, most reported experiencing stigma both verbal and measured from health care workers. For female sex workers, the anticipation of such stigma led to avoidance of health services for both HIV and non-HIV related conditions. In order to provide effective services for key populations, health care workers must be trained to be non-judgemental.  HIV services need to be provided in the context of an overall package of health care.

A study from Europe used ecological data to explore structural risks for HIV among sex workers.  Reeves A and colleagues used regression modelling with data on sex work policies from 27 countries.  They showed a strong correlation between criminalisation of sex work and higher prevalence of HIV among sex workers.  Although they included other factors such as the level of economic development and using drugs, the relatively small number of data points does mean that there may be other confounding factors that could not be measured or adjusted for.

Significant association between perceived HIV related stigma and late presentation for HIV/AIDS care in low and middle-income countries: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

Gesesew HA, Tesfay Gebremedhin A, Demissie TD, Kerie MW, Sudhakar M, Mwanri L. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 30;12(3):e0173928. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0173928.eCollection 2017.

Background: Late presentation for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) care is a major impediment for the success of antiretroviral therapy (ART) outcomes. The role that stigma plays as a potential barrier to timely diagnosis and treatment of HIV among people living with HIV/AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is ambivalent. This review aimed to assess the best available evidence regarding the association between perceived HIV related stigma and time to present for HIV/AIDS care.

Methods: Quantitative studies conducted in English language between 2002 and 2016 that evaluated the association between HIV related stigma and late presentation for HIV care were sought across four major databases. This review considered studies that included the following outcome: 'late HIV testing', 'late HIV diagnosis' and 'late presentation for HIV care after testing'. Data were extracted using a standardized Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) data extraction tool. Meta- analysis was undertaken using Revman-5 software. I2 and chi-square test were used to assess heterogeneity. Summary statistics were expressed as pooled odds ratio with 95% confidence intervals and corresponding p-value.

Results: Ten studies from low- and middle- income countries met the search criteria, including six (6) and four (4) case control studies and cross-sectional studies respectively. The total sample size in the included studies was 3788 participants. Half (5) of the studies reported a significant association between stigma and late presentation for HIV care. The meta-analytical association showed that people who perceived high HIV related stigma had two times more probability of late presentation for HIV care than who perceived low stigma (pooled odds ratio = 2.4; 95%CI: 1.6-3.6, I2 = 79%).

Conclusions: High perceptions of HIV related stigma influenced timely presentation for HIV care. In order to avoid late HIV care presentation due the fear of stigma among patients, health professionals should play a key role in informing and counselling patients on the benefits of early HIV testing or early entry to HIV care. Additionally, linking the systems and positive case tracing after HIV testing should be strengthened.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

The relationship between health worker stigma and uptake of HIV counseling and testing and utilization of non-HIV health services: the experience of male and female sex workers in Kenya.

Nyblade L, Reddy A, Mbote D, Kraemer J, Stockton M, Kemunto C, Krotki K, Morla J, Njuguna S, Dutta A, Barker C. AIDS Care. 2017 Mar 22:1-9. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2017.1307922. [Epub ahead of print]

The barrier HIV-stigma presents to the HIV treatment cascade is increasingly documented; however less is known about female and male sex worker engagement in and the influence of sex-work stigma on the HIV care continuum. While stigma occurs in all spheres of life, stigma within health services may be particularly detrimental to health seeking behaviors. Therefore, we present levels of sex-work stigma from healthcare workers (HCW) among male and female sex workers in Kenya, and explore the relationship between sex-work stigma and HIV counseling and testing. We also examine the relationship between sex-work stigma and utilization of non-HIV health services. A snowball sample of 497 female sex workers (FSW) and 232 male sex workers (MSW) across four sites was recruited through a modified respondent-driven sampling process. About 50% of both male and female sex workers reported anticipating verbal stigma from HCW while 72% of FSW and 54% of MSW reported experiencing at least one of seven measured forms of stigma from HCW. In general, stigma led to higher odds of reporting delay or avoidance of counseling and testing, as well as non-HIV specific services. Statistical significance of relationships varied across type of health service, type of stigma and gender. For example, anticipated stigma was not a significant predictor of delay or avoidance of health services for MSW; however, FSW who anticipated HCW stigma had significantly higher odds of avoiding (OR = 2.11) non-HIV services, compared to FSW who did not. This paper adds to the growing evidence of stigma as a roadblock in the HIV treatment cascade, as well as its undermining of the human right to health. While more attention is being paid to addressing HIV-stigma, it is equally important to address the key population stigma that often intersects with HIV-stigma.

Abstract access 

National sex work policy and HIV prevalence among sex workers: an ecological regression analysis of 27 European countries.

Reeves A, Steele S, Stuckler D, McKee M, Amato-Gauci A, Semenza JC. Lancet HIV. 2017 Mar;4(3):e134-e140. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30217-X. Epub2017 Jan 25.

Background: Sex workers are disproportionately affected by HIV compared with the general population. Most studies of HIV risk among sex workers have focused on individual-level risk factors, with few studies assessing potential structural determinants of HIV risk. In this Article, we examine whether criminal laws around sex work are associated with HIV prevalence among female sex workers.

Method: We estimate cross-sectional, ecological regression models with data from 27 European countries on HIV prevalence among sex workers from the European Centre for Disease Control; sex-work legislation from the US State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and country-specific legal documents; the rule of law and gross-domestic product per capita, adjusted for purchasing power, from the World Bank; and the prevalence of injecting drug use among sex workers. Although data from two countries include male sex workers, the numbers are so small that the findings here essentially pertain to prevalence in female sex workers.

Findings: Countries that have legalised some aspects of sex work (n=17) have significantly lower HIV prevalence among sex workers than countries that criminalise all aspects of sex work (n=10; β=-2·09, 95% CI -0·80 to -3·37;p=0·003), even after controlling for the level of economic development (β=-1·86; p=0·038) and the proportion of sex workers who are injecting drug users (-1·93;p=0·026). We found that the relation between sex work policy and HIV among sex workers might be partly moderated by the effectiveness and fairness of enforcement, suggesting legalisation of some aspects of sex work could reduce HIV among sex workers to the greatest extent in countries where enforcement is fair and effective.

Interpretation: Our findings suggest that the legalisation of some aspects of sex work might help reduce HIV prevalence in this high-risk group, particularly in countries where the judiciary is effective and fair.

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

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

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

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

Abstract access  

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

Africa
South Africa
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Peer led activities increase HIV testing uptake among MSM

Effectiveness of peer-led interventions to increase HIV testing among men who have sex with men: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Shangani S, Escudero D, Kirwa K, Harrison A, Marshall B, Operario D. AIDS Care. 2017 Feb 2:1-11. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2017.1282105. [Epub ahead of print]

HIV testing constitutes a key step along the continuum of HIV care. Men who have sex with men (MSM) have low HIV testing rates and delayed diagnosis, especially in low-resource settings. Peer-led interventions offer a strategy to increase testing rates in this population. This systematic review and meta-analysis summarizes evidence on the effectiveness of peer-led interventions to increase the uptake of HIV testing among MSM. Using a systematic review protocol that was developed a priori, we searched PubMed, PsycINFO and CINAHL for articles reporting original results of randomized or non-randomized controlled trials (RCTs), quasi-experimental interventions, and pre- and post-intervention studies. Studies were eligible if they targeted MSM and utilized peers to increase HIV testing. We included studies published in or after 1996 to focus on HIV testing during the era of combination antiretroviral therapy. Seven studies encompassing a total of 6205 participants met eligibility criteria, including two quasi-experimental studies, four non-randomized pre- and-post intervention studies, and one cluster randomized trial. Four studies were from high-income countries, two were from Asia and only one from sub-Saharan Africa. We assigned four studies a "moderate" methodological rigor rating and three a "strong" rating. Meta-analysis of the seven studies found HIV testing rates were statistically significantly higher in the peer-led intervention groups versus control groups (pooled OR 2.00, 95% CI 1.74-2.31). Among randomized trials, HIV testing rates were significantly higher in the peer-led intervention versus control groups (pooled OR: 2.48, 95% CI 1.99-3.08). Among the non-randomized pre- and post-intervention studies, the overall pooled OR for intervention versus control groups was 1.71 (95% CI 1.42-2.06), with substantial heterogeneity among studies (I2 = 70%, p < 0.02). Overall, peer-led interventions increased HIV testing among MSM but more data from high-quality studies are needed to evaluate effects of peer-led interventions on HIV testing among MSM in low- and middle-income countries.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: A key driver of the HIV epidemic is low uptake of HIV testing in many settings. This leads to a high proportion of individuals living with HIV being unaware of their status, failing to engage with care and treatment and hence being at risk of transmitting HIV to others. Recent reviews have illustrated that programmes led by members of the same peer group can be effective in promoting HIV-associated behavioural change and improving clinical outcomes. Gay men and other men who have sex with men can experience specific challenges associated with engagement with HIV care. This problem is particularly acute in resource poor regions due to very high levels of stigma.

This systematic review is the first to look specifically at the effectiveness of peer-led activities among gay men and other men who have sex with men. Seven studies were found which fulfilled the inclusion criteria of assessing the impact of peer-led activities on HIV testing uptake among gay men and other men who have sex with men. Four of these were in high income settings, and the others in Peru, Taiwan and Kenya. Each study illustrated a positive effect of peer-led activities on increasing HIV testing rates, and meta-analyses illustrated consistent effects when data were stratified by sub-groups (study methodology, study quality or setting). However, the generalizability of these studies to the entire population of gay men and other men who have sex with men is a concern recognized by the authors as the majority used gay-centric community venues to recruit participants. This is likely to exclude individuals who do not self-identify as being part of this community. Two studies, one in Taiwan and the other in Peru, used social-media as a mechanism of recruitment. This approach may lead to a wider recruitment, although not accessible to people without access to the internet.

Overall, this review emphasizes the potential of peer-led activities to overcome barriers to engage with testing and treatment experienced by gay men and other men who have sex with men and other hard to reach and high-risk sub-populations. It also illustrated the very limited current evidence available to assess such programmes.

 

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Transwomen: high time to act

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, Kruger A, Luz PM, Liu AY, McFarland W, Buchbinder S, Veloso VG, Wilson EC , for the Transcender Study Team. Lancet HIV. 2017 Feb 7. pii: S2352-3018(17)30015-2. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30015-2. [Epub ahead of print]

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.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: This is a must-read paper for anyone interested in good participatory practices (GPP) in research and/or gender identity and HIV risk, and/or respondent driven sampling (RDS) research techniques. The researchers engaged the transwomen community from the outset in the very apt naming of the project – Transcender – and the study design – appropriate language and participant-sensitive procedures. Three community members were part of the study implementation team and the analyses were refined and written with trans community input. Although eligibility criteria included self-identification as transwomen, study participants included 131 travesti (transvestites), 107 transsexual women, 96 women, and 11 people with other gender identities. Transwomen who self-identified as women had the lowest odds of newly diagnosed HIV infection. This underscores the importance of exploring whether and how greater internal or external gender identity acceptance might confer a protective effect for HIV acquisition, perhaps through ability to use medical services through to transition, which might reduce the risk of violence. The RDS-weighted characteristics of the study participants are striking: 97% had ever experienced discrimination, 49% had ever been subjected to physical violence, and 42% had ever been raped. As for the RDS methodology itself, recruitment began with 12 seeds generating 3.6 (range two to seven) recruitment waves over a period of 26 weeks, with one seed generating 23% of the study sample. Although confidence intervals are wide, detected associations are of high magnitude and significant. With respect to homophily (the tendency to recruit others like oneself), it was moderate for HIV status and race and strong for history of sex work. Further, what are the immediate implications of the findings? Among the 29% of participants who were newly diagnosed as having HIV, nearly half reported no previous HIV testing and 44% reported a negative HIV test in the previous year. Offering pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to the latter transwomen could have prevented them from acquiring HIV. In addition to addressing the social exclusion and marginalization that creates the structural context of HIV risk for transwomen, it is critical to achieving the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target that we move effectively to remove barriers to health care access. These include fighting stigma and discrimination, tackling transphobia, penalizing and preventing physical and sexual violence, and offering immediate antiretroviral therapy to people living with HIV and to offer immediate PrEP to people found to be HIV-negative.   

 

Latin America
Brazil
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Community mobilization programme to increase HIV testing – more work is necessary

Community mobilization for HIV testing uptake: results from a community randomized trial of a theory-based intervention in rural South Africa.

Lippman SA, Neilands TB, MacPhail C, Peacock D, Maman S, Rebombo D, Twine R, Selin A, Leslie HH, Kahn K, Pettifor A. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 Jan 1;74 Suppl 1:S44-S51.

Background: HIV testing uptake in South Africa is below optimal levels. Community mobilization (CM) may increase and sustain demand for HIV testing, however, little rigorous evidence exists regarding the effect of CM interventions on HIV testing and the mechanisms of action.

Methods: We implemented a theory-driven CM intervention in 11 of 22 randomly-selected villages in rural Mpumalanga Province. Cross-sectional surveys including a community mobilization measure were conducted before (n = 1181) and after (n = 1175) a 2-year intervention (2012-2014). We assessed community-level intervention effects on reported HIV testing using multilevel logistic models. We used structural equation models to explore individual-level effects, specifically whether intervention assignment and individual intervention exposure were associated with HIV testing through community mobilization.

Results: Reported testing increased equally in both control and intervention sites: the intervention effect was null in primary analyses. However, the hypothesized pathway, CM, was associated with higher HIV testing in the intervention communities. Every standard deviation increase in village CM score was associated with increased odds of reported HIV testing in intervention village participants (odds ratio: 2.6, P = <0.001) but not control village participants (odds ratio: 1.2, P = 0.53). Structural equation models demonstrate that the intervention affected HIV testing uptake through the individual intervention exposure received and higher personal mobilization scores.

Conclusions: There was no evidence of community-wide gains in HIV testing due to the intervention. However, a significant intervention effect on HIV testing was noted in residents who were personally exposed to the intervention and who evidenced higher community mobilization. Research is needed to understand whether CM interventions can be diffused within communities over time.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: HIV testing is an integral component of HIV prevention strategies, and essential for achieving the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target. However, testing coverage in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa remains low, particularly among men. Stigma, gender norms, and lack of ‘buy in’ about the benefits of early testing and treatment remain major barriers to testing. 

This cluster-randomised trial of a community mobilization (CM) approach for HIV prevention in South Africa is one of the first to be based around an explicit theoretical model of community change. CM is designed to engage community members and motivate people to achieve a common goal, and has been used successfully in some HIV prevention programmes. The programme focused on young men aged 18-35 years, with an aim to build community support for normative changes that are necessary to tackle social barriers to HIV testing and care. Trial outcomes included gender norms, sexual behaviour and HIV testing uptake. The trial found no overall effect on the uptake of HIV testing – self-reported HIV testing increased significantly in both arms over the two year observation period, with no difference between the programme and control communities. However, CM scores, used to quantify the degree of community engagement, were higher in the programme communities. In addition, individuals with greater exposure to the programme were more likely to report HIV testing. These findings suggest that although the CM programme did have an impact on the individuals exposed to it, the effect did not filter through to the wider community.  

CM strategies are used increasingly in public health programmes, and can be a powerful tool for increasing community awareness and engagement with HIV prevention. The benefit of CM is its ability to diffuse beyond the immediate participants to the community as a whole, to bring about the greatest possible change. However, little is known about why and how these approaches work. As this study illustrates, there is a need to understand more about the underlying mechanisms of change associated with CM, and the factors that contribute to its success.

Africa
South Africa
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People who inject drugs living with HIV in Russia face more mental health issues and diminished quality of life

Psychiatric symptoms, quality of life, and HIV status among people using opioids in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Desrosiers A, Blokhina E, Krupitsky E, Zvartau E, Schottenfeld R, Chawarski M. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2017 Mar 1;172:60-65. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2016.12.007. Epub 2017 Jan 23.

Background: The Russian Federation is experiencing a very high rate of HIV infection among people who inject drugs (PWID). However, few studies have explored characteristics of people with co-occurring opioid use disorders and HIV, including psychiatric symptom presentations and how these symptoms might relate to quality of life. The current study therefore explored a.) differences in baseline psychiatric symptoms among HIV+ and HIV- individuals with opioid use disorder seeking naltrexone treatment at two treatment centers in Saint Petersburg, Russia and b.) associations between psychiatric symptom constellations and quality of life.

Methods: Participants were 328 adults enrolling in a randomized clinical trial evaluating outpatient treatments combining naltrexone with different drug counseling models. Psychiatric symptoms and quality of life were assessed using the Brief Symptom Inventory and The World Health Organization Quality of Life-BREF, respectively.

Results: Approximately 60% of participants were HIV+. Those who were HIV+ scored significantly higher on BSI anxiety, depression, psychoticism, somatization, paranoid ideation, phobic anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, and GSI indexes (all p<0.05) than those HIV-. A K-means cluster analysis identified three distinct psychiatric symptom profiles; the proportion of HIV+ was significantly greater and quality of life indicators were significantly lower in the cluster with the highest psychiatric symptom levels.

Conclusion: Higher levels of psychiatric symptoms and lower quality of life indicators among HIV+ (compared to HIV-) individuals injecting drugs support the potential importance of combining interventions that target improving psychiatric symptoms with drug treatment, particularly for HIV+ patients.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: The higher prevalence of mental health disorders among people living with HIV is well known. This paper focuses on the association of mental health disorders and HIV among people who inject drugs, in St Petersburg, Russian Federation – the city with the highest prevalence of HIV and drug use in the Russian Federation. HIV positive people who inject drugs had significantly higher prevalence of mental health problems than HIV negative people who inject drugs. They had a lower quality of life according to a validated scale, underscoring the need for strong, combination public health programmes to support this vulnerable group. The population studied was selected through existing service provision. Since these individuals were already seeking treatment on their own, there could be many more who are not engaged in care either for HIV treatment or drug use support. This suggests the need to strengthen awareness and services, especially in areas where clean needles and other risk management methods are not yet available.

Europe
Russian Federation
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Improving education about HIV transmission among health workers could reduce stigmatizing attitudes

Another generation of stigma? Assessing healthcare student perceptions of HIV-positive patients in Mwanza, Tanzania.

Aggarwal S, Lee DH, Minteer WB, Fenning RT, Raja SK, Bernstein ME, Raman KR, Denny SP, Patel PA, Lieber M, Farfel AO, Diamond CA. AIDS Patient Care STDS. 2017 Feb;31(2):87-95. doi: 10.1089/apc.2016.0175. Epub 2017 Jan 18.

HIV-related stigma remains a persistent global health concern among people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA) in developing nations. The literature is lacking in studies about healthcare students' perceptions of PLWA. This study is the first effort to understand stigmatizing attitudes toward HIV-positive patients by healthcare students in Mwanza, Tanzania, not just those who will be directly treating patients but also those who will be indirectly involved through nonclinical roles, such as handling patient specimens and private health information. A total of 208 students were drawn from Clinical Medicine, Laboratory Sciences, Health Records and Information Management, and Community Health classes at the Tandabui Institute of Health Sciences and Technology for a voluntary survey that assessed stigmatizing beliefs toward PLWA. Students generally obtained high scores on the overall survey instrument, pointing to low stigmatizing beliefs toward PLWA and an overall willingness to treat PLWA with the same standard of care as other patients. However, there are gaps in knowledge that exist among students, such as a comprehensive understanding of all routes of HIV infection. The study also suggests that students who interact with patients as part of their training are less likely to exhibit stigmatizing beliefs toward PLWA. A comprehensive course in HIV infection, one that includes classroom sessions focused on the epidemiology and routes of transmission as well as clinical opportunities to directly interact with PLWA-perhaps through teaching sessions led by PLWA-may allow for significant reductions in stigma toward such patients and improve clinical outcomes for PLWA around the world.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: This paper reports on a survey of students who were undergoing training in Clinical Medicine, Laboratory Sciences, Health Records and Information Management, Nursing, and Community Health in Mwanza, Tanzania. The survey aimed to explore attitudes about people living with HIV. The authors report that their results illustrate low stigmatizing beliefs towards people living with HIV. However, around a quarter believed that HIV is a punishment for bad behaviour. A third believed that people who acquired HIV from drug use or sex deserved to become infected. Further to this, nearly three quarters believed that individuals who were HIV positive could have avoided infection if they wanted to. A quarter believed that people living with HIV have been promiscuous. There were no differences in response by gender but students under 24 were more likely to have negative attitudes. The authors suggest that this could be due to lower education levels than the older students, although they had not measured this. Students studying Clinical Medicine were less likely to have negative attitudes. On a positive note the students reported that they would treat people living with HIV as equal with other people.

The students displayed some lack of knowledge about routes of HIV infection beyond sex and drug use, especially mother-to-child HIV transmission. The authors suggest that better education in this area may reduce the negative attitudes about people living with HIV, reported by many of the students. Overall, this survey reveals some gaps in education, that if addressed could reduce stigma by health workers against people living with HIV.

Africa
United Republic of Tanzania
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MSM resilience to HIV

Identifying resilience resources for HIV prevention among sexual minority men: a systematic review.

Woodward EN, Banks RJ, Marks AK, Pantalone DW. AIDS Behav. 2016 Dec 15. [Epub ahead of print]

Most HIV prevention for sexual minority men and men who have sex with men targets risk behaviors (e.g., condom use) and helps <50% of participants. Bolstering resilience might increase HIV prevention's effectiveness. This systematic review identified resilience resources (protective factors) in high-risk, HIV-negative, sexual minority men. We reviewed PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES, MEDLINE, references, and Listservs for studies including sexual minority men with 1+ HIV risk factor (syndemics): childhood sexual abuse, partner abuse, substance abuse, or mental health symptoms. From 1356 articles screened, 20 articles met inclusion criteria. Across the articles, we identified and codified 31 resilience resources: socioeconomic (e.g., employment), behavioral coping strategies (e.g., mental health treatment), cognitions/emotions (e.g., acceptance), and relationships. Resilience resources were generally associated with lower HIV risk; there were 18 low-risk associations, 4 high-risk associations, 8 non-significant associations. We generated a set of empirically based resilience variables and a hypothesis to be evaluated further to improve HIV prevention.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: This systematic review sought to identify why gay men and other men who have sex with men, at high-risk of HIV, remain HIV negative. HIV-negative, gay men and other men who have sex with men, with a key risk factor for HIV were identified. These risk factors were childhood sexual abuse, partner abuse, substance abuse or mental health symptoms. The authors sought to identify why such men remain HIV negative. Why they are resilient to infection. Some 20 studies met the inclusion criteria. Four broad categories of resilience were identified; socioeconomic (e.g. degree, full-time job); behavioural coping strategies (e.g. accessing mental health services), cognitions/ emotions (e.g. acceptance of a situation); and relationships (e.g. perceived sufficient social support). Of the 31 sub-categories of resilience resources identified, four were identified as protective for HIV infection: main sex partner is HIV negative, willingness to use PrEP, PrEP acceptance and condom use. Resilience resource research for HIV prevention is a sparse area of study. This study generated a set of resilience variables upon which further research can be built.

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