Articles tagged as "Structural determinants and vulnerability"

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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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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How did SASA! reduce violence against women?

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

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

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

 

Africa
Uganda
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Female sex workers in Cote d’Ivoire experience high levels of physical and sexual violence alongside intimidation from the police

Physical and sexual violence affecting female sex workers in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire: Prevalence, and the relationship between violence, the work environment, HIV and access to health services.

Lyons C, Ketende S, Drame F, Grosso A, Diouf D, Ba I, Shannon K, Ezouatchi R, Bamba A, Kouame A, Baral S. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 Feb 6. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001310. [Epub ahead of print]

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 Cote 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, Cote 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 chi squared tests, and multivariable logistic regression.

Results: RDS Police refusal of protection was associated with physical (adjusted Odds Ratio [aOR]:2.6; 95%CI: 1.7,4.4) and sexual violence (aOR: 3.0; 95%CI: 1.9,4.8). Blackmail was associated with physical (aOR: 2.5; 95%CI: 1.5,4.2) and sexual violence (aOR: 2.4; 95%CI: 1.5,4.0). Physical violence was associated with fear (aOR: 2.2; 95%CI: 1.3,3.1) and avoidance of seeking health services (aOR:1.7; 95%CI:1.1-2.6).

Conclusions: Violence is prevalent among FSW in Abidjan and associated with features of the work environment. 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 access  

Editor’s notes: The authors report the findings of a study with female sex workers in Cote d’Ivoire.  They explored prevalence and determinants of violence and the relationship with structural risks for HIV. Of the women interviewed, 60% had experienced physical violence and, for these women, 85% had experienced physical violence in the last 12 months. Of these women around 70% reported violence after starting sex work. Almost half of the women surveyed had experienced sexual violence. The main perpetrators were clients. There were associations between being HIV positive and physical violence. Around 11% of the women were HIV positive but a quarter feared seeking health services due to their engagement in sex work.

A quarter of the women reported that police had refused them protection. Around a third had been intimidated or harassed by the police, and there were associations between experiences of physical or sexual violence and arrest, blackmail or condom refusal. The authors conclude that these findings illustrate an urgent need for improving the work environments for female sex workers in Cote d’Ivoire.  There is also a need to address police harassment and violence. The authors argue for the need for policy reforms to address legal barriers focussing on sex work.

Africa
Côte d'Ivoire
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Psychological distress and HIV after financial meltdown in Zimbabwe

Prevalence and associations of psychological distress, HIV Infection and HIV care service utilization in East Zimbabwe.

Tlhajoane M, Eaton JW, Takaruza A, Rhead R, Maswera R, Schur N, Sherr L, Nyamukapa C, Gregson S. AIDS Behav. 2017 Feb 13. doi: 10.1007/s10461-017-1705-x. [Epub ahead of print]

The correlation between mental health and sexual risk behaviours for HIV infection remains largely unknown in low and middle income settings. The present study determined the prevalence of psychological distress (PD) in a sub-Saharan African population with a generalized HIV epidemic, and investigated associations with HIV acquisition risk and uptake of HIV services using data from a cross-sectional survey of 13,252 adults. PD was measured using the Shona Symptom Questionnaire. Logistic regression was used to measure associations between PD and hypothesized covariates. The prevalence of PD was 4.5% (95% CI 3.9-5.1%) among men, and 12.9% (95% CI 12.2-13.6%) among women. PD was associated with sexual risk behaviours for HIV infection and HIV-infected individuals were more likely to suffer from PD. Amongst those initiated on anti-retroviral therapy, individuals with PD were less likely to adhere to treatment (91 vs. 96%; age- and site-type-adjusted odds ratio = 0.38; 95% CI 0.15, 0.99). Integrated HIV and mental health services may enhance HIV care and treatment outcomes in high HIV-prevalence populations in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Editor’s notes: Psychological distress can lead to increased use of alcohol and drugs, sexual risk behaviour, and hence increased risk of HIV acquisition. In rural Manicaland, the fifth survey round of an open population cohort measured psychological distress for the first time in 2009-2011, following the Zimbabwe hyperinflation crisis of 2008-2009.

Psychological distress was highly prevalent, especially among women, as was HIV infection. Overall, HIV prevalence was 12.7% in men and 18.3% in women. Psychological distress and HIV were also clearly associated. Among people with psychological distress HIV prevalence was 18.8% for men and 27.2% for women, compared to 12.4% and 17.1% for men and women respectively without psychological distress.

People living with HIV (identified by anonymous testing) who had psychological distress were more likely to have had an HIV test than people without psychological distress, although this could be reversed to mean that people with HIV who knew their status were more likely to have psychological distress than people who did not. If diagnosed and on antiretroviral therapy, people with psychological distress also had poorer adherence, supporting findings of other studies.

A main challenge to interpreting these results is a lack of information on poverty and how it may have impacted both psychological distress and risk of HIV acquisition. Only one survey round used the Shona Symptom Questionnaire so the study is essentially a cross-sectional survey. Women with psychological distress were more likely to have transactional sex, engage in sex work and not use condoms, but it is not clear that these behaviours were consequences of psychological distress. Instead, both the behaviours and the distress could have been caused by poverty constraints and lack of options. The only economic variables measured were time of year (as a proxy for food availability) and employment status (employed/unemployed). Being employed was associated with lower risk of psychological distress for women, but had no effect for men.

Africa
Zimbabwe
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Increased risk of death associated with perceived barriers to care at HIV diagnosis in South Africa

Barriers to care and 1-year mortality among newly-diagnosed HIV-infected people in Durban, South Africa.

Bassett IV, Coleman SM, Giddy J, MfamMed, Bogart LM, Chaisson CE, Ross D, Flash MJ, Govender T, Walensky RP, Freedberg KA, Losina E. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 Apr 1;74(4):432-438.  doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001277. 2016 Dec 30. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Prompt entry into HIV care is often hindered by personal and structural barriers. Our objective was to evaluate the impact of self-perceived barriers to healthcare on 1-year mortality among newly diagnosed HIV-infected individuals in Durban, South Africa.

Methods: Prior to HIV testing at four outpatient sites, adults (≥18y) were surveyed regarding perceived barriers to care including: 1) service delivery; 2) financial; 3) personal health perception; 4) logistical; and 5) structural. We assessed deaths via phone calls and the South African National Population Register. We used multivariable Cox proportional hazards models to determine the association between number of perceived barriers and death within one year.

Results: 1899 HIV-infected participants enrolled. Median age was 33 years (IQR: 27-41y), 49% were female, and median CD4 count was 192/µl (IQR: 72-346/µl). 1057 participants (56%) reported no, 370 (20%) reported 1-3, and 460 (24%) reported >3 barriers to care. By one year, 250 (13%, 95% CI: 12%, 15%) participants died. Adjusting for age, sex, education, baseline CD4 count, distance to clinic, and TB status, participants with 1-3 barriers (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR]: 1.49, 95% CI: 1.06, 2.08) and >3 barriers (aHR: 1.81, 95% CI: 1.35, 2.43) had higher 1-year mortality risk compared to those without barriers.

Conclusions: HIV-infected individuals in South Africa who reported perceived barriers to medical care at diagnosis were more likely to die within one year. Targeted structural interventions such as extended clinic hours, travel vouchers, and streamlined clinic operations may improve linkage to care and ART initiation for these people.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: Mortality among people living with HIV remains high in South Africa. Suboptimal engagement in HIV care is noted to be a significant contributor to this, with many deaths occurring before people have even started antiretroviral therapy. Potential barriers to care range from personal, such as perceived good health therefore believing antiretroviral therapy is not necessary, to logistical, such as a lack of transportation, to structural barriers such as busy clinics and long waits for care. Barriers perceived by the patient may also be different to barriers perceived by providers of care.

This study sought to explore self-perceived barriers to care at the time of testing for HIV and their impact on one-year mortality. This was in the context of a trial testing whether or not health system navigators improved linkage to and retention in care. Between 2010 and 2013, adults attending for HIV testing across four clinics in Durban, South Africa enrolled in this trial, completed a baseline questionnaire. This examined self-perceived barriers to care, their emotional health and social support. Participants found to be HIV positive were followed up via phone within 12 months. Limited clinical data was sought from clinic notes. Any reported deaths were confirmed by a national register.

Some 1887 participants were enrolled and subsequently diagnosed with HIV. Some 250 people died by 12 months post enrollment. A myriad of barriers were reported, the most common being associated with personal health, service delivery and structural issues. However, it was the sum of barriers that was predictive of risk. People with one or more perceived barriers had a higher one-year mortality risk compared to people without perceived barriers. Furthermore, it was illustrated that the greater the number of perceived barriers, the greater the risk of mortality. The risk for people with greater than three perceived barriers was double that of people with three or less barriers (22% versus 11%). Interestingly, there was no significant impact of emotional and social support as reported at baseline.

Limitations noted by the authors include a possible overestimation of deaths attributable to HIV, since there were no specific data on the cause of death. Data on co-morbidities (apart from tuberculosis) were also not collected and their potential impact on mortality is not addressed. However, it may be fair to assume that any barriers to HIV care would also extend to affecting access to other forms of healthcare. Overall, the study highlights perceived barriers at diagnosis as plausible factors to address when shaping programmes to improve retention in care. 

Africa
South Africa
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ART has dramatically improved life expectancy for people living with HIV in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Trends in the burden of HIV mortality after roll-out of antiretroviral therapy in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: an observational community cohort study.

Reniers G, Blom S, Calvert C, Martin-Onraet A, Herbst AJ, Eaton JW, Bor J, Slaymaker E, Li ZR, Clark SJ, Barnighausen T, Zaba B, Hosegood V Lancet HIV. 2016 Dec 9. pii: S2352-3018(16)30225-9. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30225-9

Background: Antiretroviral therapy (ART) substantially decreases morbidity and mortality in people living with HIV. In this study, we describe population-level trends in the adult life expectancy and trends in the residual burden of HIV mortality after the roll-out of a public sector ART programme in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, one of the populations with the most severe HIV epidemics in the world.

Methods: Data come from the Africa Centre Demographic Information System (ACDIS), an observational community cohort study in the uMkhanyakude district in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. We used non-parametric survival analysis methods to estimate gains in the population-wide life expectancy at age 15 years since the introduction of ART, and the shortfall of the population-wide adult life expectancy compared with that of the HIV-negative population (ie, the life expectancy deficit). Life expectancy gains and deficits were further disaggregated by age and cause of death with demographic decomposition methods.

Findings: Covering the calendar years 2001 through to 2014, we obtained information on 93 903 adults who jointly contribute 535 428 person-years of observation to the analyses and 9992 deaths. Since the roll-out of ART in 2004, adult life expectancy increased by 15.2 years for men (95% CI 12.4-17.8) and 17.2 years for women (14.5-20.2). Reductions in pulmonary tuberculosis and HIV-related mortality account for 79.7% of the total life expectancy gains in men (8.4 adult life-years), and 90.7% in women (12.8 adult life-years). For men, 9.5% is the result of a decline in external injuries. By 2014, the life expectancy deficit had decreased to 1.2 years for men (-2.9 to 5.8) and to 5.3 years for women (2.6-7.8). In 2011-14, pulmonary tuberculosis and HIV were responsible for 84.9% of the life expectancy deficit in men and 80.8% in women.

Interpretation: The burden of HIV on adult mortality in this population is rapidly shrinking, but remains large for women, despite their better engagement with HIV-care services. Gains in adult life-years lived as well as the present life expectancy deficit are almost exclusively due to differences in mortality attributed to HIV and pulmonary tuberculosis.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: Health and demographic surveillance system (HDSS) sites allow for monitoring of population health through the collection of detailed data on tens of thousands of individuals. Such sites in countries with high HIV prevalence have played an important role in measuring the effects of large-scale programmes, such as the global roll-out of antiretroviral therapy (ART). The data presented in this paper, from the Africa Centre Demographic Information System (ACDIS) in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, span 13 years (2001–14) and represent over 93 000 individuals living in an area with extremely high HIV prevalence (29% in adults aged 15–49 years in 2011). At least 15 000 of people studied were HIV-positive, of whom at least 2000 died. ART was first made available to people living with HIV (PLHIV) in this area in 2004.

Among adults aged 15–49 years, the authors report an overall reduction in death rate from 2001–14.  This translates into large increases in life expectancy (i.e., the expected number of years lived from age 15) of 15 and 17 years for men and women, respectively, between 2001 and 2014.  The changes in life expectancy are greater in people who were confirmed HIV-positive: 18 and 21 years for men and women, respectively, from 2007–14.  The large difference in life expectancies between the sexes that still exists (31 versus 44 years in HIV-positive men and women, respectively) are consistent with previously published estimates from Rwanda and Uganda. This study, however, illustrates that HIV-positive men are catching up to their HIV-negative counterparts faster than women are. The ‘deficit’ in 2014 - the gap in life expectancies between HIV-positive and HIV-negative individuals, was 1.2 years in men but still 5.3 years in women.

The authors propose that increased access to ART is the primary driver of the gains in life expectancy seen in this cohort. To further support this, they include data from verbal autopsies (VAs), which suggest that reductions in deaths due to HIV and pulmonary tuberculosis were responsible for 80% and 90% of the increases in life expectancy in men and women, respectively. VAs have limitations, however, particularly in areas of high HIV prevalence, but the overall mortality patterns suggested by these findings are likely to be accurate, even if the precise estimates differ.

The dramatic increases in life expectancy, in only seven years, for HIV-positive individuals in this cohort add to the encouraging observations from other low- and middle-income countries that many people receiving ART can expect to live for nearly as long as HIV-negative individuals.  Of course, people with advanced disease starting ART are still at high risk of death and there remain considerable challenges in getting treatment to all people in need of it. 

Africa
South Africa
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The hope and reality of injecting drug use among people living with HIV in Ukraine

Attitudes toward addiction, methadone treatment, and recovery among HIV-infected Ukrainian prisoners who inject drugs: incarceration effects and exploration of mediators.  

Polonsky M, Rozanova J, Azbel L, Bachireddy C, Izenberg J, Kiriazova T, Dvoryak S, Altice FL. AIDS Behav. 2016 Dec;20(12):2950-2960.

In this study, we use data from a survey conducted in Ukraine among 196 HIV-infected people who inject drugs, to explore attitudes toward drug addiction and methadone maintenance therapy (MMT), and intentions to change drug use during incarceration and after release from prison. Two groups were recruited: Group 1 (n = 99) was currently incarcerated and Group 2 (n = 97) had been recently released from prison. This paper's key finding is that MMT treatment and addiction recovery were predominantly viewed as mutually exclusive processes. Group comparisons showed that participants in Group 1 (pre-release) exhibited higher optimism about changing their drug use, were less likely to endorse methadone, and reported higher intention to recover from their addiction. Group 2 participants (post-release), however, reported higher rates of HIV stigma. Structural equation modeling revealed that in both groups, optimism about recovery and awareness of addiction mediated the effect of drug addiction severity on intentions to recover from their addiction.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: Despite reductions in HIV incidence and mortality globally, the epidemic in Ukraine remains volatile and continues to expand, especially among people who inject drugs.  People who inject drugs account for more than 40% of people living with HIV.  At 20%, HIV prevalence among Ukrainian people living in prisons is the highest in Europe, with drug injection of opioids being the major driver of transmission. This is due to a concentration of people who inject drugs among prisoners and other incarcerated people, especially people living with HIV. Programmes focusing on prisoners and other incrcerated people may play a central role in HIV prevention since nearly all of them transition back to the community. Opioid agonist therapies including methadone maintenance therapy have been shown to have many benefits including reducing HIV transmission by over 50% among people who inject drugs.  Despite these benefits, moral biases, stigma and ideological prejudices are barriers to opioid agonist therapies scale-up globally including in Ukraine.  Opioid agonist therapies are available free of charge through national and external Global Fund support. However, scale up of opioid agonist therapies and treatment retention in Ukraine have been low, with only about 2.7% of people who inject drugs enrolled. This has constrained HIV prevention efforts.  Adoption of opioid agonist therapies has been especially slow among criminal justice populations. This study compares attitudes towards opioid agonist therapies among currently and previously incarcerated opioid-dependent people living with HIV in Ukraine.

The study uses data from a survey of people living with HIV conducted in Ukraine to explore attitudes to methadone treatment and intentions to change drug use behaviour before and after release from prison.

This study has important implications for future management of people who inject drugs who are living with HIV.  While staff attitudes may undermine the successful opioid agonist therapies delivery in prisons, the findings of this study suggest that prisoners and other incarcerated people are important foci for programmes that should be done in parallel with staff-based activities. The findings also suggest that optimism about recovery while in prison is falsely elevated. This may contribute to individual inability to comprehend addiction as a chronic relapsing condition, which in the absence of treatment, results in 85% relapsing within 12 months of release. Future programmes should take advantage of individuals’ sobriety while in prison and cultivate their ability to recognise the cycle of addiction and incarceration. This optimism should also be channelled to focus on evidence-based programmes, e.g., methadone maintenance therapy that has been associated with reduced illicit drug relapse, HIV risk-taking and reincarceration. Considerable health marketing work also needs to be done to focus on negative attitudes and prejudices about methadone maintenance therapy at both individual and societal level. This would importantly involve rebranding methadone maintenance therapy as a medical treatment for a chronic relapsing condition.

Europe
Ukraine
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Lies in clinical trials – the truth about data accuracy

Misreporting of product adherence in the MTN-003/VOICE trial for HIV prevention in Africa: participants' explanations for dishonesty.

Montgomery ET, Mensch B, Musara P, Hartmann M, Woeber K, Etima J, van der Straten. AIDS Behav. 2016 Nov 17. [Epub ahead of print]

Consistent over-reporting of product use limits researchers' ability to accurately measure adherence and estimate product efficacy in HIV prevention trials. While lying is a universal characteristic of the human condition, growing evidence of a stark discrepancy between self-reported product use and biologic or pharmacokinetic evidence demands examination of the reasons research participants frequently misrepresent product use in order to mitigate this challenge in future research. This study (VOICE-D) was an ancillary post-trial study of the vaginal and oral interventions to control the epidemic (VOICE) phase IIb trial (MTN 003). It was conducted in three African countries to elicit candid accounts from former VOICE trial participants about why actual product use was lower than reported. In total 171 participants were enrolled between December 2012 and March 2014 in South Africa (n = 47), Uganda (n = 59) and Zimbabwe (n = 65). Data suggested that participants understood the importance of daily product use and honest reporting, yet acknowledged that research participants typically lie. Participants cited multiple reasons for misreporting adherence, including human nature, self-presentation with study staff, fear of repercussions (study termination resulting in loss of benefits and experience of HIV-related stigma), a permissive environment in which it was easy to get away with misreporting, and avoiding inconvenient additional counseling. Some participants also reported mistrust of the staff and reciprocal dishonesty about the study products. Many suggested real-time blood-monitoring during trials would encourage greater fidelity to product use and honesty in reporting. Participants at all sites understood the importance of daily product use and honesty, while also acknowledging widespread misreporting of product use. Narratives of dishonesty may suggest a wider social context of hiding products from partners and distrust about research, influenced by rumors circulating in clinic waiting-rooms and surrounding communities. Prevailing power hierarchies between staff and participants may exacerbate misreporting. Participants recognized and suggested that objective, real-time feedback is needed to encourage honest reporting.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: The authors of this insightful paper set out the reasons women gave in a trial of vaginal and oral programmes for inaccurately reporting their behaviour during the trial.  The authors could conduct this study because biologic/pharmacokinetic data were available which showed evidence of product use. These data were shared with individual women. None of the reasons women gave for not telling the truth is surprising. They lied to avoid additional questioning from research staff.  They feared telling the truth would result in being removed from the trial. They feared beingreprimanded. Overall, not telling the truth about product use helped them save face and time. The findings do highlight the power difference between researchers and researched, something that is hard to avoid in many areas of research. This difference was exacerbated in some circumstances by the (reported) harsh behaviour of staff towards women. The ease with which women could manipulate pill counts or product use checks, by discarding unused product is also not surprising.  The perception by some women that the researchers had lied, because of changes in the trial part way through, is important to note. This highlights the importance of clear information when a trial is explained as it begins. It also points to the importance of continuous explanations and checking participant understanding. It cannot be assumed that there is a shared understanding between researcher and researched. This is something that is easily overlooked as a trial progresses and routine visits are established. The authors highlight the value of objective measures on product use.  They also observe that some participants suggested objective, real-time feedback, during trials.  However, the authors also note that for many women lying about aspects of their lives to partners and family, was a way of managing their lives. It could be that ‘real time feedback’ would act as a deterrent to participation for some in such circumstances.  No system of data collection is perfect.  It is, however, very useful to have a timely reminder that no interview data, however collected, can be assumed to be wholly accurate.    

Africa
South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe
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