Articles tagged as "Argentina"

Cryptoccal meningitis – the unacceptable consequence of leaving people behind during ART scale up

Editor’s notes: Cryptococcal meningitis is a severe disease that occurs in people with advanced immune suppression.  Its occurrence is an indicator that an HIV treatment programme is not working well, as it is rare in people whose CD4 count is above 100 cells per microlitre.  Rajasingham and colleagues have tried to estimate the current burden of disease.  This is not straightforward, as the number and proportion of people with advanced HIV disease is changing with the increasing scale up of antiretroviral therapy and earlier HIV diagnosis.  Nonetheless, severe immune suppression still occurs in those whose HIV infection remains undiagnosed or is diagnosed too late; among those who are not started on effective ARVs promptly and among those in whom ART fails and who are not managed effectively by the ART treatment programme.  The authors estimate that there could be more than 180 000 deaths from cryptococcal meningitis with the large majority (136 000) in Africa.  This makes Cryptococcus responsible for more than 15% of HIV-related deaths, second only to tuberculosis as a documented cause.  The authors emphasize the need for earlier diagnosis of HIV and better linkage to quality care programmes.  In the meantime, there are also advances in the screening, prophylaxis and treatment of Cryptococcus itself, which require investment in laboratory services and affordable medicines that can save lives until the effects of good ART improves the immune status.

Cassim and colleagues have developed a novel approach to costing different approaches to the roll out of technology for screening for cryptococcal antigen in the blood of people with advanced HIV infection.  Depending on the numbers of samples to be tested in the laboratory, a mix of single use lateral flow assays and automated enzyme immunoassays makes most sense.  The aim is to allow the more cost-effective high-volume sites to subsidize the low volume sites in order to ensure that as many people living with advanced HIV infection as possible can be screened.

Global burden of disease of HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis: an updated analysis

Rajasingham R, Smith RM, Park BJ, Jarvis JN, Govender NP, Chiller TM, Denning DW, Loyse A, Boulware DR. Lancet Infect Dis. 2017 Aug;17(8):873-881. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(17)30243-8. Epub 2017 May 5.

Background: Cryptococcus is the most common cause of meningitis in adults living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Global burden estimates are crucial to guide prevention strategies and to determine treatment needs, and we aimed to provide an updated estimate of global incidence of HIV-associated cryptococcal disease.

Methods: We used 2014 Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS estimates of adults (aged >15 years) with HIV and antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage. Estimates of CD4 less than 100 cells per μL, virological failure incidence, and loss to follow-up were from published multinational cohorts in low-income and middle-income countries. We calculated those at risk for cryptococcal infection, specifically those with CD4 less than 100 cells/μL not on ART, and those with CD4 less than 100 cells per μL on ART but lost to follow-up or with virological failure. Cryptococcal antigenaemia prevalence by country was derived from 46 studies globally. Based on cryptococcal antigenaemia prevalence in each country and region, we estimated the annual numbers of people who are developing and dying from cryptococcal meningitis.

Findings: We estimated an average global cryptococcal antigenaemia prevalence of 6·0% (95% CI 5·8-6·2) among people with a CD4 cell count of less than 100 cells per μL, with 278 000 (95% CI 195 500-340 600) people positive for cryptococcal antigen globally and 223 100 (95% CI 150 600-282 400) incident cases of cryptococcal meningitis globally in 2014. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 73% of the estimated cryptococcal meningitis cases in 2014 (162 500 cases [95% CI 113 600-193 900]). Annual global deaths from cryptococcal meningitis were estimated at 181 100 (95% CI 119 400-234 300), with 135 900 (75%; [95% CI 93 900-163 900]) deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, cryptococcal meningitis was responsible for 15% of AIDS-related deaths (95% CI 10-19).

Interpretation: Our analysis highlights the substantial ongoing burden of HIV-associated cryptococcal disease, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Cryptococcal meningitis is a metric of HIV treatment programme failure; timely HIV testing and rapid linkage to care remain an urgent priority.

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Estimating the cost-per-result of a national reflexed cryptococcal antigenaemia screening program: Forecasting the impact of potential HIV guideline changes and treatment goals

Cassim N, Coetzee LM, Schnippel K, Glencross DK. PLoS One. 2017 Aug 22;12(8):e0182154. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182154. eCollection 2017.

Introduction: During 2016, the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) introduced laboratory-based reflexed Cryptococcal antigen (CrAg) screening to detect early Cryptococcal disease in immunosuppressed HIV+ patients with a confirmed CD4 count of 100 cells/μl or less.

Objective: The aim of this study was to assess cost-per-result of a national screening program across different tiers of laboratory service, with variable daily CrAg test volumes. The impact of potential ART treatment guideline and treatment target changes on CrAg volumes, platform choice and laboratory workflow are considered.

Methods: CD4 data (with counts ≤ 100 cells/μl) from the fiscal year 2015/16 were extracted from the NHLS Corporate Date Warehouse and used to project anticipated daily CrAg testing volumes with appropriately-matched CrAg testing platforms allocated at each of 52 NHLS CD4 laboratories. A cost-per-result was calculated for four scenarios, including the existing service status quo (Scenario-I), and three other settings (as Scenarios II-IV) which were based on information from recent antiretroviral (ART) guidelines, District Health Information System (DHIS) data and UNAIDS 90/90/90 HIV/AIDS treatment targets. Scenario-II forecast CD4 testing offered only to new ART initiates recorded at DHIS. Scenario-III projected all patients notified as HIV+, but not yet on ART (recorded at DHIS) and Scenario-IV forecast CrAg screening in 90% of estimated HIV+ patients across South Africa (also DHIS). Stata was used to assess daily CrAg volumes at the 5th, 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, 90th and 95th percentiles across 52 CD4-laboratories. Daily volumes were used to determine technical effort/ operator staff costs (% full time equivalent) and cost-per-result for all scenarios.

Results: Daily volumes ranged between 3 and 64 samples for Scenario-I at the 5th and 95th percentile. Similarly, daily volumes ranges of 1-12, 2-45 and 5-100 CrAg-directed samples were noted for Scenario's II, III and IV respectively. A cut-off of 30 CrAg tests per day defined use of either LFA or EIA platform. LFA cost-per-result ranged from $8.24 to $5.44 and EIA cost-per-result between $5.58 and $4.88 across the range of test volumes. The technical effort across scenarios ranged from 3.2-27.6% depending on test volumes and platform used.

Conclusion: The study reported the impact of programmatic testing requirements on varying CrAg test volumes that subsequently influenced choice of testing platform, laboratory workflow and cost-per-result. A novel percentiles approach is described that enables an overview of the cost-per-result across a national program. This approach facilitates cross-subsidisation of more expensive lower volume sites with cost-efficient, more centralized higher volume laboratories, mitigating against the risk of costing tests at a single site.

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Understanding different levels and different models of integration

Editor’s notes: Integration between HIV services and programmes and other services and programmes sounds like common sense.  As people with HIV live longer they are more likely to develop other chronic conditions.  Some of these conditions may also be exacerbated by some anti-retroviral medicines, although modern treatment regimens have much less effect on lipid and insulin metabolism.  Low grade chronic inflammation may continue even in people whose HIV is suppressed and people whose CD4 count sunk to a low level before starting seem to be at greater risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease.  Then there are diseases that are more common among people living with HIV, such as tuberculosis and invasive cervical cancer.  And HIV programmes around the world have established some of the best clinical services for chronic care, with regular appointments, decentralized follow-up, algorithmic approaches to clinical changes and so on.  So it seems sensible to look for the synergies and build on them.

However, research on integration makes it clear that there are many different interpretations of what integration should or could mean.  In different epidemiological settings, the priorities will inevitably be very different.  Two useful systematic reviews this month by the same team, review this territory for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cervical cancer. 

Haldane et al. distinguish between the levels of integration.  Micro level integration involves direct patient care and adjusting diagnosis, treatment and support appropriately.  Meso level integration refers to changes made at the clinic or delivery system level, while macro level integration is about programme management, supply chains and systems organisation.  Despite a large literature (over 7600 papers) on the overlaps between HIV and cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, the authors found only 14 studies that allowed aspects of the integration to be assessed, and only one of these evaluated outcomes.  The others were descriptive studies which highlighted many innovative models, almost all at the meso-level.

Similarly for invasive cervical cancer, which is at least four times as common among women living with HIV as seronegative women, Sigfrid et al. found many papers but only 21 that met their inclusion criteria.  Their models of integration could all be said to be at the meso-level, with one stop shops; co-located services or more complex integrated pathways described.  Again, there were no good evaluations of the outcomes of these systematic changes to the way that services are delivered.  In most countries, all women with cervical cancer should at least be offered an HIV test and appropriate linkage to care expedited for those found to be seropositive.  Women living with HIV need regular screening for early cervical cancer and (as discussed last month) screening for human papillomavirus, the underlying cause of cervical cancer.  However, many ART clinics are now busy and crowded so that even if staff are trained, they do not have time or space or privacy to do cervical examinations.  HPV vaccination campaigns need to be carried out in schools before girls become sexually active.  This could be a good time to engage with sexuality education. However, many campaigns have tended to avoid the challenges of discussing sex with girls who are not yet sexually active, preferring to focus on the vaccine as a cancer prevention tool.  So, the lesson from both these papers is that we need to define more rigorously what we want to achieve with integration and then ensure that we evaluate whether or not our interventions achieve it.

Tuberculosis and HIV have been dancing together since the first descriptions of HIV in the 1980s.  The large majority of tuberculosis patients in many countries are now screened for HIV, with appropriate referral and increasing numbers of people living with HIV are screened regularly for the four classic symptoms of tuberculosis (weight loss, cough, night sweats and fever) and referred onwards for diagnosis.  Yet we still find that collaboration between programmes is not always easy. The number of people living with HIV who are also on tuberculosis treatment reported by the HIV programme may not be the same as the number of people on tuberculosis treatment who are also living with HIV reported by the tuberculosis programme.  Osei et al. report from the Volta Region of Ghana that more than 90% of tuberculosis patients had an HIV test recorded in the tuberculosis register, with an HIV prevalence of 18%.  As has been reported frequently elsewhere, the authors found that HIV was commoner in those with smear negative tuberculosis, and the outcome of treatment was less good.  Their recommendation for strengthening the collaboration between tuberculosis and HIV makes sense, although it has been WHO policy for many years.

The WHO guidance on collaborative TB/HIV activities has always included isoniazid preventive therapy.  However, this remains poorly implemented for reasons that are never very clear.  Despite no good evidence, many tuberculosis programme staff and clinicians worry about the risk of generating isoniazid resistant tuberculosis.  Many HIV programme staff feel that isoniazid remains in the realm of the tuberculosis programme, so that although they are happy to promote cotrimoxazole, they are much slower to prescribe isoniazid.  Many also feel that ART alone should be sufficient to prevent tuberculosis, despite randomized trials in high prevalence settings that demonstrate the additional benefits of isoniazid.  Shayo et al. make a strong economic argument for promoting isoniazid in their study in Tanzania.  They base their model on the rates of tuberculosis and mortality seen during the expansion of pilot programmes for isoniazid in Dar es Salaam.  Both tuberculosis and mortality were significantly lower in the clinics which were part of the pilot programme.  In fact, mortality was approximately tenfold lower, which seems unlikely to be simply due to isoniazid.  Some studies such as TEMPRANO have shown a mortality benefit from isoniazid, while many trials have failed to do so.  Given the non-randomized nature of the comparison, the authors do point out that their conclusions must be tentative.  Nonetheless, it is a convincing demonstration that isoniazid preventive therapy can be incorporated into a busy HIV care clinic and there is abundant evidence that this is the right thing to do.

One more tuberculosis study this month was carried out in Germany.  Karo et al. reviewed the immunology of the 139 people who developed tuberculosis among more than 10 000 people living with HIV in the German ClinSurv cohort.  The authors excluded people who already had tuberculosis at the time that HIV was diagnosed, and found that new diagnoses of tuberculosis were most common in the first couple of years after starting ART.  The authors also show that immune restoration was slower in people who developed tuberculosis.  There was still some deficit up to seven years after ART was started.  Again, their conclusion is that we should be using isoniazid to prevent tuberculosis in people living with HIV, especially people who have spent much of their lives in areas of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa where tuberculosis is much more prevalent than in Europe.  It is often said that Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a very slow growing organism.  We must work harder to ensure that our response to it is not very slow too.  Tuberculosis remains the biggest killer of people with HIV in most of the world, yet for years we have known that a simple, cheap, non-toxic treatment can prevent it. 

 

Integrating cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and diabetes with HIV services: a systematic review.

Haldane V, Legido-Quigley H, Chuah FLH, Sigfrid L, Murphy G, Ong SE, Cervero-Liceras F, Watt N, Balabanova D, Hogarth S, Maimaris W, Buse K, McKee M, Piot P, Perel P. AIDS Care. 2017 Jul 5:1-13. doi:10.1080/09540121.2017.1344350. [Epub ahead of print]

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular diseases (CVD), hypertension and diabetes together with HIV infection are among the major public health concerns worldwide. Health services for HIV and NCDs require health systems that provide for people's chronic care needs, which present an opportunity to coordinate efforts and create synergies between programs to benefit people living with HIV and/or AIDS and NCDs. This review included studies that reported service integration for HIV and/or AIDS with coronary heart diseases, chronic CVD, cerebrovascular diseases (stroke), hypertension or diabetes. We searched multiple databases from inception until October 2015. Articles were screened independently by two reviewers and assessed for risk of bias. 11 057 records were identified with 7 616 after duplicate removal. After screening titles and abstracts, 14 papers addressing 17 distinct interventions met the inclusion criteria. We categorized integration models by diseases (HIV with diabetes, HIV with hypertension and diabetes, HIV with CVD and finally HIV with hypertension and CVD and diabetes). Models also looked at integration from micro (patient focused integration) to macro (system level integrations). Most reported integration of hypertension and diabetes with HIV and AIDS services and described multidisciplinary collaboration, shared protocols, and incorporating screening activities into community campaigns. Integration took place exclusively at the meso-level, with no micro- or macro-level integrations described. Most were descriptive studies, with one cohort study reporting evaluative outcomes. Several innovative initiatives were identified and studies showed that CVD and HIV service integration is feasible. Integration should build on existing protocols and use the community as a locus for advocacy and health services, while promoting multidisciplinary teams, including greater involvement of pharmacists. There is a need for robust and well-designed studies at all levels - particularly macro-level studies, research looking at long-term outcomes of integration, and research in a more diverse range of countries.

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Integrating cervical cancer with HIV healthcare services: A systematic review.

Sigfrid L, Murphy G, Haldane V, Chuah FLH, Ong SE, Cervero-Liceras F, Watt N, Alvaro A, Otero-Garcia L, Balabanova D, Hogarth S, Maimaris W, Buse K, Mckee M, Piot P, Perel P, Legido-Quigley H. PLoS One. 2017 Jul 21;12(7):e0181156. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181156. eCollection 2017.

Background: Cervical cancer is a major public health problem. Even though readily preventable, it is the fourth leading cause of death in women globally. Women living with HIV are at increased risk of invasive cervical cancer, highlighting the need for access to screening and treatment for this population. Integration of services has been proposed as an effective way of improving access to cervical cancer screening especially in areas of high HIV prevalence as well as lower resourced settings. This paper presents the results of a systematic review of programs integrating cervical cancer and HIV services globally, including feasibility, acceptability, clinical outcomes and facilitators for service delivery.

Methods: This is part of a larger systematic review on integration of services for HIV and non-communicable diseases. To be considered for inclusion studies had to report on programs to integrate cervical cancer and HIV services at the level of service delivery. We searched multiple databases including Global Health, Medline and Embase from inception until December 2015. Articles were screened independently by two reviewers for inclusion and data were extracted and assessed for risk of bias.

Main results: 11 057 records were identified initially. 7616 articles were screened by title and abstract for inclusion. A total of 21 papers reporting interventions integrating cervical cancer care and HIV services met the criteria for inclusion. All but one study described integration of cervical cancer screening services into existing HIV services. Most programs also offered treatment of minor lesions, a 'screen-and-treat' approach, with some also offering treatment of larger lesions within the same visit. Three distinct models of integration were identified. One model described integration within the same clinic through training of existing staff. Another model described integration through co-location of services, with the third model describing programs of integration through complex coordination across the care pathway. The studies suggested that integration of cervical cancer services with HIV services using all models was feasible and acceptable to patients. However, several barriers were reported, including high loss to follow up for further treatment, limited human-resources, and logistical and chain management support. Using visual screening methods can facilitate screening and treatment of minor to larger lesions in a single 'screen-and-treat' visit. Complex integration in a single-visit was shown to reduce loss to follow up. The use of existing health infrastructure and funding together with comprehensive staff training and supervision, community engagement and digital technology were some of the many other facilitators for integration reported across models.

Conclusions: This review shows that integration of cervical cancer screening and treatment with HIV services using different models of service delivery is feasible as well as acceptable to women living with HIV. However, the descriptive nature of most papers and lack of data on the effect on long-term outcomes for HIV or cervical cancer limits the inference on the effectiveness of the integrated programs. There is a need for strengthening of health systems across the care continuum and for high quality studies evaluating the effect of integration on HIV as well as on cervical cancer outcomes.

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The burden of HIV on tuberculosis patients in the Volta region of Ghana from 2012 to 2015: implication for tuberculosis control.

Osei E, Der J, Owusu R, Kofie P, Axame WK. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 Jul 19;17(1):504. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2598-z.

Background: The impact of HIV on TB, and the implications for TB control, has been acknowledged as a public health challenge. It is imperative therefore to assess the burden of HIV on TB patients as an indicator for monitoring the control efforts of the two diseases in this part of the world. This study aimed at determining the burden of HIV infection in TB patients.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective review of TB registers in five districts of the Volta Region of Ghana. Prevalence of TB/HIV co-infection was determined. Bivariate and multivariate logistic regression were used to identify the predictors of HIV infection among TB patients and statistical significance was set at p-value <0.05.

Results: Of the 1772 TB patients, 1633 (92.2%) were tested for HIV. The overall prevalence of TB/HIV co-infection was (18.2%; 95% CI: 16.4-20.1). The prevalence was significantly higher among females (24.1%; 95%CI: 20.8-27.7), compared to males (15.1%; 95% CI: 13.1-17.4) (p < 0.001) and among children <15 years of age (27.0%; 95% CI: 18.2-38.1), compared to the elderly ≥70 years (3.5%; 95% CI: 1.6-7.4) (p < 0.001). Treatment success rate was higher among patients with only TB (90%; 95% CI: 88.1-91.5) than among TB/HIV co-infected patients (77.0%; 95% CI: 71.7-81.7) (p < 0.001). Independent predictors of HIV infection were found to be: being female (AOR: 1.79; 95% CI: 1.38-2.13; p < 0.001); smear negative pulmonary TB (AOR: 1.84; 95% CI: 1.37-2.47; p < 0.001); and patients registered in Hohoe, Kadjebi, and Kpando districts with adjusted odds ratios of 1.69 (95% CI: 1.13-2.54; p = 0.011), 2.29 (95% CI: 1.46-3.57; p < 0.001), and 2.15 (95% CI: 1.44-3.21; p < 0.001) respectively. Patients ≥70 years of age and those registered in Keta Municipal were less likely to be HIV positive with odds ratios of 0.09 (95% CI: 0.04-0.26; p < 0.001) and 0.62 (95% CI: 0.38-0.99; p = 0.047) respectively.

Conclusion: TB/HIV co-infection rate in five study districts of the Volta region is quite high, occurs more frequently in female patients than males; among smear negative pulmonary TB patients, and children <15 years of age. Findings also demonstrate that HIV co-infection affects TB treatment outcomes adversely. Strengthening the TB/HIV collaborative efforts is required in order to reduce the burden of co-infection in patients.

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Cost-effectiveness of isoniazid preventive therapy among HIV-infected patients clinically screened for latent tuberculosis infection in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: a prospective cohort study.

Shayo GA, Chitama D, Moshiro C, Aboud S, Bakari M, Mugusi F. BMC Public Health. 2017 Jul 19;18(1):35. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4597-9.

Background: One of the reasons why Isoniazid preventive therapy (IPT) for Tuberculosis (TB) is not widely used in low income countries is concerns on cost of excluding active TB. We analyzed the cost-effectiveness of IPT provision in Tanzania having ruled out active TB by a symptom-based screening tool.

Methods: Data on IPT cost-effectiveness was prospectively collected from an observational cohort study of 1283 HIV-infected patients on IPT and 1281 controls; followed up for 24 months. The time horizon for the analysis was 2 years. Number of TB cases prevented and deaths averted were used for effectiveness. A micro costing approach was used from a provider perspective. Cost was estimated on the basis of clinical records, market price or interviews with medical staff. We annualized the cost at a discount of 3%. A univariate sensitivity analysis was done. Results are presented in US$ at an average annual exchange rate for the year 2012 which was Tanzania shillings 1562.4 for 1 US $.

Results: The number of TB cases prevented was 420/100 000 persons receiving IPT. The number of deaths averted was 979/100 000 persons receiving IPT. Incremental cost due to IPT provision was US$ 170 490. The incremental cost-effective ratio was US $ 405.93 per TB case prevented and US $ 174.15 per death averted. These costs were less than 3 times the 768 US $ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita for Tanzania in the year 2014, making IPT provision after ruling out active TB by the symptom-based screening tool cost-effective. The results were robust to changes in laboratory and radiological tests but not to changes in recurrent, personnel, medication and utility costs.

Conclusion: IPT should be given to HIV-infected patients who screen negative to symptom-based TB screening questionnaire. Its cost-effectiveness supports government policy to integrate IPT to HIV/AIDS care and treatment in the country, given the availability of budget and the capacity of health facilities.

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Immunological recovery in tuberculosis/HIV co-infected patients on antiretroviral therapy: implication for tuberculosis preventive therapy.

Karo B, Krause G, Castell S, Kollan C, Hamouda O, Haas W; ClinSurv HIV Study Group. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 Jul 25;17(1):517. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2627-y.

Background: Understanding the immune response to combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) is essential for a clear approach to tuberculosis (TB) preventive therapy. We investigated the immunological recovery in cART-treated HIV-infected patients developing TB compared to those who remained free of TB.

Methods: We extracted data of HIV-infected patients from a multicenter cohort for the HIV clinical surveillance in Germany. No patients included in our study had TB at the beginning of the observation. Using a longitudinal mixed model, we assessed the differences in the mean change of biomarkers (CD4+ cell count, CD8+ cell count, CD4:CD8 ratio and viral load) since cART initiation in patients who remained free of TB vs. those developing TB. To detect the best-fit trajectories of the immunological biomarkers, we applied a multivariable fractional polynomials model.

Results: We analyzed a total of 10 671 HIV-infected patients including 139 patients who developed TB during follow-up. The highest TB incidences were observed during the first two years since cART initiation (0.32 and 0.50 per 100 person-years). In an adjusted multivariable mixed model, we found that the average change in CD4+ cell count recovery was significantly greater by 33 cells/μl in patients who remained free of TB compared with those developing TB. After the initial three months of cART, 65.6% of patients who remaining free of TB achieved CD4+ count of ≥400 cells/μl, while only 11.3% of patients developing TB reached this immunological status after the three months of cART. We found no differences in the average change of CD8+ cell count, CD4:CD8 ratio or viral load between the two-patient groups.

Conclusion: All HIV-infected patients responded to cART. However, patients developing TB showed reduced recovery in CD4+ cell count and this might partly explain the incident TB in HIV-infected patients receiving cART. These findings reinforce the importance of adjunctive TB preventive therapy for patients with reduced recovery in CD4+ cell count.

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How do we know which activities make a difference to HIV prevention?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract access 

Improvements in Spectrum's fit to program data tool.

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access 

Analytical advances in the ex vivo challenge efficacy assay.

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

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

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Short and sweet? Do study participants prefer shorter or longer consent forms? Do they understand the contents?

Editor’s notes: As described above in the HOLA en Grupos study, engagement and partnership is vital if HIV research is to produce useful and relevant results.  The ethics of research involving human subjects continues to evolve but the key principles laid out by Beauchamp and Childress in 1989 remain central.  The principles of autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence, and justice, have been extremely influential in the field of medical ethics, and are fundamental for understanding the current approach to ethical assessment in health care.

Autonomy implies that research participants should be able to consent willingly to join a research study and a key part of that informed consent process is usually a written “consent form” that is signed by the participant.  However, a major challenge is often to ensure that on the one hand all relevant information about possible benefits and harms is included in the information and on the other hand that the consent process is manageable and appropriate for the participant.

In the largest study of its kind to date, Grady and colleagues embedded a randomized trial within the larger randomized START trial (comparing immediate with deferred start of antiretroviral medicines in people with early HIV infection).  Around 4000 participants in START were allocated according to their 154 research sites, which were randomly assigned to the original, lengthy and somewhat complicated consent form, or to a simplified, shorter consent form with much more attention paid to ease of comprehension and readability.  The shorter form was still around 1800 words long (compared to the almost 6000 of the original) and was only a little easier to read, because the sponsors of the study needed to be certain that all the information demanded by current guidelines was included.

Surprisingly, there was no overall difference in either the primary outcome (an understanding that participants’ treatment would be randomly allocated) or in overall comprehension of aspects of the study.  In other words, the authors did NOT find the advantages that they were expecting from the modified consent form.

However, various clear trends emerge from the data that are relevant to future research too.  Those with less education were clearly less able to understand the randomization approach.  73% of the 1240 participants who had not attended high school compared to more than 90% of the 935 who had completed a university degree or postgraduate education answered the primary question on randomization correctly. The START study team were diligent in explaining the study to potential participants before presenting the informed consent form, with around a half of participants reporting more than an hour of explanation prior to being asked for consent, and more than 80% of sites reporting that participants understood the study “very well” prior to the consent process.  There was also a clear trend for participants from sites that had been involved in previous HIV research to understand the process better (rising from 69% in those with no previous HIV studies to 85% in those with more than 10).

Increasingly HIV prevention researchers are aiming to work with populations that have high ongoing incidence of HIV.  In a world where treatment is increasingly widespread and overall numbers of infections have fallen somewhat, this means that researchers will tend to be working with more and more disadvantaged populations where many participants may be less well educated and less familiar with research.  This important study makes it clear that the ethical principle of autonomy requires an ongoing process that goes far beyond the choice of words in a consent form.  Research must build trust between researchers and participants.  The research team should explain carefully and in appropriate ways what is involved in the study and what options participants have. Study teams should build a governance process into the research so that participants can have confidence that any risks of the research, both for them as individuals, but also often for the community or group to which they belong, are monitored and mitigated.  In this way potentially vulnerable individuals may still be recruited into important research projects and contribute to the ways in which science can end the epidemic.

A randomized trial comparing concise and standard consent forms in the START trial.

Grady C, Touloumi G, Walker AS, Smolskis M, Sharma S, Babiker AG, Pantazis N, Tavel J, Florence E, Sanchez A, Hudson F, Papadopoulos A, Emanuel E, Clewett M, Munroe D, Denning E; INSIGHT START Informed Consent substudy Group PLoS One. 2017 Apr 26;12(4):e0172607. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172607. eCollection 2017.

Background: Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of research informed consent is a high priority. Some express concern about longer, more complex, written consent forms creating barriers to participant understanding. A recent meta-analysis concluded that randomized comparisons were needed.

Methods: We conducted a cluster-randomized non-inferiority comparison of a standard versus concise consent form within a multinational trial studying the timing of starting antiretroviral therapy in HIV+ adults (START). Interested sites were randomized to standard or concise consent forms for all individuals signing START consent. Participants completed a survey measuring comprehension of study information and satisfaction with the consent process. Site personnel reported usual site consent practices. The primary outcome was comprehension of the purpose of randomization (pre-specified 7.5% non-inferiority margin).

Results: 77 sites (2429 participants) were randomly allocated to use standard consent and 77 sites (2000 participants) concise consent, for an evaluable cohort of 4229. Site and participant characteristics were similar for the two groups. The concise consent was non-inferior to the standard consent on comprehension of randomization (80.2% versus 82%, site adjusted difference: 0.75% (95% CI -3.8%, +5.2%)); and the two groups did not differ significantly on total comprehension score, satisfaction, or voluntariness (p>0.1). Certain independent factors, such as education, influenced comprehension and satisfaction but not differences between consent groups.

Conclusions: An easier to read, more concise consent form neither hindered nor improved comprehension of study information nor satisfaction with the consent process among a large number of participants. This supports continued efforts to make consent forms more efficient.

Trial registration: Informed consent substudy was registered as part of START study in clinicaltrials.gov #NCT00867048, and EudraCT # 2008-006439-12.

Abstract Full-text [free] access 

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Outcomes on ART among children and adolescents in Latin America

Mortality in children with human immunodeficiency virus initiating treatment: a six-cohort study in Latin America.

Luque MT, Jenkins CA, Shepherd BE, Padgett D, Rouzier V, Succi RC, Machado DM, McGowan CC, Vermund SH, Pinto JA. J Pediatr. 2017 Jan 9. pii: S0022-3476(16)31433-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.12.034. [Epub ahead of print]

Objectives: To assess the risks of and factors associated with mortality, loss to follow-up, and changing regimens after children with HIV infected perinatally initiate combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Study design: This 1997-2013 retrospective cohort study included 1174 antiretroviral therapy-naive, perinatally infected children who started cART when they were younger than 18 years of age (median 4.7 years; IQR 1.7-8.8) at 1 of 6 cohorts from Argentina, Brazil, Haiti, and Honduras, within the Caribbean, Central and South America Network for HIV Epidemiology. Median follow-up was 5.6 years (IQR 2.3-9.3). Study outcomes were all-cause mortality, loss to follow-up, and major changes/interruption/stopping of cART. We used Cox proportional hazards models stratified by site to examine the association between predictors and times to death or changing regimens.

Results: Only 52% started cART at younger than 5 years of age; 19% began a protease inhibitor. At cART initiation, median CD4 count was 472 cells/mm3 (IQR 201-902); median CD4% was 16% (IQR 10-23). Probability of death was high in the first year of cART: 0.06 (95% CI 0.04-0.07). Five years after cART initiation, the cumulative mortality incidence was 0.12 (95% CI 0.10-0.14). Cumulative incidences for loss to follow-up and regimen change after 5 years were 0.16 (95% 0.14-0.18) and 0.30 (95% 0.26-0.34), respectively. Younger children had the greatest risk of mortality, whereas older children had the greatest risk of being lost to follow-up or changing regimens.

Conclusions: Innovative clinical and community approaches are needed for quality improvement in the pediatric care of HIV in the Americas.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: Despite the dramatic declines in mortality with antiretroviral therapy (ART), mortality rates among children living with HIV still remain substantially higher than in the general paediatric population in high-income settings, such as in the United States of America. Mortality rates after ART initiation are even higher in sub-Saharan Africa, likely because children initiate ART at older ages and at more advanced stages of disease. There are, however, no data available for Latin America and the Caribbean, which has had a mostly stable epidemic with a slowly declining adult HIV incidence over the past decade.

In this retrospective cohort study, the authors investigate mortality, loss-to-follow-up (LTFU) and regimen change among children who acquired HIV in the perinatal period from Argentina, Haiti, Honduras and Brazil. They initiated ART aged below 18 years. About half of all children started ART aged over five years, and a third had clinical AIDS by the time they initiated ART. This would suggest that paediatric HIV programmes in this region face similar challenges to those seen in African programmes, including failure of prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) programmes and late diagnosis of children.

As expected, a low baseline CD4 count and clinical AIDS at baseline were both associated with an increased risk of mortality. Importantly, younger age at starting ART was also associated with an increased hazard of death, as was being an adolescent (although the association was weaker). The most likely reason for this is that the youngest children placed on ART may have been initiated following presentation with fast-progressing disease, and would therefore have a higher risk of death than comparatively healthier and stable older children. The higher risk of death among the adolescents likely reflects delayed diagnosis of slow-progressors in adolescence.   

Another important finding was the significantly higher risk of LTFU and regimen change in adolescents compared to younger children. This finding, also noted in African and high-income setting cohorts, highlights the challenges of retaining adolescents in care, addressing treatment fatigue, and possibly increased risk of attrition from care during transitioning from paediatric to adult services. 

In summary, HIV care outcomes in children in Latin America and the Caribbean appear to be similar to those reported in other settings. Together, they highlight the pressing need for strengthening prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission programmes, particularly follow-up and prompt testing of HIV-exposed infants. It also emphasizes the need for innovative approaches to support children to stay in care and maintain long-term adherence. 

Latin America
Argentina, Brazil, Haiti, Honduras
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High mortality persists among people presenting with advanced HIV disease

Mortality in the first 3 months on antiretroviral therapy among HIV-positive adults in low- and middle-income countries: a meta-analysis.

Brennan AT, Long L, Useem J, Garrison L, Fox MP. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2016 Sep 1;73(1):1-10. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001112.

Previous meta-analyses reported mortality estimates of 12-month post-antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation; however, 40%-60% of deaths occur in the first 3 months on ART, a more sensitive measure of averted deaths through early ART initiation. To determine whether early mortality is dropping as treatment thresholds have increased, we reviewed studies of 3 months on ART initiation in low- to middle-income countries. Studies of 3-month mortality from January 2003 to April 2016 were searched in 5 databases. Articles were included that reported 3-month mortality from a low- to middle-income country; nontrial setting and participants were ≥15. We assessed overall mortality and stratified by year using random effects models. Among 58 included studies, although not significant, pooled estimates show a decline in mortality when comparing studies whose enrollment of patients ended before 2010 (7.0%; 95% CI: 6.0 to 8.0) with the studies during or after 2010 (4.0%; 95% CI: 3.0 to 5.0). To continue to reduce early HIV-related mortality at the population level, intensified efforts to increase demand for ART through active testing and facilitated referral should be a priority. Continued financial investments by multinational partners and the implementation of creative interventions to mitigate multidimensional complex barriers of accessing care and treatment for HIV are needed.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: Early mortality among people initiating antiretroviral therapy (ART) remains high, presumed to be because many people living with HIV present when already very sick with advanced HIV disease. This systematic review included 43 studies from Africa and 13 from Asia. Its main aim was to see whether the evolution of guidelines recommending ART initiation at progressively higher CD4 counts over this period had reduced early mortality (defined as death within three months of ART start) and, by implication, the proportion of people starting ART who had advanced disease. To investigate this, the authors compared studies where enrolment ended before 2010 with studies that had started later.

Overall early mortality was six percent.  Because of the large numbers lost to follow up this will be an underestimate. The authors attempted to compensate for this, and calculated an adjusted overall figure of more than 10%. There was a fall in early mortality from seven percent to four percent (unadjusted) between the early and late periods but although the trend was consistent the difference was not significant.

In only four of the 58 studies was the median CD4 count at ART initiation above 200x106/l. It seems likely that even when policies to initiate ART at high CD4 counts are adopted, additional efforts will be necessary to promote initiation of ART and retention in care for people who feel well.  This is in order to reduce the number of people starting ART with advanced disease and consequently at very high risk of early death.   

Africa, Asia, Latin America
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Weekends off ART: a strategy to maintain adherence in children and adolescents?

Weekends-off efavirenz-based antiretroviral therapy in HIV-infected children, adolescents, and young adults (BREATHER): a randomised, open-label, non-inferiority, phase 2/3 trial.

The BREATHER (PENTA 16) Trial Group. Lancet HIV. 2016 Sep;3(9):e421-30. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30054-6. Epub 2016 Jun 20.

Background: For HIV-1-infected young people facing lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART), short cycle therapy with long-acting drugs offers potential for drug-free weekends, less toxicity, and better quality-of-life. We aimed to compare short cycle therapy (5 days on, 2 days off ART) versus continuous therapy (continuous ART).

Methods: In this open-label, non-inferiority trial (BREATHER), eligible participants were aged 8-24 years, were stable on first-line efavirenz with two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, and had HIV-1 RNA viral load less than 50 copies per mL for 12 months or longer. Patients were randomly assigned (1:1) to remain on continuous therapy or change to short cycle therapy according to a computer-generated randomisation list, with permuted blocks of varying size, stratified by age and African versus non-African sites; the list was prepared by the trial statistician and randomisation was done via a web service accessed by site clinician or one of the three coordinating trials units. The primary outcome was the proportion of participants with confirmed viral load 50 copies per mL or higher at any time up to the 48 week assessment, estimated with the Kaplan-Meier method. The trial was powered to exclude a non-inferiority margin of 12%. Analyses were intention to treat. The trial was registered with EudraCT, number 2009-012947-40, ISRCTN, number 97755073, and CTA, number 27505/0005/001-0001.

Findings: Between April 1, 2011, and June 28, 2013, 199 participants from 11 countries worldwide were randomly assigned, 99 to the short cycle therapy and 100 to continuous therapy, and were followed up until the last patient reached 48 weeks. 105 (53%) were men, median age was 14 years (IQR 12-18), and median CD4 cell count was 735 cells per µL (IQR 576-968). Six percent (6%) patients assigned to the short cycle therapy versus seven percent (7%) assigned to continuous therapy had confirmed viral load 50 copies per mL or higher (difference -1.2%, 90% CI -7.3 to 4.9, non-inferiority shown). 13 grade 3 or 4 events occurred in the short cycle therapy group and 14 in the continuous therapy group (p=0.89). Two ART-related adverse events (one gynaecomastia and one spontaneous abortion) occurred in the short cycle therapy group compared with 14 (p=0.02) in the continuous therapy group (five lipodystrophy, two gynaecomastia, one suicidal ideation, one dizziness, one headache and syncope, one spontaneous abortion, one neutropenia, and two raised transaminases).

Interpretation: Non-inferiority of maintaining virological suppression in children, adolescents, and young adults was shown for short cycle therapy versus continuous therapy at 48 weeks, with similar resistance and a better safety profile. This short cycle therapy strategy is a viable option for adherent HIV-infected young people who are stable on efavirenz-based ART.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Increasing number of children born with HIV infection, who would otherwise have died in infancy, are now reaching adolescence because of the scale-up of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Adherence to treatment for chronic illnesses often drops as children approach adolescence, and unfortunately HIV is no exception.  

BREATHER is an open-label, non-inferiority trial comparing continuous daily ART (CT) with short cycle treatment (SCT) enabling two days off treatment every week. The participants were aged 8 to 24 years and had to have been virally suppressed for at least one year prior to enrolment on an ART regimen containing efavirenz. At 48 weeks, 6.1% of children in the SCT arm versus 7.3% in the CT arm had virologic rebound (defined as an HIV viral load > 50 copies/ml), demonstrating that SCT is non-inferior to CT. There was no statistical difference between arms in the proportion who developed major resistance mutations or in proportion of adverse events.

This is the first trial to demonstrate that controlled interruption appears to be safe in terms of maintaining viral suppression and lack of emergence of drug resistance mutations. Notably, the trial was conducted in geographically diverse settings (11 countries) and achieved an impressive retention rate with only one participant being lost to follow-up. In addition, the strategy was highly acceptable to participants, particularly as it provided a legitimate way of missing doses. Children are expected to take ART for 20 years longer on average than adults and strategies that enable time off ART may be an effective way to reduce treatment fatigue. In addition, reduced ART usage may provide potential cost savings. 

A concern, however, is that such a strategy may give out the detrimental message that missing doses is acceptable and may not affect the viral load. Therefore, appropriate counselling is important to ensure that people understand that there is a maximum break in treatment of two designated days per week. It is also important to note that the findings of this study are only generalisable to people who are stable on ART, who have not experienced treatment failure and who are taking efavirenz-based regimens. The trial was carried out with intensive viral load monitoring and further research is required to work out how such a strategy could be safely implemented in settings where routine viral load monitoring may not be available.

Viral suppression is the ultimate goal to improve health outcomes and reduce HIV transmission. Consistent adherence to ART is critical to ensure sustained virologic suppression. Children and adolescents face multiple challenges to adhere to treatment and a number of different approaches to address this are required- this trial now provides an innovative and promising option to offer to children.

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Weekend breaks on efavirenz-based ART non-inferior in adolescents

BREATHER (PENTA 16) short-cycle therapy (SCT) (5 days on/2 days off) in young people with chronic human immunodeficiency virus infection: an open, randomised, parallel-group Phase II/III trial.

Butler K, Inshaw J, Ford D, Bernays S, Scott K, Kenny J, Klein N, Turkova A, Harper L, Nastouli E, Paparini S, Choudhury R, Rhodes T, Babiker A, Gibb D. Health Technol Assess. 2016 Jun;20(49):1-108. doi: 10.3310/hta20490.

Background: For human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected adolescents facing lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART), short-cycle therapy (SCT) with long-acting agents offers the potential for drug-free weekends, less toxicity, better adherence and cost savings.

Objectives: To determine whether or not efavirenz (EFV)-based ART in short cycles of 5 days on and 2 days off is as efficacious (in maintaining virological suppression) as continuous EFV-based ART (continuous therapy; CT). Secondary objectives included the occurrence of new clinical HIV events or death, changes in immunological status, emergence of HIV drug resistance, drug toxicity and changes in therapy.

Design: Open, randomised, non-inferiority trial.

Setting: Europe, Thailand, Uganda, Argentina and the USA.

Participants: Young people (aged 8-24 years) on EFV plus two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors and with a HIV-1 ribonucleic acid level [viral load (VL)] of < 50 copies/ml for > 12 months.

Interventions: Young people were randomised to continue daily ART (CT) or change to SCT (5 days on, 2 days off ART).

Main outcome measures: Follow-up was for a minimum of 48 weeks (0, 4 and 12 weeks and then 12-weekly visits). The primary outcome was the difference between arms in the proportion with VL > 50 copies/ml (confirmed) by 48 weeks, estimated using the Kaplan-Meier method (12% non-inferiority margin) adjusted for region and age.

Results: In total, 199 young people (11 countries) were randomised (n = 99 SCT group, n = 100 CT group) and followed for a median of 86 weeks. Overall, 53% were male; the median age was 14 years (21% ≥ 18 years); 13% were from the UK, 56% were black, 19% were Asian and 21% were Caucasian; and the median CD4% and CD4 count were 34% and 735 cells/mm3, respectively. By week 48, only one participant (CT) was lost to follow-up. The SCT arm had a 27% decreased drug exposure as measured by the adherence questionnaire and a MEMSCap Medication Event Monitoring System (MEMSCap Inc., Durham, NC, USA) substudy (median cap openings per week: SCT group, n = 5; CT group, n = 7). By 48 weeks, six participants in the SCT group and seven in the CT group had a confirmed VL > 50 copies/ml [difference -1.2%, 90% confidence interval (CI) -7.3% to 4.9%] and two in the SCT group and four in the CT group had a confirmed VL > 400 copies/ml (difference -2.1%, 90% CI -6.2% to 1.9%). All six participants in the SCT group with a VL > 50 copies/ml resumed daily ART, of whom five were resuppressed, three were on the same regimen and two with a switch; two others on SCT resumed daily ART for other reasons. Overall, three participants in the SCT group and nine in the CT group (p = 0.1) changed ART regimen, five because of toxicity, four for simplification reasons, two because of compliance issues and one because of VL failure. Seven young people (SCT group, n = 2; CT group, n = 5) had major non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor mutations at VL failure, of whom two (n = 1 SCT group, n = 1 CT group) had the M184V mutation. Two young people had new Centers for Disease Control B events (SCT group, n = 1; CT group, n = 1). There were no significant differences between SCT and CT in grade 3/4 adverse events (13 vs. 14) or in serious adverse events (7 vs. 6); there were fewer ART-related adverse events in the SCT arm (2 vs. 14; p = 0.02). At week 48 there was no evidence that SCT led to increased inflammation using an extensive panel of markers. Young people expressed a strong preference for SCT in a qualitative substudy and in pre- and post-trial questionnaires. In total, 98% of the young people are taking part in a 2-year follow-up extension of the trial.

Conclusions: Non-inferiority of VL suppression in young people on EFV-based first-line ART with a VL of < 50 copies/ml was demonstrated for SCT compared with CT, with similar resistance, safety and inflammatory marker profiles. The SCT group had fewer ART-related adverse events. Further evaluation of the immunological and virological impact of SCT is ongoing. A limitation of the trial is that the results cannot be generalised to settings where VL monitoring is either not available or infrequent, nor to use of low-dose EFV. Two-year extended follow-up of the trial is ongoing to confirm the durability of the SCT strategy. Further trials of SCT in settings with infrequent VL monitoring and with other antiretroviral drugs such as tenofovir alafenamide, which has a long intracellular half-life, and/or dolutegravir, which has a higher barrier to resistance, are planned.

Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN97755073; EUDRACT 2009-012947-40; and CTA 27505/0005/001-0001.

Funding: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme (projects 08/53/25 and 11/136/108), the European Commission through EuroCoord (FP7/2007/2015), the Economic and Social Research Council, the PENTA Foundation, the Medical Research Council and INSERM SC10-US19, France, and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 20, No. 49. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Adherence to ART has been shown to deteriorate in adolescence, with missed doses occurring particularly at weekends. Pharmacokinetic properties of some ART drugs, such as efavirenz, allow for a break in pill taking without a break in effective treatment. Non-inferiority trials evaluating five days on, two days off in adults have shown continuous ART to be non-inferior with low rates of virologic rebound.  This formed the rationale for this global, randomised Phase II/III trial in young people.

In the BREATHER trial, non-inferiority of viral suppression in adolescents on efavirenz-based first-line ART was shown for short-cycle treatment compared with continuous treatment. Overall 93% of adolescents remained virally suppressed. Findings from the two-year long-term follow-up phase will confirm if short-cycle treatment is effective and safe in this population.  Further studies are required to confirm the applicability of this strategy in real-life settings where viral load monitoring is likely to be less frequent than in a trial setting.

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Negative police activity a structural determinant of HIV

Policing practices as a structural determinant for HIV among sex workers: a systematic review of empirical findings.

Footer KH, Silberzahn BE, Tormohlen KN, Sherman SG. J Int AIDS Soc. 2016 Jul 18;19(4 Suppl 3):20883. doi: 10.7448/IAS.19.4.20883. eCollection 2016.

Introduction: Sex workers are disproportionately infected with HIV worldwide. Significant focus has been placed on understanding the structural determinants of HIV and designing related interventions. Although there is growing international evidence that policing is an important structural HIV determinant among sex workers, the evidence has not been systematically reviewed.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review of quantitative studies to examine the effects of policing on HIV and STI infection and HIV-related outcomes (condom use; syringe use; number of clients; HIV/STI testing and access) among cis and trans women sex workers. Databases included PubMed, Embase, Scopus, Sociological Abstracts, Popline, Global Health (OVID), Web of Science, IBSS, IndMed and WHOLIS. We searched for studies that included police practices as an exposure for HIV or STI infection or HIV-related outcomes.

Results: Of the 137 peer-reviewed articles identified for full text review, 14 were included, representing sex workers' experiences with police across five settings. Arrest was the most commonly explored measure with between 6 and 45% of sex workers reporting having ever been arrested. Sexual coercion was observed between 3 and 37% of the time and police extortion between 12 and 28% across studies. Half the studies used a single measure to capture police behaviours. Studies predominantly focused on "extra-legal policing practices," with insufficient attention to the role of "legal enforcement activities". All studies found an association between police behaviours and HIV or STI infection, or a related risk behaviour.

Conclusions: The review points to a small body of evidence that confirms policing practices as an important structural HIV determinant for sex workers, but studies lack generalizability with respect to identifying those police behaviours most relevant to women's HIV risk environment.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: The paper reports on a systematic review, which explored how quantitative research to date has operationalized the measurement of law enforcement practices as a structural determinant of HIV for female (including transgender) sex workers. The authors reviewed 14 quantitative studies using policing practices as a micro-structural determinant for HIV risk among sex workers. They found substantial heterogeneity in both the police measures and the health outcomes considered by the different studies. Overall, the studies found that police measures were regularly reported by sex workers, with an average of 34% of sex workers experiencing at least one police measure. They found that arrest was the most commonly explored measure in the studies. Following this, sexual coercion and then police extortion were important.

The studies reported that these police measures were consistently, positively, associated with either HIV infection or STI symptoms or with inconsistent condom use. Having ever been arrested, sexual coercion, police extortion, and syringe confiscation was associated with an increased risk of acquiring an HIV infection or an STI. These measures, and displacement by the police, were also associated with inconsistent condom use. Intervening on interactions between sex workers and the police reduced HIV risk over the time of the programme.

The authors argue that these findings point to the potentially pivotal role that the police have as a structural determinant for HIV in vulnerable populations. However, they argue that nearly all the papers identified in this review fail to take account of the complexities of the risk environment in which law enforcement occurs. The authors thus suggest a need for better measures for legal and extra-legal enforcement practices as mechanisms through which sex workers’ HIV risk is mediated.

Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America
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High TB mortality among people living with HIV in eastern Europe: a growing concern

Tuberculosis-related mortality in people living with HIV in Europe and Latin America: an international cohort study. 

Podlekareva DN, Efsen AM, Schultze A, Post FA, Skrahina AM, Panteleev A, Furrer H, Miller RF, Losso MH, Toibaro J, Miro JM, Vassilenko A, Girardi E, Bruyand M, Obel N, Lundgren JD, Mocroft A, Kirk O, TB:HIV study group in EuroCoord. Lancet HIV. 2016 Mar;3(3):e120-31. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(15)00252-0. Epub 2016 Feb 2.

Background: Management of tuberculosis in patients with HIV in eastern Europe is complicated by the high prevalence of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, low rates of drug susceptibility testing, and poor access to antiretroviral therapy (ART). We report 1 year mortality estimates from a multiregional (eastern Europe, western Europe, and Latin America) prospective cohort study: the TB:HIV study.

Methods: Consecutive HIV-positive patients aged 16 years or older with a diagnosis of tuberculosis between Jan 1, 2011, and Dec 31, 2013, were enrolled from 62 HIV and tuberculosis clinics in 19 countries in eastern Europe, western Europe, and Latin America. The primary endpoint was death within 12 months after starting tuberculosis treatment; all deaths were classified according to whether or not they were tuberculosis related. Follow-up was either until death, the final visit, or 12 months after baseline, whichever occurred first. Risk factors for all-cause and tuberculosis-related deaths were assessed using Kaplan-Meier estimates and Cox models.

Findings: Of 1406 patients (834 in eastern Europe, 317 in western Europe, and 255 in Latin America), 264 (19%) died within 12 months. 188 (71%) of these deaths were tuberculosis related. The probability of all-cause death was 29% (95% CI 26-32) in eastern Europe, 4% (3-7) in western Europe, and 11% (8-16) in Latin America (p<0.0001) and the corresponding probabilities of tuberculosis-related death were 23% (20-26), 1% (0-3), and 4% (2-8), respectively (p<0.0001). Patients receiving care outside eastern Europe had a 77% decreased risk of death: adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) 0.23 (95% CI 0.16-0.31). In eastern Europe, compared with patients who started a regimen with at least three active antituberculosis drugs, those who started fewer than three active antituberculosis drugs were at a higher risk of tuberculosis-related death (aHR 3.17; 95% CI 1.83-5.49) as were those who did not have baseline drug-susceptibility tests (2.24; 1.31-3.83). Other prognostic factors for increased tuberculosis-related mortality were disseminated tuberculosis and a low CD4 cell count. 18% of patients were receiving ART at tuberculosis diagnosis in eastern Europe compared with 44% in western Europe and 39% in Latin America (p<0.0001); 12 months later the proportions were 67% in eastern Europe, 92% in western Europe, and 85% in Latin America (p<0.0001).

Interpretation: Patients with HIV and tuberculosis in eastern Europe have a risk of death nearly four-times higher than that in patients from western Europe and Latin America. This increased mortality rate is associated with modifiable risk factors such as lack of drug susceptibility testing and suboptimal initial antituberculosis treatment in settings with a high prevalence of drug resistance. Urgent action is needed to improve tuberculosis care for patients living with HIV in eastern Europe.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: Eastern Europe is experiencing one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics globally. Within this, the number of HIV-positive people with tuberculosis (TB) is also rising rapidly, posing a significant public health challenge. The authors have previously reported retrospective data illustrating 30% mortality at one year among HIV-positive people with TB in eastern Europe. This was noted to be at least three times higher than mortality among people from western Europe and Argentina. Within this study they go further to provide prospective data with comparison across multiple regions. They also highlight prognostic markers associated with death.

The study spans across eastern Europe, western Europe and Latin America with a cohort of 1406 people. It robustly demonstrates a significant excess of TB-associated mortality in HIV-positive people with TB receiving care in eastern Europe. The cumulative probability of TB-associated death at 12 months in eastern Europe was 23% (95% confidence interval [CI] 20 – 26), versus 1% (95% CI 0 - 3) in western Europe and 4% (95% CI 2-8) in Latin America. Prognostic markers associated with an increased risk of death included multidrug-resistant TB, disseminated TB and modifiable factors such as choice of initial anti-TB regimen and a lack of baseline drug susceptibility tests.

These findings highlight the hugely detrimental impact of the fragmented system of HIV and TB services within eastern Europe. Such inequality in outcomes emphasises the need for urgent strategic change. Co-ordinated care across HIV and TB services, alongside timely and appropriate diagnostics and treatment, is of paramount importance.

Europe, Latin America
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