Articles tagged as "Cambodia"

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 are we going to get to our prevention targets? Old tools, new tools and a more nuanced understanding of transmission dynamics.

Editor’s notes: By 2020, the Fast-Track strategy is aiming to reduce new HIV infections to 200 000 per year.  There is increasing recognition that if we are to succeed, we will need to do much more than simply putting people onto HIV treatment.  Despite the massive impact of ART on infectiousness, the decline in new infections at the community level is still not fast enough, even in countries like Botswana (see above) where 90-90-90 has almost been reached.  Renewed enthusiasm for primary prevention has also followed key trials of biomedical prevention tools including voluntary medical male circumcision and ARV-based prevention.  It is all too easy for us to forget the crucial role that condoms have played from the early days of the epidemic.  More recently, with HIV seen as a less terrifying infection, many programmes suffer from “condom fatigue”.  So it is good to see papers on the key importance of condoms as well as perspectives on how they are perceived by young men.

The magic of ARVs does not end with treatment.  We are finally moving to wider use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).  There is no doubt that PrEP works when taken, but there are still plenty of questions for policy-makers about how to adopt it whole-heartedly into their national strategic plans and for financiers about how to pay for it.  Papers this month cover a range of experiences with PrEP from the US, where the huge majority of PrEP users still live, to Europe and Australia, where policies are finally moving towards wider use.  Long acting PrEP remains a key objective for many, as it might improve regular adherence, which has proved the Achilles’ heel of oral and topical PrEP in several of the large studies.

One of the ways to make PrEP most cost-effective is to ensure that it is available to people who are most likely to acquire HIV.  So the hope continues that phylogenetic analyses will allow more sophisticated understanding of the dynamics of the multiple overlapping networks of HIV transmission in communities.  Papers this month cover Australia and the PANGEA consortium of African research sites along with a cautionary comment about establishing the ethical framework for such studies, particularly among populations who are already subject to discrimination and criminalization.

When used correctly and consistently, condoms are highly effective not only to prevent HIV but also to prevent pregnancy and to prevent sexually transmitted infections.  Stover and colleagues have tried to capture all three benefits in one model.  They explore three potential scenarios for condom programming between now and 2030 in 81 countries that are priorities for family planning or HIV programmers or both.  The benefits of greater investment in condoms are huge.  In their most optimistic scenario, the authors suggest that if the entire gap between people who would like to use condoms and people who currently use them was filled (almost 11 billion condoms over the period), this could prevent up to 400 million unwanted pregnancies; 16.8 million new HIV infections and more than 700 million sexually transmitted infections.  The costs are quite modest, and at $115 per DALY averted this is an investment that everyone should support.  There are of course limitations in such a broad brush model, but it provides an excellent starting point.

The challenges in provision of condoms to young people go well beyond the cost and effectiveness considerations that underpin the previous analysis.  In an interesting qualitative study in South Africa, de Bruin and Panday-Soobrayan report their findings from focus group discussions with learners in 33 public schools.  Most of the learners were not in favour of provision of condoms at school, although they were keen on more youth friendly sexual and reproductive health and rights services within the public sector.  Many thought that provision of condoms would lead to earlier and more frequent sexual contacts, despite considerable experience showing that this is not the case in other settings.

Multiple trials have shown that PrEP is extremely effective when it is used consistently and correctly.  Many countries in all continents are now beginning to work out where it fits within their combination prevention package.  To date, the large majority of PrEP users are in the United States of America (USA), where more than 140 000 people have started.  It is much harder to measure how many are still taking it regularly.  Patel and colleagues analysed utilization at three months after the initial prescription of PrEP in three major PrEP clinics in three states in the USA.  18% of the 201 people (90% male) seen at baseline did not use their PrEP and this was strongly predicted by insurance status, with around a four-fold risk of dropping out among those who were not insured.  Although the numbers are small, this is an important study.  The authors suggest that increased insurance cover might make PrEP have a greater impact.  More broadly it raises the challenge that PrEP is often needed most by people least able to access it.  This will be a real challenge in countries where people most at risk, such as gay men and other men who have sex with men and sex workers, are criminalized or discriminated against in many health care settings.

In Australia, PrEP has been provided through large demonstration projects while awaiting decisions about how to include it in routine practice.  Lal and colleagues report results from 114 (one transgender woman, the rest male) people taking PrEP in the Victorian PrEP Demonstration project.  Participants have to pay an equivalent of an insurance co-payment, in order to make the situation more like the “real world”.  The participants were recruited because they were at high risk of HIV engaging in condomless anal sex with partners who were known to be living with HIV or of unknown status.  Adherence to PrEP was excellent as measured by a variety of reported and biological measures.  They observed one seroconversion in a man with exposure two weeks before starting PrEP who was already in the process of seroconverting and whose virus was found to be resistant to emtricitabine.  The only other seroconversion occurred in someone who had not yet started PrEP.  The authors found a substantial increase in rates of gonorrhoea and chlamydia once participants were “stable” on PrEP after three months.  There was also a significant reduction in condom use with both regular and casual partners.  This is one of the first studies to document important risk compensation among PrEP users.  Of course, preventing HIV is a huge benefit that generally outweighs the harms of additional treatment for sexually transmitted infections.  However, the study emphasizes the importance of enhancing sexual health services alongside PrEP and reminds us that people most at risk of HIV are also at high risk of other infections (and also of pregnancy in the context of heterosexual transmission.)  If PrEP is integrated within a broad sexual health service, there could be considerable synergistic benefits.

Gay men and men who have sex with men who enrolled in the PrEP demonstration project in Amsterdam also had high concomitant rates of hepatitis C virus (HCV).  Hoorenborg and colleagues found that around 5% of the 375 men enrolled in the project were co-infected.  The HCV found among these men were genetically similar to those circulating in the population of gay men and other men who have sex with men living with HIV, and more distinct from HCV from other risk groups.  This is good evidence that HCV and HIV both circulate in this population, and emphasizes once again the need for more integrated services, including hepatitis screening.

The ÉCLAIR study is a phase 2a trial of cabotegravir injections in healthy HIV-negative male volunteers.  As noted, adherence is a major challenge in many PrEP trials; although notably less of a problem when people choose to take PrEP in demonstration projects.  It is hoped that cabotegravir could be the first long acting PrEP.  Markowitz and colleagues presented the results of this study at CROI 2017.  The authors point out that although the injections are painful, many men stated that they would be happy to continue if the injections were effective.  No serious safety challenges emerged. The pharmacokinetics suggests that a dose given more frequently will be needed – and subsequent trials will use a two monthly regimen. 

One group for whom PrEP has been recommended by WHO for some years are serodiscordant couples (SDCs).  The Partners PrEP study, which forms one of the cornerstones for the evidence that PrEP works for both men and women, was conducted in SDCs.  The idea is to protect the HIV-negative partner from infection until such time as the partner living with HIV has been on ART consistently and suppressed their viral load.  So a study from the Centers for Disease Control USA is relevant to discussions of PrEP.  Crepaz and colleagues found that around 6000 new HIV infections occur each year in the USA among men and women having heterosexual sex and are aware that their partner is living with HIV.  They point out that viral suppression is achieved by only around 50% of heterosexuals living with HIV and that an additional proportion does not know their HIV status.  So the importance of HIV testing, and of focusing efforts on serodiscordant couples is clear.  Such efforts include both improving HIV treatment effectiveness, and providing a range of prevention choices including PrEP until viral suppression is achieved.

While the study above used traditional epidemiological surveillance reports, phylogenetics may provide additional insights into the dynamics of transmission.  In Australia, where notifications with HIV are rising steadily,  Castley and colleagues have examined the sequence data from almost 5000 viruses collected across the country from 2005-2012.  This sample is drawn from around 1200 new HIV infections per year (and around 27 000 people living with HIV).  The sample is not random, but reflects samples that were sent for sequencing to determine drug resistance.  Around one quarter of sequences are found in tight clusters (pairs, triplets or more) with other sequences, making it likely that they are closely connected by transmission.  Of course, all HIV sequences have been transmitted, so a longer time period and complete sampling would be expected to give a much higher proportion in clusters.  Indeed the more recent samples are around twice as likely to be in clusters as those collected at the start of the time period. Nonetheless, the large sample and the time period of collection allows some clear observations to be made.  In all states, the proportion of non-B subtypes is increasing, which must relate to travel and migration to and from Asia and Africa.  There is little evidence that the C subtypes (originally from Africa) are found in all male clusters suggesting little spill over into the community of gay men and other men having sex with men.  Larger clusters are more common among younger, all male networks. Like most molecular epidemiological studies, there are a small number of large clusters which represent highly active transmission.  These clusters are also most likely to be all male.  Taken together, the results suggest that the steady rise in notifications in Australia is probably due to increasing migration and travel and to ongoing active transmission networks among young gay men.  The challenge is to turn this sort of analysis into clear policy recommendations that can improve HIV prevention.

UNAIDS joined an interesting meeting on the ethics of phylogenetic studies in Africa organised by the PANGEA consortium.  Many of the issues discussed are also covered in a comment by Cohen on the importance of thinking through the risks inherent in these studies.  A key issue is to ensure that systems are reinforced to monitor any unexpected harms and to establish mitigation strategies to minimize them.  The challenges are not necessarily different to traditional epidemiological studies which may highlight networks and locations of groups that are criminalized or discriminated against.  In community consultations, prior to agreeing to go forward with phylogenetic studies, some potential participants even say that they would be keen to “know who infected them” in order to punish them.  This is clearly NOT the aim of such studies and emphasizes the importance of clear information about the limitations of the techniques which cannot usually rule out the possibility of additional links in the transmission chain.  Issues of anonymised information and what to do if clinically relevant results such as drug resistance mutations are uncovered as incidental findings also need to be discussed.

Furthermore, Ratmann and colleagues, reporting on the first 4000 sequences from the PANGEA consortium (largely from the Rakai project in Uganda), also emphasize some of the technical challenges that may lead to erroneous results in creating phylogenies.  There is little doubt that as the cost of sequencing falls and as the technologies and software become increasingly straightforward, we will see more and more studies of sequence data.  It is likely that analysis of these data will lead to more nuanced approaches to HIV prevention, particularly as the overall incidence falls, and sharper tools are needed to dissect the pathways of ongoing transmission.

The case for investing in the male condom

Stover J, Rosen JE, Carvalho MN, Korenromp EL, Friedman HS, Cogan M, Deperthes B. PLoS One. 2017 May 16;12(5):e0177108. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177108. eCollection 2017.

When used correctly and consistently, the male condom offers triple protection from unintended pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). However, with health funding levels stagnant or falling, it is important to understand the cost and health impact associated with prevention technologies. This study is one of the first to attempt to quantify the cost and combined health impact of condom use, as a means to prevent unwanted pregnancy and to prevent transmission of STIs including HIV. This paper describes the analysis to make the case for investment in the male condom, including the cost, impact and cost-effectiveness by three scenarios (low in which 2015 condom use levels are maintained; medium in which condom use trends are used to predict condom use from 2016-2030; and high in which condom use is scaled up, as part of a package of contraceptives, to meet all unmet need for family planning by 2030 and to 90% for HIV and STI prevention by 2016) for 81 countries from 2015-2030. An annual gap between current and desired use of 10.9 billion condoms was identified (4.6 billion for family planning and 6.3 billion for HIV and STIs). Under a high scenario that completely reduces that gap between current and desired use of 10.9 billion condoms, we found that by 2030 countries could avert 240 million DALYs. The additional cost in the 81 countries through 2030 under the medium scenario is $1.9 billion, and $27.5 billion under the high scenario. Through 2030, the cost-effectiveness ratios are $304 per DALY averted for the medium and $115 per DALY averted for the high scenario. Under the three scenarios described above, our analysis demonstrates the cost-effectiveness of the male condom in preventing unintended pregnancy and HIV and STI new infections. Policy makers should increase budgets for condom programming to increase the health return on investment of scarce resources.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Learners' perspectives on the provision of condoms in South African public schools.

de Bruin WE, Panday-Soobrayan S. AIDS care. 2017 May 16:1-4. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2017.1327647. [Epub ahead of print]

A stubborn health challenge for learners in South African public schools concerns sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). In 2015, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) proposed the provision of condoms and SRHR-services to learners in schools. This study aimed to contribute to the finalisation and implementation of DBE's policy by exploring learners' perspectives on the provision of condoms and SRHR-services in schools. Sixteen focus group discussions were conducted with learners (n = 116) from 33 public schools, to assess their attitudes, social influences, and needs and desires regarding condom provision and SRHR-services in schools. The majority of learners did not support condom provision in schools as they feared that it may increase sexual activity. Contrarily, they supported the provision of other SRHR-services as clinics fail to offer youth-friendly services. Learners' sexual behaviour and access to SRHR-services are strongly determined by their social environment, including traditional norms and values, and social-pressure from peers and adults. Learners' most pressing needs and desires to access condoms and SRHR-services in school concerned respect, privacy and confidentiality of such service provision. Implementation of DBE's policy must be preceded by an evidence-informed advocacy campaign to debunk myths about the risk of increased sexual activity, to advocate for why such services are needed, to shift societal norms towards open discussion of adolescent SRHR and to grapple with the juxtaposition of being legally empowered but socially inhibited to protect oneself from HIV, STIs and early pregnancy. Provision of condoms and other SRHR-services in schools must be sensitive to learners' privacy and confidentiality to minimise stigma and discrimination.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Impact of insurance coverage on utilization of pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention

Patel RR, Mena L, Nunn A, McBride T, Harrison LC, Oldenburg CE, Liu J, Mayer KH, Chan PA.  PLoS One. 2017 May 30;12(5):e0178737 . doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0178737. eCollection 2017.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can reduce U.S. HIV incidence. We assessed insurance coverage and its association with PrEP utilization. We reviewed patient data at three PrEP clinics (Jackson, Mississippi; St. Louis, Missouri; Providence, Rhode Island) from 2014-2015. The outcome, PrEP utilization, was defined as patient PrEP use at three months. Multivariable logistic regression was performed to determine the association between insurance coverage and PrEP utilization. Of 201 patients (Jackson: 34%; St. Louis: 28%; Providence: 28%), 91% were male, 51% were White, median age was 29 years, and 21% were uninsured; 82% of patients reported taking PrEP at three months. Insurance coverage was significantly associated with PrEP utilization. After adjusting for Medicaid-expansion and individual socio-demographics, insured patients were four times as likely to use PrEP services compared to the uninsured (OR: 4.49, 95% CI: 1.68-12.01; p = 0.003). Disparities in insurance coverage are important considerations in implementation programs and may impede PrEP utilization.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Medication adherence, condom use and sexually transmitted infections in Australian PrEP users: interim results from the Victorian PrEP demonstration project

Lal L, Audsley J, Murphy D, Fairley CK, Stoove M, Roth N, Moore R, Tee BK, Puratmaja N, Anderson PL, Leslie D, Grant RM, De Wit J, Wright E; VicPrEP Study Team. AIDS. 2017 May 1 doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001519. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective: HIV Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) decreases risk of HIV acquisition however its efficacy is closely dependent on adherence. There is also concern that the preventive effect of PrEP may be offset by risk compensation, notably an increase in condomless anal sex.

Design: Multi-site, open-label demonstration study that recruited people at current or recent risk of HIV infection in Melbourne, Australia.

Methods: Participants were recruited from three general practice clinics and one sexual health clinic in Melbourne and consented to take daily tenofovir/emtricitabine for 30 months. Sexual practice data, HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) test results were collected at baseline and 3-monthly during follow up. PrEP adherence was evaluated by self-report at clinical visits, online surveys, refill-based assessments and dried blood spot (DBS) testing. We present a 12-month interim analysis.

Results: 114 people were recruited. We observed a significant decline in condom use which occurred concomitantly with a significant increase in STIs over the first 12 months of PrEP. Incidence (per 100PY) of any STI was 43.2 and 119.8 at m0-3 and M3-12, respectively (IRR 2.77 (1.52, 5.56)). Adherence to PrEP medication was high by all measures, including six month TDF-FTC levels in DBS.

Conclusions: We found significant reduction in condom use and an increase STIs over the first 12 months of follow-up. High medication adherence rates coupled with a decline in condom use and a rise in STIs, suggests that prevention, early detection and treatment of STIs is a chief research priority in the current era of HIV PrEP.

Abstract

Men who have sex with men starting pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) are at risk of HCV infection: evidence from the Amsterdam PrEP study

Hoornenborg E, Achterbergh RC, Van Der Loeff MF, Davidovich U, Hogewoning A, de Vries HJ, Schinkel J, Prins M, Laar TJWV; Amsterdam PrEP Project team in the HIV Transmission Elimination AMsterdam Initiative, MOSAIC study group. AIDS. 2017 May 1. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001522. [Epub ahead of print].

Objectives and Design: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) has been recognised as an emerging sexually transmitted infection (STI) among HIV-positive men who have sex with men (MSM). However, HIV-negative MSM at high risk for HIV might also be at increased risk for HCV. We studied the HCV prevalence in HIV-negative MSM who start pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in Amsterdam. Phylogenetic analysis was used to compare HCV strains obtained from HIV-negative and HIV-positive MSM.

Methods: At enrolment in the Amsterdam PrEP (AMPrEP) demonstration project, HIV-negative MSM were tested for the presence of HCV antibodies and HCV RNA. If positive for HCV RNA, an HCV NS5B gene fragment (709 bp) was sequenced and compared with HCV isolates from HIV-positive MSM (n = 223) and risk groups other than MSM (n = 153), using phylogenetic analysis.

Results: Of 375 HIV-negative MSM enrolled in AMPrEP, 18 (4.8%, 95%CI 2.9%-7.5%) of participants were anti-HCV and/or HCV RNA positive at enrolment; 15/18 (83%) had detectable HCV RNA. HCV genotyping showed genotype 1a (73%), 4d (20%) and 2b (7%). All HCV-positive MSM starting PrEP were part of MSM-specific HCV clusters containing MSM with and without HIV.

Conclusion: HCV prevalence among HIV-negative MSM who started PrEP was higher than previously reported. All HIV-negative HCV-positive MSM were infected with HCV strains already circulating among HIV-positive MSM. The increasing overlap between sexual networks of HIV-positive and HIV-negative MSM might result in an expanding HCV-epidemic irrespective of HIV-status. Hence, routine HCV testing should be offered to MSM at high risk for HIV, especially for those enrolling in PrEP programs.

Abstract

Safety and tolerability of long-acting cabotegravir injections in HIV-uninfected men (ECLAIR): a multicentre, double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled, phase 2a trial.

Markowitz M, Frank I, Grant RM, Mayer KH, Elion R, Goldstein D, Fisher C, Sobieszczyk ME, Gallant JE, Van Tieu H, Weinberg W, . Margolis DA, Hudson KJ, Stancil BS, Ford SL, Patel P, Gould E, Rinehart AR, Smith KY, Spreen WR. Lancet HIV. 2017 May 22. pii: S2352-3018(17)30068-1. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30068-1. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Cabotegravir (GSK1265744) is an HIV-1 integrase strand transfer inhibitor with potent antiviral activity and a long half-life when administered by injection that prevented simian-HIV infection upon repeat intrarectal challenge in male macaques. We aimed to assess the safety, tolerability, and pharmacokinetics of long-acting cabotegravir injections in healthy men not at high risk of HIV-1 infection.

Methods: We did this multicentre, double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled, phase 2a trial at ten sites in the USA. Healthy men (aged 18-65 years) deemed not at high risk of acquiring HIV-1 at screening were randomly assigned (5:1), via computer-generated central randomisation schedules, to receive cabotegravir or placebo. Participants received oral cabotegravir 30 mg tablets or matching placebo once daily during a 4 week oral lead-in phase, followed by a 1 week washout period and, after safety assessment, three intramuscular injections of long-acting cabotegravir 800 mg or saline placebo at 12 week intervals. Study site staff and participants were masked to treatment assignment from enrolment through week 41 (time of the last injection). The primary endpoint was safety and tolerability from the first injection (week 5) to 12 weeks after the last injection. We did analysis in the safety population, defined as all individuals enrolled in the study who received at least one dose of the study drug. This study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov identifier, NCT02076178.

Findings: Between March 27, 2014, and Feb 23, 2016, we randomly assigned 127 participants to receive cabotegravir (n=106) or placebo (n=21); 126 (99%) participants comprised the safety population. Most participants were men who have sex with men (MSM; n=106 [83%]) and white (n=71 [56%]). 87 (82%) participants in the cabotegravir group and 20 (95%) participants in the placebo group completed the injection phase. Adverse events (n=7 [7%]) and injection intolerability (n=4 [4%]) were the main reasons for withdrawal in the cabotegravir group. The frequency of grade 2 or higher adverse events was higher in participants in the long-acting cabotegravir group (n=75 [80%]) than in those in the placebo group (n=10 [48%]; p=0·0049), mostly due to injection-site pain (n=55 [59%]). No significant differences were noted in concomitant medications, laboratory abnormalities, electrocardiogram, and vital sign assessments. Geometric mean trough plasma concentrations were 0·302 μg/mL (95% CI 0·237-0·385), 0·331 μg/mL (0·253-0·435), and 0·387 μg/mL (0·296-0·505) for injections one, two, and three, respectively, indicating lower than predicted exposure. The geometric mean apparent terminal phase half-life estimated after the third injection was 40 days. Two (2%) MSM acquired HIV-1 infection, one in the placebo group during the injection phase and one in the cabotegravir group 24 weeks after the final injection when cabotegravir exposure was well below the protein-binding-adjusted 90% inhibitory concentration.

Interpretation: Despite high incidence of transient, mild-to-moderate injection-site reactions, long-acting cabotegravir was well tolerated with an acceptable safety profile. Pharmacokinetic data suggest that 800 mg administered every 12 weeks is a suboptimal regimen; alternative dosing strategies are being investigated. Our findings support further investigation of long-acting injectable cabotegravir as an alternative to orally administered pre-exposure prophylaxis regimens.

Abstract

Examination of HIV infection through heterosexual contact with partners who are known to be HIV infected in the United States, 2010-2015

Crepaz N, Dong B, Chen M, Hall I. AIDS. 2017 Jul 17;31(11):1641-1644. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001526.

Using data from the National HIV Surveillance System, we examined HIV infections diagnosed between 2010 and 2015 attributed to heterosexual contact with partners previously known to be HIV infected. More than four in 10 HIV infections among heterosexual males and five in 10 HIV infections among heterosexual women were attributed to this group. Findings may inform the prioritization of prevention and care efforts and resource allocation modeling for reducing new HIV infection among discordant partnerships.

Abstract

A national study of the molecular epidemiology of HIV-1 in Australia 2005–2012

Castley A, Sawleshwarkar S, Varma R, Herring B, Thapa K, Dwyer D, Chibo D, Nguyen N, Hawke K, Ratcliff R, Garsia R, Kelleher A, Nolan D; Australian Molecular Epidemiology Network-HIV (AMEN-HIV).. PLoS One. 2017 May 10;12(5):e0170601. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0170601. eCollection 2017.

Introduction: Rates of new HIV-1 diagnoses are increasing in Australia, with evidence of an increasing proportion of non-B HIV-1 subtypes reflecting a growing impact of migration and travel. The present study aims to define HIV-1 subtype diversity patterns and investigate possible HIV-1 transmission networks within Australia.

Methods: The Australian Molecular Epidemiology Network (AMEN) HIV collaborating sites in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and western Sydney (New South Wales), provided baseline HIV-1 partial pol sequence, age and gender information for 4873 patients who had genotypes performed during 2005-2012. HIV-1 phylogenetic analyses utilised MEGA V6, with a stringent classification of transmission pairs or clusters (bootstrap ≥98%, genetic distance ≤1.5% from at least one other sequence in the cluster).

Results: HIV-1 subtype B represented 74.5% of the 4873 sequences (WA 59%, SA 68.4%, w-Syd 73.8%, Vic 75.6%, Qld 82.1%), with similar proportion of transmission pairs and clusters found in the B and non-B cohorts (23% vs 24.5% of sequences, p = 0.3). Significantly more subtype B clusters were comprised of ≥3 sequences compared with non-B clusters (45.0% vs 24.0%, p = 0.021) and significantly more subtype B pairs and clusters were male-only (88% compared to 53% CRF01_AE and 17% subtype C clusters). Factors associated with being in a cluster of any size included; being sequenced in a more recent time period (p<0.001), being younger (p<0.001), being male (p = 0.023) and having a B subtype (p = 0.02). Being in a larger cluster (>3) was associated with being sequenced in a more recent time period (p = 0.05) and being male (p = 0.008).

Conclusion: This nationwide HIV-1 study of 4873 patient sequences highlights the increased diversity of HIV-1 subtypes within the Australian epidemic, as well as differences in transmission networks associated with these HIV-1 subtypes. These findings provide epidemiological insights not readily available using standard surveillance methods and can inform the development of effective public health strategies in the current paradigm of HIV prevention in Australia

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

HIV-1 full-genome phylogenetics of generalized epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa: impact of missing nucleotide characters in next-generation sequences.

Ratmann O, Wymant C, Colijn C, Danaviah S, Essex M, Frost SD, Gall A, Gaiseitsiwe S, Grabowski M, Gray R, Guindon S, von Haeseler A, Kaleebu P, Kendall M, Kozlov A, Manasa J, Minh BQ, Moyo S, Novitsky V, Nsubuga R, Pillay S, Quinn TC, Serwadda D, Ssemwanga D, Stamatakis A, Trifinopoulos J, Wawer M, Leigh Brown A, de Oliveira T, Kellam P, Pillay D, Fraser C.. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2017 May 25. doi: 10.1089/AID.2017.0061. [Epub ahead of print].

To characterize HIV-1 transmission dynamics in regions where the burden of HIV-1 is greatest, the 'Phylogenetics and Networks for Generalised HIV Epidemics in Africa' consortium (PANGEA-HIV) is sequencing full-genome viral isolates from across sub-Saharan Africa. We report the first 3985 PANGEA-HIV consensus sequences from four cohort sites (Rakai Community Cohort Study, n=2833; MRC/UVRI Uganda, n=701; Mochudi Prevention Project, n=359; Africa Health Research Institute Resistance Cohort, n=92). Next-generation sequencing success rates varied: more than 80% of the viral genome from the gag to the nef genes could be determined for all sequences from South Africa, 75% of sequences from Mochudi, 60% of sequences from MRC/UVRI Uganda, and 22% of sequences from Rakai. Partial sequencing failure was primarily associated with low viral load, increased for amplicons closer to the 3' end of the genome, was not associated with subtype diversity except HIV-1 subtype D, and remained significantly associated with sampling location after controlling for other factors. We assessed the impact of the missing data patterns in PANGEA-HIV sequences on phylogeny reconstruction in simulations. We found a threshold in terms of taxon sampling below which the patchy distribution of missing characters in next-generation sequences has an excess negative impact on the accuracy of HIV-1 phylogeny reconstruction, which is attributable to tree reconstruction artifacts that accumulate when branches in viral trees are long. The large number of PANGEA-HIV sequences provides unprecedented opportunities for evaluating HIV-1 transmission dynamics across sub-Saharan Africa and identifying prevention opportunities. Molecular epidemiological analyses of these data must proceed cautiously because sequence sampling remains below the identified threshold and a considerable negative impact of missing characters on phylogeny reconstruction is expected.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America, Oceania
Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Comoros, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Jamaica, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Togo, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe
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Increasing HIV testing by sharing the load and updating tasks and traditions for traditional birth attendants and lay providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Africa, Asia
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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.

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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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Oral PrEP reduces risk of HIV and does not result in riskier sex

Effectiveness and safety of oral HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for all populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

Fonner VA, Dalglish SL, Kennedy CE, Baggaley R, O'Reilly K R, Koechlin FM, Rodolph M, Hodges-Mameletzis I, Grant RM. AIDS. 2016 May 5. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective: Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) offers a promising new approach to HIV prevention. This systematic review and meta-analysis evaluated the evidence for use of oral PrEP containing tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) as an additional HIV prevention strategy in populations at substantial risk for HIV based on HIV acquisition, adverse events, drug resistance, sexual behavior, and reproductive health outcomes.

Design: Rigorous systematic review and meta-analysis.

Methods: A comprehensive search strategy reviewed three electronic databases and conference abstracts through April 2015. Pooled effect estimates were calculated using random-effects meta-analysis.

Results: Eighteen studies were included, comprising data from 39 articles and six conference abstracts. Across populations and PrEP regimens, PrEP significantly reduced the risk of HIV acquisition compared to placebo. Trials with PrEP use >70% demonstrated the highest PrEP effectiveness (RR = 0.30, 95% CI: 0.21-0.45, p < 0.001) compared to placebo. Trials with low PrEP use did not show a significantly protective effect. Adverse events were similar between PrEP and placebo groups. More cases of drug-resistant HIV infection were found among PrEP users who initiated PrEP while acutely HIV-infected, but incidence of acquiring drug-resistant HIV during PrEP use was low. Studies consistently found no association between PrEP use and changes in sexual risk behavior. PrEP was not associated with increased pregnancy-related adverse events or hormonal contraception effectiveness.

Conclusion: PrEP is protective against HIV infection across populations, presents few significant safety risks, and no evidence of behavioral risk compensation. The effective and cost-effective use of PrEP will require development of best practices for fostering uptake and adherence among people at substantial HIV-risk.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: This systematic review is the first to aggregate data from across oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) studies, including randomized control trials and observational studies, to present clear evidence on the effectiveness of oral PrEP use. The findings confirm that oral PrEP significantly reduces the risk of acquiring HIV if taken consistently and correctly across populations, countries, and most age groups. Differences in efficacy directly correlate with adherence, which accounts for the lower efficacy seen in some subgroups. Perhaps two of the most compelling analyses presented in this paper relate to resistance and behavioural disinhibition. The risk of resistance was shown to be quite low, and study participants exhibiting resistant HIV either enrolled in the studies during an acute infection stage or acquired resistant strains during the course of the research. Regarding behavioural disinhibition, indicators measured such as rates of sexually transmitted infections revealed that PrEP use in the efficacy trials was not associated with behavioural disinhibition and in some studies, resulted in even safer sexual behaviour than what was reported at baseline. Recently completed demonstration projects have reported increased rates of STIs among gay men and other men who have sex with men. However, in the open-label extensions included in this review, where counselling was more intensive, safer sex practices were maintained, thus suggesting that counselling can be effective in preventing behavioural disinhibition. 

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What works to link people living with HIV to care - a review

Facilitators and barriers in HIV linkage to care interventions: a qualitative evidence review.

Tso LS, Best J, Beanland R, Doherty M, Lackey M, Ma Q, Hall BJ, Yang B, Tucker JD. AIDS. 2016 Apr 6. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective: To synthesize qualitative evidence on linkage to care interventions for people living with HIV.

Design: Systematic literature review.

Methods: We searched nineteen databases for studies reporting qualitative evidence on linkage interventions. Data extraction and thematic analysis were used to synthesize findings. Quality was assessed using the CASP tool and certainty of evidence was evaluated using the CERQual approach.

Results: Twenty-five studies from eleven countries focused on adults (24 studies), adolescents (8 studies), and pregnant women (4 Facilitators included community-level factors (i.e. task-shifting, mobile outreach, integrated HIV and primary services, supportive cessation programs for substance users, active referrals, and dedicated case management teams) and individual-level factors (encouragement of peers/family and positive interactions with healthcare providers in transitioning into care). One key barrier for people living with HIV was perceived inability of providers to ensure confidentiality as part of linkage to care interventions. Providers reported difficulties navigating procedures across disparate facilities and having limited resources for linkage to care interventions.

Conclusions: Our findings extend the literature by highlighting the importance of task-shifting, mobile outreach, and integrated HIV and primary services. Both community and individual level factors may increase the feasibility and acceptability of HIV linkage to care interventions. These findings may inform policies to increase the reach of HIV services available in communities.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: As the authors of this paper observe, most evaluations of linkage to care programmes have focused on quantitative assessment. This useful paper provides a thorough overview of the findings from 25 studies which used qualitative methods for assessment. Linkage-to- care programmes feasible in different country settings were identified in this review.  The authors also highlight gaps, most notably a lack of information on linkage-to-care programmes for men. They also note the need for longitudinal assessments that look at changes over time.

This paper is a useful synthesis of findings. But it is also an excellent example of how to carry out a systematic review of qualitative research. The description of the qualitative meta-synthesis the authors performed adds additional value to this paper. 

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What works to link people living with HIV to care - a review

Facilitators and barriers in HIV linkage to care interventions: a qualitative evidence review.

Tso LS, Best J, Beanland R, Doherty M, Lackey M, Ma Q, Hall BJ, Yang B, Tucker JD. AIDS. 2016 Apr 6. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective: To synthesize qualitative evidence on linkage to care interventions for people living with HIV.

Design: Systematic literature review.

Methods: We searched nineteen databases for studies reporting qualitative evidence on linkage interventions. Data extraction and thematic analysis were used to synthesize findings. Quality was assessed using the CASP tool and certainty of evidence was evaluated using the CERQual approach.

Results: Twenty-five studies from eleven countries focused on adults (24 studies), adolescents (8 studies), and pregnant women (4 Facilitators included community-level factors (i.e. task-shifting, mobile outreach, integrated HIV and primary services, supportive cessation programs for substance users, active referrals, and dedicated case management teams) and individual-level factors (encouragement of peers/family and positive interactions with healthcare providers in transitioning into care). One key barrier for people living with HIV was perceived inability of providers to ensure confidentiality as part of linkage to care interventions. Providers reported difficulties navigating procedures across disparate facilities and having limited resources for linkage to care interventions.

Conclusions: Our findings extend the literature by highlighting the importance of task-shifting, mobile outreach, and integrated HIV and primary services. Both community and individual level factors may increase the feasibility and acceptability of HIV linkage to care interventions. These findings may inform policies to increase the reach of HIV services available in communities.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: As the authors of this paper observe, most evaluations of linkage to care programmes have focused on quantitative assessment. This useful paper provides a thorough overview of the findings from 25 studies which used qualitative methods for assessment. Linkage-to- care programmes feasible in different country settings were identified in this review.  The authors also highlight gaps, most notably a lack of information on linkage-to-care programmes for men. They also note the need for longitudinal assessments that look at changes over time.

This paper is a useful synthesis of findings. But it is also an excellent example of how to carry out a systematic review of qualitative research. The description of the qualitative meta-synthesis the authors performed adds additional value to this paper. 

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Profound effect of ART on mortality through reduction of opportunistic infections

Incidence of opportunistic infections and the impact of antiretroviral therapy among HIV-infected adults in low and middle income countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis. 

Low A, Gavriilidis G, Larke N, Lajoie MR, Drouin O, Stover J, Muhe L, Easterbrook P. Clin Infect Dis. 2016 Mar 6. pii: ciw125. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: To understand regional burdens and inform delivery of health services, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate the effect of antiretroviral therapy (ART) on incidence of key opportunistic infections (OIs) in HIV-infected adults in low and middle-income countries (LMIC).

Methods: Eligible studies describing the cumulative incidence of OIs and proportion on ART from 1990 to November 2013 were identified using multiple databases. Summary incident risks for the ART-naive period, and during and after the first year of ART, were calculated using random effects meta-analyses. Summary estimates from ART subgroups were compared using meta-regression. The number of OI cases and associated costs averted if ART was initiated at CD4 ≥200 cells/µl was estimated using UNAIDS country estimates and global average OI treatment cost per case.

Results: We identified 7965 citations, and included 126 studies describing 491 608 HIV-infected persons. In ART-naive patients, summary risk was highest (>5%) for oral candidiasis, tuberculosis, herpes zoster, and bacterial pneumonia. The reduction in incidence was greatest for all OIs during the first 12 months of ART (range 57-91%) except for tuberculosis, and was largest for oral candidiasis, PCP and toxoplasmosis. Earlier ART was estimated to have averted 857 828 cases in 2013 (95% confidence interval [CI], 828 032-874 853), with cost savings of $46.7 million (95% CI, 43.8-49.4).

Conclusions: There was a major reduction in risk for most OIs with ART use in LMICs, with the greatest effect seen in the first year of treatment. ART has resulted in substantial cost savings from OIs averted.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Editor’s notes: Opportunistic infections (OIs) remain the major cause of HIV-associated mortality. OIs account for substantially higher mortality in low and middle income countries (LMICs) compared to high income countries (HICs).

This paper describes the results of a systematic review and meta-analysis including about 500 000 people on ART in LMICs across three regions (sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America). These large numbers enabled the investigators to look at the effect of ART on the incidence of key OIs during and after the first year of treatment.

Not surprisingly they found that the effect of ART reduced the risk of all OIs during the first year after ART initiation, although the reduction was less for tuberculosis. The authors attribute this to the occurrence of tuberculosis across a wide range of CD4 cell counts, a smaller effect of early immune restoration and the contribution of TB as a manifestation of immune reconstitution syndrome during the first months after ART initiation. Beyond one year after ART initiation, the reduction in tuberculosis was greater.

They conclude that the effect of ART on the incidence of most HIV-associated OIs is the key reason for the global decline in HIV-associated mortality. However, a significant proportion of HIV-positive persons still continue to present with advanced disease. Besides timely ART initiation, additional measures such as CTX prophylaxis, screening for TB and cryptococcal disease, and the use of isoniazid and fluconazole prophylaxis should be considered for late presenters. 

Africa, Asia, Latin America
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Novel specimens feasible and sensitive for Xpert® MTB/RIF diagnosis in children

Performance of Xpert® MTB/RIF and alternative specimen collection methods for the diagnosis of tuberculosis in HIV-infected children.

Marcy O, Ung V, Goyet S, Borand L, Msellati P, Tejiokem M, Nguyen Thi NL, Nacro B, Cheng S, Eyangoh S, Pham TH, Ouedraogo AS, Tarantola A, Godreuil S, Blanche S, Delacourt C, PAANTHER study group. Clin Infect Dis. 2016 Feb 7. pii: ciw036. [Epub ahead of print]

Methods: HIV-infected children aged 13 years with suspected intrathoracic tuberculosis were enrolled in 8 hospitals in Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, and Vietnam. Gastric aspirates were taken for children aged <10 years and expectorated sputum samples were taken for children aged 10 years (standard samples); nasopharyngeal aspirate and stool were taken for all children, and a string test was performed if the child was aged 4 years (alternative samples). All samples were tested with Xpert®. The diagnostic accuracy of Xpert® for culture-confirmed tuberculosis was analyzed in intention-to-diagnose and per-protocol approaches.

Results: Of 281 children enrolled, 272 (96.8%) had ≥1 specimen tested with Xpert® (intention-to-diagnose population), and 179 (63.5%) had all samples tested with Xpert® (per-protocol population). Tuberculosis was culture-confirmed in 29/272 (10.7%) children. Intention-to-diagnose sensitivities of Xpert® performed on all, standard, and alternative samples were 79.3% (95% confidence interval [CI], 60.3-92.0), 72.4% (95% CI, 52.8-87.3), and 75.9% (95% CI, 56.5-89.7), respectively. Specificities were 97.5%. Xpert® combined on nasopharyngeal aspirate and stool had intention-to-diagnose and per-protocol sensitivities of 75.9% (95% CI, 56.5-89.7) and 75.0% (95% CI, 47.6-92.7), respectively.

Conclusions: The combination of nasopharyngeal aspirate and stool sample is a promising alternative to methods usually recommended by national programs. Xpert® performed on respiratory and stools samples enables rapid confirmation of tuberculosis diagnosis in HIV-infected children.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: This article reports on a prospective cohort study of HIV-positive children (≤ 13 years) with suspected intrathoracic tuberculosis in eight hospitals in Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, and Viet Nam. Diagnosis of tuberculosis among children is challenging because it is more difficult to obtain sputum, and their sputum often has fewer bacilli, requiring more sensitive tests. In 2014, WHO recommended scaling-up the use of Xpert® MTB/RIF among children. However, any test which is dependent on obtaining a sputum specimen will be suboptimal for diagnosis of tuberculosis in children.

In this study the investigators examined the feasibility of using alternative specimens with Xpert® MTB/ RIF for the diagnosis of tuberculosis in HIV-positive children. Using an intention-to-diagnose and a per-protocol analysis, they also assessed the diagnostic accuracy of Xpert® on nasopharyngeal aspirate and stool samples, using culture-confirmed tuberculosis as the reference standard.

The authors found that the performance of Xpert® in alternative samples was comparable to that of standard samples. They found excellent feasibility of obtaining samples of nasopharyngeal aspirates and stool, and a good sensitivity of Xpert® (~76%) when using that combination of samples. The authors suggested more research to simplify the processing of the stool samples for Xpert®, which would make the combination of both samples an attractive collection method for children unable to produce sputum.

Although Xpert® produces results relatively rapidly, some testing was done retrospectively, and only half of the Xpert® results were immediately available. As many children in this study had features of severe disease, it is not surprising that clinicians often started TB treatment immediately without waiting for results. Thus in practice the Xpert® result often provided bacteriological confirmation of a clinical diagnosis for children who had already started TB treatment, although it did also lead to some TB treatment initiations.

Despite conducting this study over more than two years in eight hospitals, the final number of enrolled children with culture-confirmed tuberculosis was only 29. It would be interesting to know whether using Xpert® on alternative specimens from children had an impact on patient-important outcomes, particularly mortality, though this would have required a much larger study. Studies of Xpert® implementation among adults have found increased yield in terms of bacteriological diagnoses. However, most have not found an impact on patient-important outcomes. Several children died before all the protocol-required specimens could be obtained, emphasizing the importance of rapid and more sensitive TB diagnostic tests for severely-ill children.

Africa, Asia
Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Viet Nam
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