Articles tagged as "Denmark"

90-90-90: a clear roadmap for HIV treatment. But each 90 brings with it opportunities and challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America, Oceania
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How do we know which activities make a difference to HIV prevention?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access 

Improvements in Spectrum's fit to program data tool.

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access 

Analytical advances in the ex vivo challenge efficacy assay.

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

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

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Community-based HIV testing for MSM: available at an acceptable cost in Europe

Economic evaluation of HIV testing for men who have sex with men in community-based organizations - results from six European cities.

Perelman J, Rosado R, Amri O, Morel S, Rojas Castro D, Chanos S, Cigan B, Lobnik M, Fuertes R, Pichon F, Slaaen Kaye P, Agusti C, Fernandez-Lopez L, Lorente N, Casabona J. AIDS Care. 2016 Dec 27:1-5. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2016.1271392. [Epub ahead of print]

The non-decreasing incidence of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) has motivated the emergence of Community Based Voluntary Counselling and Testing (CBVCT) services specifically addressed to MSM. The CBVCT services are characterized by facilitated access and linkage to care, a staff largely constituted by voluntary peers, and private not-for-profit structures outside the formal health system institutions. Encouraging results have been measured about their effectiveness, but these favourable results may have been obtained at high costs, questioning the opportunity to expand the experience. We performed an economic evaluation of HIV testing for MSM at CBVCT services, and compared them across six European cities. We collected retrospective data for six CBVCT services from six cities (Copenhagen, Paris, Lyon, Athens, Lisbon, and Ljubljana), for the year 2014, on the number of HIV tests and HIV reactive tests, and on all expenditures to perform the testing activities. The total costs of CBVCTs varied from 54 390€ per year (Ljubljana) to 245 803€ per year (Athens). The cost per HIV test varied from to 41€ (Athens) to 113€ (Ljubljana). The cost per HIV reactive test varied from 1966€ (Athens) to 9065€ (Ljubljana). Our results show that the benefits of CBVCT services are obtained at an acceptable cost, in comparison with the literature (values, mostly from the USA, range from 1600$ to 16 985$ per HIV reactive test in clinical and non-clinical settings). This result was transversal to several European cities, highlighting that there is a common CBVCT model, the cost of which is comparable regardless of the epidemiological context and prices. The CBVCT services represent an effective and "worth it" experience, to be continued and expanded in future public health strategies towards HIV.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: Although HIV incidence among some key populations in Europe has declined in recent years, new cases among gay men and other men who have sex with men have steadily increased over the last decade. Among those new cases, over a third are reported late, leading to worse health outcomes for the person, as well as an increased risk of onward transmission. As a result, community-based voluntary counselling and testing has been rolled out in European cities to encouraging results in terms of effectiveness.

In that context, the authors of this paper have carried out an economic evaluation of community-based voluntary counselling and testing programmes in six cities across Europe (Athens, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Lyon, Paris and Ljubljana). They collected total annual costs of running the programmes. They found that the cost per HIV test ranged from €41 in Athens to €113 in Ljubljana and the cost per reactive HIV test ranged from €1966 to €9065 in the same two cities. The authors found that these costs are acceptable compared to those found in the literature.

Oddly, one of the more interesting results found in the article, but not discussed within the text, is the cost per reactive HIV test link to care. This varied in absolute terms (€2297- €20 215) likely due to different linkages to care rates, from 100% in Copenhagen to under 40% in Paris. Given the ultimate aims of testing (which ought to be to improve health outcomes and reduce onward transmission) this is a more important figure than the cost per test. Further research therefore should explore the unit costs further down the treatment cascade resulting from these programmes. These would be, for example, cost per person on treatment and cost per person with a suppressed viral load. 

Europe
Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Slovenia
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Weekends off ART: a strategy to maintain adherence in children and adolescents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design: Open, randomised, non-inferiority trial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

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

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

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High TB mortality among people living with HIV in eastern Europe: a growing concern

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access

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

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

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

Europe, Latin America
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Large multi-centre study finds few differences between mortality in migrant and native populations in western Europe

Mortality in migrants living with HIV in western Europe (1997-2013): a collaborative cohort study.

Migrants Working Group on behalf of COHERE in EuroCoord. Lancet HIV. 2015 Dec;2(12):e540-9. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(15)00203-9. Epub 2015 Nov 18.

Background: Many migrants face adverse socioeconomic conditions and barriers to health services that can impair timely HIV diagnosis and access to life-saving treatments. We aimed to assess the differences in overall mortality by geographical origin in HIV-positive men and women using data from COHERE, a large European collaboration of HIV cohorts from 1997 to 2013.

Methods: In this observational cohort study, we included HIV-positive, antiretroviral-naive people accessing care in western Europe from COHERE. Individuals were eligible if enrolled in a cohort that collected information on geographical origin or ethnic origin from Jan 1, 1997, to March 19, 2013, aged 18-75 years, they had available information about sex, they were not infected perinatally or after the receipt of clotting factor concentrates, and were naive to combination antiretroviral therapy at cohort entry. Migrants' origins were grouped into seven regions: western Europe and similar countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA); eastern Europe; North Africa and the Middle East; sub-Saharan Africa; Latin America; the Caribbean; and Asia and the rest of Oceania (excluding Australia and New Zealand). Crude and adjusted mortality rate ratios were calculated by use of Poisson regression stratified by sex, comparing each group with the native population. Multiple imputation with chained equations was used to account for missing values.

Findings: Between Oct 25, 1979, and March 19, 2013, we recruited 279 659 individuals to the COHERE collaboration in EuroCoord. Of these 123 344 men and 45 877 women met the inclusion criteria. Our data suggested effect modification by transmission route (pinteraction=0.12 for men; pinteraction=0.002 for women). No significant difference in mortality was identified by geographical origin in men who have sex with men. In heterosexual populations, most migrant men had mortality lower than or equal to that of native men, whereas no group of migrant women had mortality lower than that in native women. High mortality was identified in heterosexual men from Latin America (rate ratio [RR] 1.46, 95% CI 1.00-2.12, p=0.049) and heterosexual women from the Caribbean (1.48, 1.29-1.70, p<0.0001). Compared with that in the native population, mortality in injecting drug users was similar or low for all migrant groups.

Interpretation: Characteristics of and risks faced by migrant populations with HIV differ for men and women and for populations infected heterosexually, by sex between men, or by injecting drug use. Further research is needed to understand how inequalities are generated and maintained for the groups with higher mortality identified in this study.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: This topical analysis on migrant health from the large COHERE collaboration examined mortality in people living with HIV who are treatment-naïve and enrolling for care in 11 western European countries. Routinely collected data were analysed to explore differences in mortality by region of origin. Overall, few differences in mortality were seen between migrant and native populations, with a general trend of similar or lower mortality among migrants than native populations.  However, diversity within migrant groups even from the same region makes it challenging to interpret summary data. The authors provide interesting insights into these difficulties. For example, the reasons for migration are likely to result in different socio-economic conditions in the host country, but heterogeneity in mortality between sub-groups may be masked when looking at overall mortality in migrants compared with the native population. The authors discuss both the “healthy migrant effect” (the fact that it is often healthier, younger populations who are able to migrate), and the “salmon bias” (the fact people who are ill often return to their place of origin). Both of these effects can lead to an observed lower disease burden in migrants than native populations. At a time when immigration is a hotly debated issue in western Europe this study highlights the challenges in assessing migrant health and the need for further empirical and methodological research in this area.

Europe
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Violence experience of women living with HIV: a global study

Violence. Enough already: findings from a global participatory survey among women living with HIV.

Orza L, Bewley S, Chung C, Crone ET, Nagadya H, Vazquez M, Welbourn A. J Int AIDS Soc. 2015 Dec 1;18(6 Suppl 5):20285. doi: 10.7448/IAS.18.6.20285. eCollection 2015.

Introduction: Women living with HIV are vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV) before and after diagnosis, in multiple settings. This study's aim was to explore how GBV is experienced by women living with HIV, how this affects women's sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and human rights (HR), and the implications for policymakers.

Methods: A community-based, participatory, user-led, mixed-methods study was conducted, with women living with HIV from key affected populations. Simple descriptive frequencies were used for quantitative data. Thematic coding of open qualitative responses was performed and validated with key respondents.

Results: In total, 945 women living with HIV from 94 countries participated in the study. Eighty-nine percent of 480 respondents to an optional section on GBV reported having experienced or feared violence, either before, since and/or because of their HIV diagnosis. GBV reporting was higher after HIV diagnosis (intimate partner, family/neighbours, community and health settings). Women described a complex and iterative relationship between GBV and HIV occurring throughout their lives, including breaches of confidentiality and lack of SRH choice in healthcare settings, forced/coerced treatments, HR abuses, moralistic and judgemental attitudes (including towards women from key populations), and fear of losing child custody. Respondents recommended healthcare practitioners and policymakers address stigma and discrimination, training, awareness-raising, and HR abuses in healthcare settings.

Conclusions: Respondents reported increased GBV with partners and in families, communities and healthcare settings after their HIV diagnosis and across the life-cycle. Measures of GBV must be sought and monitored, particularly within healthcare settings that should be safe. Respondents offered policymakers a comprehensive range of recommendations to achieve their SRH and HR goals. Global guidance documents and policies are more likely to succeed for the end-users if lived experiences are used.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Editor’s notes: Violence against women who are living with HIV is common globally. This paper reports on a study of 832 women living with HIV from 94 countries who participated in an online survey, recruited through a non-random snowball sampling model. The survey comprised quantitative and qualitative (free text) components. Participants included women who had ever or were currently using injection drugs (14%), who had ever or were currently selling sex (14%), and who had ever or were currently homeless (14%). Lifetime experience of violence among respondents was high (86%). Perpetrators included: intimate partner (59%), family member / neighbour (45%), community member (53%), health care workers (53%) and police, military, prison or detention services (17%). Findings suggest that violence is not a one off occurrence and cannot easily be packaged as a cause or a consequence of HIV. Instead violence occurs throughout women’s lives, takes multiple forms, and has a complex and iterative relationship with HIV.

The study population did not represent all women living with HIV, and was biased towards women with internet access who have an activist interest. Nonetheless, the study provides further evidence of the breadth and frequency of gender based violence experienced by women living with HIV. Key recommendations for policy makers include training of health care workers working in sexual and reproductive services to offer non-discriminatory services to women living with HIV and to effectively respond to disclosures of gender based violence (such as intimate partner violence) as part of the package of care.

Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Bolivia, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Republic of the Congo, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Togo, Transdniestria, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Zambia, Zimbabwe
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START trial illustrates benefit of ART start with CD4>500

Initiation of antiretroviral therapy in early asymptomatic HIV infection.

Lundgren J, Babiker A,  Gordin F, Emery S, Grund B, Sharma S, Avihingsanon A, Cooper D, Fätkenheuer G, Llibre J, Molina J, Munderi P, Schechter M, Wood R, Klingman K, Collins S, Lane H, Phillips A,  Neaton J. INSIGHT START Study Group. N Engl J Med. 2015 Jul 20. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Data from randomized trials are lacking on the benefits and risks of initiating antiretroviral therapy in patients with asymptomatic human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection who have a CD4+ count of more than 350 cells per cubic millimeter.

Methods: We randomly assigned HIV-positive adults who had a CD4+ count of more than 500 cells per cubic millimeter to start antiretroviral therapy immediately (immediate-initiation group) or to defer it until the CD4+ count decreased to 350 cells per cubic millimeter or until the development of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or another condition that dictated the use of antiretroviral therapy (deferred-initiation group). The primary composite end point was any serious AIDS-related event, serious non-AIDS-related event, or death from any cause.

Results: A total of 4685 patients were followed for a mean of 3.0 years. At study entry, the median HIV viral load was 12 759 copies per milliliter, and the median CD4+ count was 651 cells per cubic millimeter. On May 15, 2015, on the basis of an interim analysis, the data and safety monitoring board determined that the study question had been answered and recommended that patients in the deferred-initiation group be offered antiretroviral therapy. The primary end point occurred in 42 patients in the immediate-initiation group (1.8%; 0.60 events per 100 person-years), as compared with 96 patients in the deferred-initiation group (4.1%; 1.38 events per 100 person-years), for a hazard ratio of 0.43 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.30 to 0.62; P<0.001). Hazard ratios for serious AIDS-related and serious non-AIDS-related events were 0.28 (95% CI, 0.15 to 0.50; P<0.001) and 0.61 (95% CI, 0.38 to 0.97; P=0.04), respectively. More than two thirds of the primary end points (68%) occurred in patients with a CD4+ count of more than 500 cells per cubic millimeter. The risks of a grade 4 event were similar in the two groups, as were the risks of unscheduled hospital admissions.

Conclusions: The initiation of antiretroviral therapy in HIV-positive adults with a CD4+ count of more than 500 cells per cubic millimeter provided net benefits over starting such therapy in patients after the CD4+ count had declined to 350 cells per cubic millimeter.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Editor’s notes: Guidelines on when to start antiretroviral therapy (ART) are rapidly evolving. The major point of uncertainty, and disagreement between guidelines, has been whether the benefits to individuals of starting ART outweigh the risks for people with high CD4 counts, where the absolute risk of morbidity and mortality is relatively low.

The START study addressed this question among people with CD4 counts greater than 500 cells per µl. Study participants were recruited across the global regions, with the largest number from Europe (33%) followed by Latin America (25%) and Africa (21%). Some 55% were gay men and other men who have sex with men. Retention in the study was very good, and virologic outcomes among people who started ART were excellent (98% and 97% had virologic suppression by 12 months in the immediate versus deferred study arms). There was a 57% reduction in the hazard of the primary outcome, a composite of serious AIDS-associated events, serious non-AIDS associated events or death from any cause. The most common AIDS-associated events were tuberculosis (mostly seen in African participants), malignant lymphoma and Kaposi’s sarcoma. Among the serious non-AIDS events, cancers unrelated to AIDS were reduced by 50%, but interestingly there was no change in cardiovascular events. There was no increase in risk of serious adverse events. Interestingly the magnitude of risk reduction for the primary outcome was similar in high- and low-income countries.

These results will be very important as ART guidelines are reviewed and are likely to lead to recommendations for ART initiation, regardless of CD4 count in most settings. The authors note that, with a relatively low absolute risk of serious events, some people with high CD4 counts may opt to defer treatment, and this trial has produced very useful data to inform this discussion. Benefits from earlier ART initiation are dependent on earlier testing.  With an estimated 50% of people with HIV globally unaware of their status, the uptake of testing by asymptomatic people will need to be increased. In addition, retention in care will need to be optimised if the potential benefits of ART demonstrated by this study are to be realised.

HIV Treatment
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Can a simple risk score predict chronic kidney disease among people living with HIV?

Development and validation of a risk score for chronic kidney disease in HIV infection using prospective cohort data from the D:A:D study.

Mocroft A, Lundgren JD, Ross M, Law M, Reiss P, Kirk O, Smith C, Wentworth D, Neuhaus J, Fux CA, Moranne O, Morlat P, Johnson MA, Ryom L, D:A:D study group, the Royal Free Hospital Clinic Cohort, and the INSIGHT, SMART, and ESPRIT study groups. PLoS Med. 2015 Mar 31;12(3):e1001809. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001809. eCollection 2015.

Background: Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a major health issue for HIV-positive individuals, associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Development and implementation of a risk score model for CKD would allow comparison of the risks and benefits of adding potentially nephrotoxic antiretrovirals to a treatment regimen and would identify those at greatest risk of CKD. The aims of this study were to develop a simple, externally validated, and widely applicable long-term risk score model for CKD in HIV-positive individuals that can guide decision making in clinical practice.

Methods and findings: A total of 17 954 HIV-positive individuals from the Data Collection on Adverse Events of Anti-HIV Drugs (D:A:D) study with ≥3 estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) values after 1 January 2004 were included. Baseline was defined as the first eGFR >60 ml/min/1.73 m2 after 1 January 2004; individuals with exposure to tenofovir, atazanavir, atazanavir/ritonavir, lopinavir/ritonavir, other boosted protease inhibitors before baseline were excluded. CKD was defined as confirmed (>3 mo apart) eGFR ≤60 ml/min/1.73 m2. Poisson regression was used to develop a risk score, externally validated on two independent cohorts. In the D:A:D study, 641 individuals developed CKD during 103 185 person-years of follow-up (PYFU; incidence 6.2/1000 PYFU, 95% CI 5.7-6.7; median follow-up 6.1 y, range 0.3-9.1 y). Older age, intravenous drug use, hepatitis C coinfection, lower baseline eGFR, female gender, lower CD4 count nadir, hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (CVD) predicted CKD. The adjusted incidence rate ratios of these nine categorical variables were scaled and summed to create the risk score. The median risk score at baseline was -2 (interquartile range -4 to 2). There was a 1:393 chance of developing CKD in the next 5 y in the low risk group (risk score <0, 33 events), rising to 1:47 and 1:6 in the medium (risk score 0-4, 103 events) and high risk groups (risk score ≥5, 505 events), respectively. Number needed to harm (NNTH) at 5 y when starting unboosted atazanavir or lopinavir/ritonavir among those with a low risk score was 1702 (95% CI 1166-3367); NNTH was 202 (95% CI 159-278) and 21 (95% CI 19-23), respectively, for those with a medium and high risk score. NNTH was 739 (95% CI 506-1462), 88 (95% CI 69-121), and 9 (95% CI 8-10) for those with a low, medium, and high risk score, respectively, starting tenofovir, atazanavir/ritonavir, or another boosted protease inhibitor. The Royal Free Hospital Clinic Cohort included 2548 individuals, of whom 94 individuals developed CKD (3.7%) during 18 376 PYFU (median follow-up 7.4 y, range 0.3-12.7 y). Of 2013 individuals included from the SMART/ESPRIT control arms, 32 individuals developed CKD (1.6%) during 8452 PYFU (median follow-up 4.1 y, range 0.6-8.1 y). External validation showed that the risk score predicted well in these cohorts. Limitations of this study included limited data on race and no information on proteinuria.

Conclusions: Both traditional and HIV-related risk factors were predictive of CKD. These factors were used to develop a risk score for CKD in HIV infection, externally validated, that has direct clinical relevance for patients and clinicians to weigh the benefits of certain antiretrovirals against the risk of CKD and to identify those at greatest risk of CKD.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Editor’s notes: The nephrotoxicity of antiretroviral drugs, particularly tenofovir, is of concern, particularly where there is limited access to laboratory monitoring of kidney function. The development of kidney impairment among people with HIV is associated with poor outcomes, and in low resource settings where dialysis is not available this can be catastrophic.

This study, like previous work, attempts to address this problem by developing a risk score for the development of chronic kidney disease (CKD). The strength of this study is the availability of data for over 17 000 men and women living with HIV enrolled in cohort studies for many years, and in over 40 countries globally. The resulting risk score uses nine simple clinical variables which predict CKD both overall, and after starting potentially nephrotoxic antiretrovirals. A short risk score, not including cardiovascular risk factors, which may be more suitable for low resource settings, shows almost as good a prediction of CKD.

So will this risk score become widely used in clinical decision making? For high income countries this tool may be useful to identify people where strategies to prevent cardiovascular and renal disease are best focussed. It may also be useful to identify people at high risk of developing CKD for whom use of tenofovir may be unacceptable, especially when monitoring of kidney function is limited. However, few of the enrolled people were from low and middle income countries, and there was limited information on the race of participants. Therefore, the risk score may need to be validated in low resource settings before it can be widely used. Whether the use of the tool would help to improve clinical outcomes where kidney function is frequently monitored is unclear.

Meanwhile, a new drug formulation, tenofovir alafenamide (TAF), is currently in clinical trials. This appears to be associated with less renal toxicity, and to be safe and well tolerated among adults with decreased kidney function. If future trial results support this evidence, and tenofovir alafenamide becomes widely available, concern about drug nephrotoxicity may become a less pressing clinical issue.

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