Articles tagged as "Estonia"

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Stigma and sex work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New evidence in support of opioid substitution therapy as a key HIV programme for people who inject drugs

Impact of opioid substitution therapy on antiretroviral therapy outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Low AJ, Mburu G, Welton NJ, May MT, Davies CF, French C, Turner K, Looker KJ, Christensen H, McLean S, Rhodes T, Platt L, Hickman M, Guise A, Vickerman P. Clin Infect Dis. 2016 Jun 25. pii: ciw416. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: HIV-positive people who inject drugs (PWID) frequently encounter barriers accessing and remaining on antiretroviral treatment (ART). Some studies have suggested that opioid substitution therapy (OST) could facilitate PWID's engagement with HIV services. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate the impact of concurrent OST use on ART-related outcomes among HIV-positive PWID.

Methods: We searched Medline, PsycInfo, Embase, Global Health, Cochrane, Web of Science, and Social Policy and Practice databases for studies between 1996 to November 2014 documenting the impact of OST, compared to no OST, on ART outcomes. Outcomes considered were: coverage and recruitment onto ART, adherence, viral suppression, attrition from ART, and mortality. Meta-analyses were conducted using random effects modelling, and heterogeneity assessed using Cochran's Q test and I2 statistic.

Results: We identified 4685 articles, and 32 studies conducted in North America, Europe, Indonesia and China were included. OST was associated with a 69% increase in recruitment onto ART (HR=1.69, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.32-2.15), a 54% increase in ART coverage (OR=1.54; 95% CI: 1.17-2.03), a two-fold increase in adherence (OR=2.14, 95% CI: 1.41-3.26), and a 23% decrease in the odds of attrition (OR=0.77, 95% CI:0.63-0.95). OST was associated with a 45% increase in odds of viral suppression (OR=1.45, 95%CI:1.21-1.73), but there was limited evidence from six studies for OST decreasing mortality for PWID on ART (HR=0.91, 95% CI:0.65-1.25).

Conclusions: These findings support the use of OST, and its integration with HIV services, to improve the HIV treatment and care continuum amongst HIV-positive PWID.

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Editor’s notes: This is a very important study contributing new evidence on how opioid substitution therapy can help in the treatment and prevention of HIV among people who inject drugs. This review provides key evidence in support of opioid substitution therapy as a cornerstone HIV treatment and prevention programme. This evidence is essential given the growing number of HIV infections among people who inject drugs globally, particularly in eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. There is a wealth of evidence from systematic reviews and mathematical modelling to illustrate how the use of opioid substitution therapy decreases risk of HIV acquisition at an individual-level.  It can also reduce HIV prevalence and incidence at the population level. This review is important in that it illustrates how opioid substitution therapy can facilitate HIV treatment.  Findings illustrate that opioid substitution therapy works by increasing adherence to HIV treatment, decreasing attrition from treatment and increasing odds of viral suppression reducing the odds of onwards HIV transmission. In addition to this important review, there is also a need to understand the role opioid substitution therapy might have in increasing uptake of HIV testing. This review does not address that question. It is notable that few studies on impact of opioid substitution therapy on HIV treatment outcomes and uptake included in the review were identified in low-income countries or eastern Europe where need is greatest. This partly reflects the lack of opioid substitution therapy programmes in that region, particularly the Russian Federation. This is also the case in sub-Saharan Africa where opioid substitution therapy programmes are newly established and yet to be evaluated. Future research is necessary to understand how opioid substitution therapy might work: (1) where transmission of HIV is predominantly sexual and (2) where injecting drug use occurs within very different social and economic contexts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Combination harm reduction may be more effective and cost-effective than partial approaches alone

The cost-effectiveness of harm reduction.

Wilson DP, Donald B, Shattock AJ, Wilson D, Fraser-Hurt N. Int J Drug Policy. 2015 Feb;26 Suppl 1:S5-11. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2014.11.007. Epub 2014 Dec 1.

HIV prevalence worldwide among people who inject drugs (PWID) is around 19%. Harm reduction for PWID includes needle-syringe programs (NSPs) and opioid substitution therapy (OST) but often coupled with antiretroviral therapy (ART) for people living with HIV. Numerous studies have examined the effectiveness of each harm reduction strategy. This commentary discusses the evidence of effectiveness of the packages of harm reduction services and their cost-effectiveness with respect to HIV-related outcomes as well as estimate resources required to meet global and regional coverage targets. NSPs have been shown to be safe and very effective in reducing HIV transmission in diverse settings; there are many historical and very recent examples in diverse settings where the absence of, or reduction in, NSPs have resulted in exploding HIV epidemics compared to controlled epidemics with NSP implementation. NSPs are relatively inexpensive to implement and highly cost-effective according to commonly used willingness-to-pay thresholds. There is strong evidence that substitution therapy is effective, reducing the risk of HIV acquisition by 54% on average among PWID. OST is relatively expensive to implement when only HIV outcomes are considered; other societal benefits substantially improve the cost-effectiveness ratios to be highly favourable. Many studies have shown that ART is cost-effective for keeping people alive but there is only weak supportive, but growing evidence, of the additional effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of ART as prevention among PWID. Packages of combined harm reduction approaches are highly likely to be more effective and cost-effective than partial approaches. The coverage of harm reduction programs remains extremely low across the world. The total annual costs of scaling up each of the harm reduction strategies from current coverage levels, by region, to meet WHO guideline coverage targets are high with ART greatest, followed by OST and then NSPs. But scale-up of all three approaches is essential. These interventions can be cost-effective by most thresholds in the short-term and cost-saving in the long-term.

Abstract   Full-text [free] access

Editor’s notes: The spread of HIV among people who inject drugs has driven epidemics throughout regions of eastern Europe, and central and South-East Asia. In eastern Europe and central Asia, the majority of HIV infections have been attributed to injecting drug use. Some countries in the Middle East and North Africa region have also been experiencing rapidly emerging HIV epidemics among people who inject drugs. Harm reduction refers to methods of reducing health risks when eliminating them may not be possible. This paper provides a comprehensive review of evidence on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of different harm reduction approaches. These include needle- syringe programmes, opioid substitution therapy (OST), and antiretroviral therapy (ART), when implemented in different settings. Importantly, alongside considering the potential benefits of each approach separately, it makes the case that combination  prevention strategies are synergistic, and may achieve multiple impacts. Sadly still however, the coverage of harm reduction remains very low across the world. An estimated 90% of people who inject drugs worldwide are not accessing needle-syringe programmes, despite this being a highly effective and cost-effective programme. Along with the need for a greater investment in harm reduction, there are socio-political and legislative reasons for poor coverage of harm reduction. This cannot be improved without first addressing the stigma, discrimination and intolerance that restricts the expansion of harm reduction programmes in many settings. Addressing these barriers remains of paramount importance for facilitating effective harm reduction programmes. Encouragingly however, high OST coverage has been reported in Iran, Czech Republic and western Europe, and several countries in Asia and the Middle East have begun to scale-up their programmes. China has recently had the largest OST scale-up programme in the world. Uptake of ART by people living with HIV who inject drugs illustrates the largest disparities with what is required or deemed to be appropriate access. Only 14% of people living with HIV who inject drugs globally, have access to ART, with the largest gaps in ART provision in eastern Europe and central Asia. The further expansion of harm reduction is urgently needed, both to meet WHO targets, and to achieve the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target.

Asia, Europe, Oceania
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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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People who inject drugs and the effects of stigma on HIV treatment

A tale of two cities: Stigma and health outcomes among people with HIV who inject drugs in St. Petersburg, Russia and Kohtla-Jarve, Estonia.

Burke SE, Calabrese SK, Dovidio JF, Levina OS, Uuskula A, Niccolai LM, Abel-Ollo K, Heimer R. Soc Sci Med. 2015 Feb 16;130C:154-161. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.02.018. [Epub ahead of print]

Experiences of stigma are often associated with negative mental and physical health outcomes. The present work tested the associations between stigma and health-related outcomes among people with HIV who inject drugs in Kohtla-Jarve, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia. These two cities share some of the highest rates of HIV outside of sub-Saharan Africa, largely driven by injection drug use, but Estonia has implemented harm reduction services more comprehensively. People who inject drugs were recruited using respondent-driven sampling; those who indicated being HIV-positive were included in the present sample (n = 381 in St. Petersburg; n = 288 in Kohtla-Jarve). Participants reported their health information and completed measures of internalized HIV stigma, anticipated HIV stigma, internalized drug stigma, and anticipated drug stigma. Participants in both locations indicated similarly high levels of all four forms of stigma. However, stigma variables were more strongly associated with health outcomes in Russia than in Estonia. The St. Petersburg results were consistent with prior work linking stigma and health. Lower barriers to care in Kohtla-Jarve may help explain why social stigma was not closely tied to negative health outcomes there. Implications for interventions and health policy are discussed.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: This study provides extremely important evidence on the impact of anticipated and felt stigma in relation to HIV and drug use on health outcomes among people who inject drugs in the context of high prevalence of HIV. People who inject drugs in both Russia and Estonia are highly marginalised. Previous studies indicate prevalence to be as high as 90% in Kohtla-Järve and incidence of five per 100 person-years in St Petersburg. Despite their close geographical proximity the two cities are framed by very different social and structural policies that enable and disable the provision of HIV prevention programmes to people who inject drugs. In Estonia, the provision of needle–syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapy is widespread and supported by the government. In Russia the limited harm reduction programmes are provided by non-governmental organisations with little or no support from government. Ambiguous drug policies often prohibit the use of needle –syringe programmes on the grounds they promote drug use. Opioid substitution therapy (OST) is not prescribed and people who inject drugs are viewed as potential criminals by police. People who inject drugs are frequently put under surveillance through a mandatory registration system by police and drug treatment (narcology) clinics. High levels of both internalised and anticipated stigma in relation to HIV and drug use were found in both sites. In Estonia this was not associated with poorer HIV outcomes including access to HIV care, CD4 count or self-reported HIV symptoms. Conversely in St Petersburg, internalised stigma associated with drug use was associated with lower CD4 count, reduced access to HIV care and increased HIV symptoms. This underscores the effectiveness of low-threshold HIV prevention and treatment services for people who inject drugs in the treatment of HIV, despite the existence of other social and cultural norms that stigmatise HIV and drug use. This study demonstrates the effect of stigma on HIV outcomes. However, further research is needed to understand the mechanisms through which stigma interplays with other social and structural factors, such as migration, poverty and criminalisation, to impact on health outcomes among people who inject drugs.

The study has clear policy implications. They include the need for structural interventions such as increased government support for harm reduction. These are necessary to prevent the reproduction of HIV and drug-use related stigma and its harmful impacts. Shorter-term programmes are required in Russia, including the urgent scale up of harm reduction activities and HIV treatment and care for people who inject drugs as well as the provision of inter-personal support to assist people who inject drugs in facing stigma within health services. 

Europe
Estonia, Russian Federation
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Increasing transmitted resistance to antiretroviral therapy in low/middle-income countries - highest prevalence in MSM

Global burden of transmitted HIV drug resistance and HIV-exposure categories: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Pham QD, Wilson DP, Law MG, Kelleher AD, Zhang L. AIDS. 2014 Nov 28;28(18):2751-62. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000000494.

Objectives: Our aim was to review the global disparities of transmitted HIV drug resistance (TDR) in antiretroviral-naive MSM, people who inject drugs (PWID) and heterosexual populations in both high-income and low/middle-income countries.

Design/methods: We undertook a systematic review of the peer-reviewed English literature on TDR (1999-2013). Random-effects meta-analyses were performed to pool TDR prevalence and compare the odds of TDR across at-risk groups.

Results: A total of 212 studies were included in this review. Areas with greatest TDR prevalence were North America (MSM: 13.7%, PWID: 9.1%, heterosexuals: 10.5%); followed by western Europe (MSM: 11.0%, PWID: 5.7%, heterosexuals: 6.9%) and South America (MSM: 8.3%, PWID: 13.5%, heterosexuals: 7.5%). Our data indicated disproportionately high TDR burdens in MSM in Oceania (Australia 15.5%), eastern Europe/central Asia (10.2%) and east Asia (7.8%). TDR epidemics have stabilized in high-income countries, with a higher prevalence (range 10.9-12.6%) in MSM than in PWID (5.2-8.3%) and heterosexuals (6.4-9.0%) over 1999-2013. In low/middle-income countries, TDR prevalence in all at-risk groups in 2009-2013 almost doubled than that in 2004-2008 (MSM: 7.8 vs. 4.2%, P = 0.011; heterosexuals: 4.1 vs. 2.6%, P < 0.001; PWID: 4.8 vs. 2.4%, P = 0.265, respectively). The risk of TDR infection was significantly greater in MSM than that in heterosexuals and PWID. We observed increasing trends of resistance to non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase and protease inhibitors among MSM.

Conclusion: TDR prevalence is stabilizing in high-income countries, but increasing in low/middle-income countries. This is likely due to the low, but increasing, coverage of antiretroviral therapy in these settings. Transmission of TDR is most prevalent among MSM worldwide.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: HIV mutates very rapidly, and many early antiretroviral agents had a low genetic barrier to the development of resistance. Thus the emergence of virus resistant to antiretroviral agents, particularly to early drug classes, was inevitable. Surveillance for drug-resistant virus among people with no prior history of taking antiretroviral drugs (transmitted drug resistance) is essential to monitor the spread of drug resistance at population level.

This systematic review aimed to compare transmitted drug resistance in different geographical regions and between subpopulations of HIV-positive people by likely route of transmission. Transmitted resistance was most prevalent in high income settings. This is not surprising given wide use of suboptimal drug regimens before effective triple therapy was available. Reassuringly, the prevalence of transmitted resistance seems to have stabilised in high-income settings. The increase in transmitted resistance in low and middle income countries is of more concern. It is not surprising, given that first-line regimens comprising two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors and a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor are vulnerable to the development of resistance if the drug supply is interrupted or adherence is suboptimal. In addition, if viral load monitoring is not available, people remain on failing drug regimens for longer, and thus have more risk of transmitting resistant virus.

Within the subpopulations examined in this review, transmitted resistance was consistently higher in men who have sex with men, suggesting that resistance testing prior to treatment is particularly valuable for this population.

Limitations of the review include exclusion of studies that did not compare transmitted resistance between the specified subpopulations, and small sample size in many subgroups.

Continued surveillance for transmitted drug resistance is critical. This is most important in settings where individualised resistance testing is not available. This will ensure that people starting antiretroviral therapy receive treatment that will suppress their viral load effectively. Wider use of viral load monitoring, combined with access to effective second and third line regimens, will also help limit spread of drug resistance.

HIV Treatment
Angola, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Benin, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Latvia, Malawi, Malaysia, Moldova, Mozambique, Netherlands, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Uganda, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Viet Nam, Zambia, Zimbabwe
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