Articles tagged as "India"

Technology for tuberculosis, but why can’t we simply prevent it with proven tools that save lives?

Editor’s notes: Advances in diagnostic test technology have transformed the management of HIV and related infections.  For HIV, we have seen the introduction of self-administered test kits as well as new approaches to HIV viral load testing and nucleic acid based infant diagnosis.  Cryptococcal antigen screening can make prophylaxis and treatment more focused and potentially cost-effective.  For tuberculosis the biggest revolution has been the widespread introduction of the geneXpert® system.  The newest version, the Xpert® Ultra, is more sensitive than the original cartridge and is now being scaled up in countries including South Africa.  Agizew and colleagues conducted a study in Botswana to compare how the Xpert® MTB/RIF cartridge performed when used in centralized or peripheral health facilities.  Encouragingly there were few differences between the two levels, suggesting that the systems can be used close to the point of care.  However, the authors did note a surprisingly high level of unsuccessful tests (15%) both at the central lab and at the peripheral clinic.  Many of these test failures seem to have been because the sample was not processed correctly, and so should be amenable to better training for the health care workers performing the test.  The yield of testing varied greatly between the 13 sites. Between 1% and 23% of samples were positive for tuberculosis, with an average of 14%.  This may be because some sites were receiving specialized referrals.  Of the 447 positive samples, 8% were shown to be rifampicin resistant.  This figure is hard to interpret without more detail of the sample of patients in whom the test was performed.  Resistance is always higher among those who have been treated previously and may be higher in those referred to specialized centres.  Nonetheless, it demonstrates that there are a significant number of people with tuberculosis in Botswana who are very likely to have multi-drug resistant disease and need effective second line treatment.  Technology comes with a price tag.  In this study, the team bought test kits for $18 each, which makes it an expensive choice.  However, if it leads to prompt treatment of multi-drug resistant disease and more accurate diagnosis of tuberculosis, including among those living with HIV, this might still be cost-effective.

A small implementation research study from a single provincial referral centre in Zambia also examined the use and results of geneXpert® screening.  Masenga and colleagues found that 6.6% of 2374 samples tested by geneXpert® over the course of a year were positive for tuberculosis.  An additional 1301 samples were tested by sputum microscopy.  Their results suggest that geneXpert® was used mainly on people who were living with HIV, given that more than 90% of the positive samples came from people living with HIV.  5.9% of the 152 positive samples that were tested in the system were resistant to rifampicin, with no difference by gender.  This study leaves many questions unanswered, such as the sampling strategy, the history of previous treatment and the outcomes of the diagnosis in terms of treatment regimen and success.  However, it shines a light on the ways that new technology is now routine in some settings.  We need more research from diverse settings to paint the full picture of implementation outside traditional research centres.

Zenner and colleagues revisit the question of the risks and benefits of treatment for latent tuberculosis infection.  In a systematic review and network meta-analysis, they demonstrate once more that we have several effective ways to prevent tuberculosis among people living with HIV and that the harms are much smaller than the risks.  The question remains why we have failed so badly to scale up preventive therapy for tuberculosis alongside the success in scale up of antiretrovirals.

 

Peripheral clinic versus centralized laboratory-based XPERT® MTB/RIF performance: experience gained from a pragmatic, stepped-wedge trial in Botswana

Agizew T, Boyd R, Ndwapi N, Auld A, Basotli J, Nyirenda S, Tedla Z, Mathoma A, Mathebula U, Lesedi C, Pals S, Date A, Alexander H, Kuebrich T, Finlay A. PLoS One. 2017 Aug 17;12(8):e0183237. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0183237. eCollection 2017.

Background: In 2011, the Botswana National Tuberculosis Program adopted World Health Organization guidelines and introduced Xpert® MTB/RIF (Xpert®) assay to support intensified case finding among people living with HIV enrolling in care. An evaluation was designed to assess performance under operational conditions to inform the national Xpert® scale-up.

Methods: Xpert® was implemented from August 2012 through November 2014 with 13 GeneXpert® instruments (GeneXpert®) deployed in a phased approach over nine months: nine centralized laboratory and four point-of-care (POC) peripheral clinics. Clinicians and laboratorians were trained on the four-symptom tuberculosis screening algorithm and Xpert® testing. We documented our experience with staff training and GeneXpert® performance. Test results were extracted from GeneXpert® software; unsuccessful tests were analysed in relation to testing sites and trends over time.

Results: During 276 instrument-months of operation a total of 3630 tests were performed, of which 3102 (85%) were successful with interpretable results. Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex was detected for 447 (14%); of these, 36 (8%) were rifampicin resistant. Of all 3630 Xpert® tests, 528 (15%) were unsuccessful; of these 361 (68%) were classified as "error", 119 (23%) as "invalid" and 48 (9%) as "no result". The total number of recorded error codes was 385 and the most common reasons were related to sample processing (211; 55%) followed by power supply (77; 20%) and cartridge/module related (54; 14%). Cumulative incidence of unsuccessful test was similar between POC (17%, 95% CI: 11-25%) and centralized laboratory-based GeneXpert® instruments (14%, 95% CI: 11-17%; p = 0.140).

Conclusions: Xpert® introduction was successful in the Botswana setting. The incidence of unsuccessful test was similar by GeneXpert® location (POC vs. centralized laboratory). However, unsuccessful test incidence (15%) in our settings was higher than previously reported and was mostly related to improper sample processing. Ensuring adequate training among Xpert® testing staff is essential to minimize errors.

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Rifampicin resistance in mycobacterium tuberculosis patients using GeneXpert® at Livingstone Central Hospital for the year 2015: a cross sectional explorative study

Masenga SK, Mubila H, Hamooya BM. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 Sep 22;17(1):640. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2750-9

Background: Since the recent introduction of GeneXpert® for the detection of Tuberculosis (TB) drug resistance mutations in both primary resistance and acquired resistance in Zambia, little has been documented in literature on the issue of rifampicin resistance especially in the face of a high National TB burden. The study aimed to determine the prevalence of rifampicin resistance in tuberculosis patients at Livingstone Central Hospital for the year 2015.

Methods: This was a cross sectional study conducted at Livingstone Central Hospital where we reviewed 152 records (from January 1, 2015 to 31st December 2015) involving patients who presented with clinically suspected TB or documented TB, whose samples were sent to the laboratory for GeneXpert® Mycobacterium tuberculosis/rifampicin testing. Statistical evaluations used a one-sample test of proportion and Fisher's exact test.

Results: The age of participants ranged from 8 months to 73 years old (median = 34). Of the participants with complete data on gender, 99 (66%) and 52 (34%) were males and females respectively. The TB co-infection with HIV prevalence was 98.3% (p < 0.001). Prevalence of rifampicin resistance was 5.9% and there was no statistical significant difference between being male or female (p = 0.721).

Conclusion: We were able to show from our study, evidence of rifampicin resistance at Livingstone Central Hospital. Hence, there was need for further in-depth research and appropriate interventions (i.e. close follow-up and patient care for drug resistance positive patients).

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Treatment of latent tuberculosis infection: an updated network meta-analysis

Zenner D, Beer N, Harris RJ, Lipman MC, Stagg HR, van der Werf MJ.  Ann Intern Med. 2017 Aug 15;167(4):248-255. doi: 10.7326/M17-0609. Epub 2017 Aug 1.

Background: Treatment of latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI) is an important component of tuberculosis (TB) control, and this study updates a previous network meta-analysis of the best LTBI treatment options to inform public health action and programmatic management of LTBI.

Purpose: To evaluate the comparative efficacy and harms of LTBI treatment regimens aimed at preventing active TB among adults and children.

Data sources: PubMed, Embase, and Web of Science from indexing to 8 May 2017; clinical trial registries; and conference abstracts. No language restrictions were applied.

Study selection: Randomized controlled trials that evaluated human LTBI treatments and recorded at least 1 of 2 prespecified end points (hepatotoxicity and prevention of active TB).

Data extraction: 2 investigators independently extracted data from eligible studies and assessed study quality according to a standard protocol.

Data synthesis: The network meta-analysis of 8 new and 53 previously included studies showed that isoniazid regimens of 6 months (odds ratio [OR], 0.65 [95% credible interval {CrI}, 0.50 to 0.83]) or 12 to 72 months (OR, 0.50 [CrI, 0.41 to 0.62]), rifampicin-only regimens (OR, 0.41 [CrI, 0.19 to 0.85]), rifampicin-isoniazid regimens of 3 to 4 months (OR, 0.53 [CrI, 0.36 to 0.78]), rifampicin-isoniazid-pyrazinamide regimens (OR, 0.35 [CrI, 0.19 to 0.61]), and rifampicin-pyrazinamide regimens (OR, 0.53 [CrI, 0.33 to 0.84]) were efficacious compared with placebo. Evidence existed for efficacy of weekly rifapentine-isoniazid regimens compared with no treatment (OR, 0.36 [CrI, 0.18 to 0.73]). No conclusive evidence showed that HIV status altered treatment efficacy.

Limitation: Evidence was sparse for many comparisons and hepatotoxicity outcomes, and risk of bias was high or unknown for many studies.

Conclusion: Evidence exists for the efficacy and safety of 6-month isoniazid monotherapy, rifampicin monotherapy, and combination therapies with 3 to 4 months of isoniazid and rifampicin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case for investing in the male condom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

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

Editor’s notes: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) signal a major shift in the way that the United Nations and her development partners aim to shape the next decades.  Whereas the Millennium Development Goals reinforced specific programmes for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, the SDGs call for a more integrated approach to health and well-being and encourage integration and synergy wherever it makes sense.  Hepatitis is one obvious area in which better collaboration and coordination could yield benefits.  Hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV) viruses are both more common in some of the populations most affected by HIV.  HCV can now be cured with drugs that derive directly from the HIV portfolio, while some ARVs have a direct effect on HBV.

Rwanda is one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to set up a control programme for viral hepatitis, building on the infrastructure established for HIV. Umutesi and colleagues report on results of screening almost 120 000 people living with HIV who entered care for markers of HBV and HCV.  Around 5000 people (4.3%) were identified with a positive Hepatitis B surface antigen and a similar number (4.6%) were found to have antibodies against HCV.  There was marked variation geographically with a range by district from 2%-11% for HBV, higher in more urban areas and in men.  For HCV the range was from 3%-8% and was higher in more rural areas, and also in men.  This study provides a good platform to estimate numbers of people who might need treatment and to plan the next steps in an integrated programme.

People who inject drugs are particularly severely affected by HCV, and so co-infection with both HIV and HCV is common in areas where both viruses circulate.  Some estimates from Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam suggest that more than 40% of people who inject drugs are living with HIV and that essentially all of these people are also co-infected with HCV.  Birger R and colleagues developed a mathematical model to explore the likely impact of interventions aimed at HIV, HCV or broad harm reduction [with methadone maintenance treatment (MMT)] on future mortality and incidence of both infections.  While ART scale up reduces HIV incidence and mortality, it has no effect on HCV.  MMT is effective at reducing incidence of both HIV and HCV (and has morbidity and mortality benefits beyond these viruses).  However, MMT does not help the many people already living with HCV and so has little effect on HCV related mortality. So the model is clear that treatment for HCV needs to be an important part of a combined programme and that we urgently need to find ways to reduce the price of directly acting antivirals if we are to save more Vietnamese lives.

Haldane and colleagues have also focused on this intersection between HIV and substance use services.  They carried out a systematic review to understand the models and implications of integration of service delivery.  The authors expand their typology of integration models considering the point of entry of the client, and the degree to which services are co-located and delivered.  Integration can be considered as “clinical”, “service” or “systems”.  The first two can operate at the micro or meso level meaning that individual staff can deal with both situations, or that staff are trained to provide appropriate referrals.  Systems level integration operates at a macro level and implies that programmes for each service make collaborations and coordinate in ways that may affect staffing, funding and fragmentation of services. Although there are theoretical advantages to coordination and integration (as shown by the mathematical model above), there are few good empirical studies of integrated service delivery reported outside the USA.  The authors considered that most of the intervention studies had a risk of bias in the interpretation of their impact, although all demonstrated positive changes in outcomes.  Furthermore, almost all the studies focussed on integration at the clinic or individual provider level (meso or micro) rather than addressing the larger systemic challenges that we need to consider.  If we are to achieve the ideals laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals, we will need to overcome some of these systemic challenges, particularly for populations that are criminalized and marginalized by many of the public services.

Prevalence of hepatitis B and C infection in persons living with HIV enrolled in care in Rwanda.

Umutesi J, Simmons B, Makuza JD, Dushimiyimana D, Mbituyumuremyi A, Uwimana JM, Ford N, Mills EJ, Nsanzimana S. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 May 2;17(1):315. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2422-9.

Background: Hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV) are important causes of morbidity and mortality in people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The burden of these co-infections in sub-Saharan Africa is still unclear. We estimated the prevalence of the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and hepatitis C antibody (HCVAb) among HIV-infected individuals in Rwanda and identified factors associated with infection.

Methods: Between January 2016 and June 2016, we performed systematic screening for HBsAg and HCVAb among HIV-positive individuals enrolled at public and private HIV facilities across Rwanda. Results were analyzed to determine marker prevalence and variability by demographic factors.

Results: Overall, among 117 258 individuals tested, the prevalence of HBsAg and HCVAb was 4.3% (95% confidence interval [CI] (4.2-4.4) and 4.6% (95% CI 4.5-4.7) respectively; 182 (0.2%) HIV+ individuals were co-infected with HBsAg and HCVAb. Prevalence was higher in males (HBsAg, 5.4% [5.1-5.6] vs. 3.7% [3.5-3.8]; HCVAb, 5.0% [4.8-5.2] vs. 4.4% [4.3-4.6]) and increased with age; HCVAb prevalence was significantly higher in people aged ≥65 years (17.8% [16.4-19.2]). Prevalence varied geographically.

Conclusion: HBV and HCV co-infections are common among HIV-infected individuals in Rwanda. It is important that viral hepatitis prevention and treatment activities are scaled-up to control further transmission and reduce the burden in this population. Particular efforts should be made to conduct targeted screening of males and the older population. Further assessment is required to determine rates of HBV and HCV chronicity among HIV-infected individuals and identify effective strategies to link individuals to care and treatment.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

The impact of HCV therapy in a high HIV-HCV prevalence population: A modeling study on people who inject drugs in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Birger RB, Le T, Kouyos RD, Grenfell BT, Hallett TB. PLoS One. 2017 May 11;12(5):e0177195. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177195. eCollection 2017.

Background: Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) coinfection is a major global health problem especially among people who inject drugs (PWID), with significant clinical implications. Mathematical models have been used to great effect to shape HIV care, but few have been proposed for HIV/HCV.

Methods: We constructed a deterministic compartmental ODE model that incorporated layers for HIV disease progression, HCV disease progression and PWID demography. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) and Methadone Maintenance Therapy (MMT) scale-ups were modeled as from 2016 and projected forward 10 years. HCV treatment roll-out was modeled beginning in 2026, after a variety of MMT scale-up scenarios, and projected forward 10 years.

Results: Our results indicate that scale-up of ART has a major impact on HIV though not on HCV burden. MMT scale-up has an impact on incidence of both infections. HCV treatment roll-out has a measurable impact on reductions of deaths, increasing multifold the mortality reductions afforded by just ART/MMT scale-ups.

Conclusion: HCV treatment roll-out can have major and long-lasting effects on averting PWID deaths on top of those averted by ART/MMT scale-up. Efficient intervention scale-up of HCV alongside HIV interventions is critical in Vietnam.

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Integrating HIV and substance use services: a systematic review

Haldane V, Cervero-Liceras F, Chuah FL, Ong SE, Murphy G, Sigfrid L, Watt N, Balabanova D, Hogarth S, Maimaris W, Buse K, Piot P, McKee M, Perel P, Legido-Quigley H. Journal of the International AIDS Society. 2017 May 30;20(1).http://dx.doi.org/10.7448/IAS.20.1.21585.

Introduction: Substance use is an important risk factor for HIV, with both concentrated in certain vulnerable and marginalized populations. Although their management differs, there may be opportunities to integrate services for substance use and HIV. In this paper we systematically review evidence from studies that sought to integrate care for people living with HIV and substance use problems.

Methods: Studies were included if they evaluated service integration for substance use and HIV. We searched multiple databases from inception until October 2015. Articles were screened independently by two reviewers and assessed for risk of bias.

Results and discussion: 11 057 records were identified, with 7616 after removal of duplicates. After screening titles and abstracts, 51 met the inclusion criteria. Integration models were categorized by location (HIV, substance use and other facilities), level of integration from micro (integrated care delivered to individuals) to macro (system level integrations) and degree of integration from least (screening and counselling only) to most (care for HIV, substance use and/or other illnesses at the same facility). Most reported descriptive or cohort studies; in four randomized control trials integrated activities improved patient outcomes. There is potential for integrating services at all facility types, including mobile health services. While services offering screening only can achieve synergies, there are benefits from delivering integrated treatment for HIV and substance use, including ease of referral to other mental health and social services.

Conclusions: Our review used a wide range of databases and conference archives to increase representation of papers from low- and middle-income countries. Limitations include the overrepresentation of studies from the United States, and the descriptive nature of the majority of papers. The evidence reviewed shows that greater integration offers important benefits in both patient and service outcomes but further research and outcome reporting is needed to better understand innovative and holistic care models at the complex intersection of substance use and HIV services.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America
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Short and sweet? Do study participants prefer shorter or longer consent forms? Do they understand the contents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract Full-text [free] access 

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Improving programmes: a thematic synthesis of qualitative studies of treatment adherence programmes

Barriers and facilitators of interventions for improving antiretroviral therapy adherence: a systematic review of global qualitative evidence.

Ma Q, Tso LS, Rich ZC, Hall BJ, Beanland R, Li H, Lackey M, Hu F, Cai W, Doherty M, Tucker JD. J Int AIDS Soc. 2016 Oct 17;19(1):21166. doi: 10.7448/IAS.19.1.21166. eCollection 2016.

Introduction: Qualitative research on antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence interventions can provide a deeper understanding of intervention facilitators and barriers. This systematic review aims to synthesize qualitative evidence of interventions for improving ART adherence and to inform patient-centred policymaking.

Methods: We searched 19 databases to identify studies presenting primary qualitative data on the experiences, attitudes and acceptability of interventions to improve ART adherence among PLHIV and treatment providers. We used thematic synthesis to synthesize qualitative evidence and the CERQual (Confidence in the Evidence from Reviews of Qualitative Research) approach to assess the confidence of review findings.

Results: Of 2982 references identified, a total of 31 studies from 17 countries were included. Twelve studies were conducted in high-income countries, 13 in middle-income countries and six in low-income countries. Study populations focused on adults living with HIV (21 studies, n=1025), children living with HIV (two studies, n=46), adolescents living with HIV (four studies, n=70) and pregnant women living with HIV (one study, n=79). Twenty-three studies examined PLHIV perspectives and 13 studies examined healthcare provider perspectives. We identified six themes related to types of interventions, including task shifting, education, mobile phone text messaging, directly observed therapy, medical professional outreach and complex interventions. We also identified five cross-cutting themes, including strengthening social relationships, ensuring confidentiality, empowerment of PLHIV, compensation and integrating religious beliefs into interventions. Our qualitative evidence suggests that strengthening PLHIV social relationships, PLHIV empowerment and developing culturally appropriate interventions may facilitate adherence interventions. Our study indicates that potential barriers are inadequate training and compensation for lay health workers and inadvertent disclosure of serostatus by participating in the intervention.

Conclusions: Our study evaluated adherence interventions based on qualitative data from PLHIV and health providers. The study underlines the importance of incorporating social and cultural factors into the design and implementation of interventions. Further qualitative research is needed to evaluate ART adherence interventions.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: This is a review of studies using qualitative methods to explore the experiences of people living with HIV and healthcare providers involved in programmes to support antiretroviral treatment adherence. The thematic synthesis is presented in two ways. First, the reviewed studies are categorised by types of adherence programmes, such as task shifting, education, or directly observed therapy. Secondly, the authors present themes that are common across all reviewed studies. These include: the benefits and challenges of employing lay healthcare workers; the need to maintain confidentiality in adherence programmes; the benefits of supporting empowerment and social relationships for people living with HIV; and the need for culturally appropriate information and practice. Overall the review illustrates that adherence programmes can have more impact if they address confidentiality, strengthen social ties among people living with HIV and their communities; provide adequate compensation and training for lay healthcare workers; and sensitively reflect local social, cultural and religious norms and beliefs. 

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High mortality persists among people presenting with advanced HIV disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

Africa, Asia, Latin America
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Mental health as a barrier to HIV testing and care

Pathways to HIV testing and care in Goa, India: exploring psychosocial barriers and facilitators using mixed methods.

Mayston R, Lazarus A, Patel V, Abas M, Korgaonkar P, Paranjape R, Rodrigues S, Prince M. BMC Public Health. 2016 Aug 11;16(1):765. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-3456-4.

Background: Despite recognition of the importance of timely presentation to HIV care, research on pathways to care is lacking. The adverse impact of depression upon adherence to antiretroviral therapy is established. There is emerging evidence to suggest depression may inhibit initial engagement with care. However, the effect of depression and other psychosocial factors upon the pathway to care is unknown.

Methods: We used mixed methods to explore pathways to care of people accessing testing and treatment in Goa, India. Questionnaires including measures of common mental disorder, hazardous alcohol use, cognition and assessment of pathways to care (motivations for testing, time since they were first aware of this reason for testing, whether they had been advised to test, who had given this advice, time elapsed since this advice was given) were administered to 1934 participants at the time of HIV testing. Qualitative interviews were carried out with 15 study participants who attended the antiretroviral therapy treatment centre. Interview topic guides were designed to elicit responses that discussed barriers and facilitators of accessing testing and care.

Results: Pathways were often long and complex. Quantitative findings revealed that Common Mental Disorder was associated with delayed testing when advised by a Doctor (the most common pathway to testing) (AOR = 6.18, 2.16-17.70). Qualitative results showed that triggers for testing (symptoms believed to be due to HIV, and for women, illness or death of their husband) suggested that poor health, rather than awareness of risk was a key stimulus for testing. The period immediately before and after diagnosis was characterised by distress and fear. Stigma was a prominent backdrop to narratives. However, once participants had made contact with care and support (HIV services and non-governmental organisations), these systems were often effective in alleviating fear and promoting confidence in treatment and self-efficacy.

Conclusion: The effectiveness of formal and informal systems of support around the time of diagnosis in supporting people with mental disorder is unclear. Ways of enhancing these systems should be explored, with the aim of achieving timely presentation at HIV care for all those diagnosed with the disease.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Late presentation to HIV care is associated with poorer outcomes for individuals living with HIV (increased risk of morbidity and death) and for treatment programmes (increased costs). The focus of this mixed methods study was to improve understanding of the impact of common mental disorders, hazardous alcohol use and cognitive impairment on accessing HIV testing and care in India. Although the investigators report that common mental disorders increased the possibility of delayed testing, internalised stigma and fear of discrimination was a common theme in the qualitative narratives. Stigma is associated with poorer mental health, including emotional distress, depression and reduced psychological functioning. It has also been linked to intermediate health outcomes such as seeking healthcare and adherence to antiretroviral therapy. These results reinforce the need to develop and evaluate programmes to address HIV-associated stigma so that people living with HIV can access care and benefit from treatment. However, development of appropriate programmes requires a better understanding of the complexities of HIV-associated stigma. These include the relationship between stigma, depression and social support and the intersection of HIV-associated stigma and other types of stigma experienced by people living with HIV, such as homophobia and gender discrimination.

Asia
India
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Challenges in assessing quality in HIV outpatient care

Structure and quality of outpatient care for people living with an HIV infection.

Engelhard EA, Smit C, Nieuwkerk PT, Reiss P, Kroon FP, Brinkman K, Geerlings SE. AIDS Care. 2016 Aug;28(8):1062-72. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2016.1153590. Epub 2016 Mar 13.

Policy-makers and clinicians are faced with a gap of evidence to guide policy on standards for HIV outpatient care. Ongoing debates include which settings of care improve health outcomes, and how many HIV-infected patients a health-care provider should treat to gain and maintain expertise. In this article, we evaluate the studies that link health-care facility and care provider characteristics (i.e., structural factors) to health outcomes in HIV-infected patients. We searched the electronic databases MEDLINE, PUBMED, and EMBASE from inception until 1 January 2015. We included a total of 28 observational studies that were conducted after the introduction of combination antiretroviral therapy in 1996. Three aspects of the available research linking the structure to quality of HIV outpatient care were evaluated: (1) assessed structural characteristics (i.e., health-care facility and care provider characteristics); (2) measures of quality of HIV outpatient care; and (3) reported associations between structural characteristics and quality of care. Rather than scarcity of data, it is the diversity in methodology in the identified studies and the inconsistency of their results that led us to the conclusion that the scientific evidence is too weak to guide policy in HIV outpatient care. We provide recommendations on how to address this heterogeneity in future studies and offer specific suggestions for further reading that could be of interest for clinicians and researchers.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: The availability of antiretroviral therapy has resulted in remarkable decreases in HIV-associated mortality.  Complexity in the management of HIV infection has however grown along with these advances in treatment. Health-care providers are confronted with challenges associated with antiretroviral therapy including toxicities; drug-drug interactions and drug resistance; and comorbidities and aging among the population living with HIV. In order to achieve optimal health outcomes, care for people living with HIV should be provided at health-care facilities and by care providers with sufficient expertise. A variety of different delivery models have been attempted to achieve this. There are a growing number of studies assessing care delivery models and programmes in outpatient HIV care.  In this article the authors provide an overview of the scientific literature linking health-care facility and care provider characteristics to the quality of HIV outpatient care.

The authors conducted a systematic review of articles that reported an original observational research study with an adult population living with HIV, were conducted after 1996, and that did not focus exclusively on interventions.

The authors acknowledge the limitations of their research. These included a disproportionate number of studies based in the USA and sub-Saharan Africa (thus limited generalisability); diversity in the definition of structural variables; a wide scope of measures of quality of care used in studies; and limited inclusion of peoples’ healthcare experiences. The authors summarise two main implications of their research.  First, they note that their findings suggest that health-care provider experience improves outcomes among people living with HIV although they are unable to make recommendations regarding facility volume requirements for outpatient care. Second, they advocate for the need for research to extend to regions outside the USA and sub-Saharan Africa.  They also note the need for researchers to align their methods of measuring quality including by going beyond HIV-associated morbidity in the evaluation of health outcomes.  Peoples’ preferences and retention in care should also play an important role in the evaluation of the quality of care.

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Antiretroviral therapy dramatically reduces transmission of HIV to sexual partners

Antiretroviral therapy for the prevention of HIV-1 transmission.

Cohen MS, Chen YQ, McCauley M, Gamble T, Hosseinipour MC, Kumarasamy N, Hakim JG, Kumwenda J, Grinsztejn B, Pilotto JH, Godbole SV, Chariyalertsak S, Santos BR, Mayer KH, Hoffman IF, Eshleman SH, Piwowar-Manning E, Cottle L, Zhang XC, Makhema J, Mills LA, Panchia R, Faesen S, Eron J, Gallant J, Havlir D, Swindells S, Elharrar V, Burns D, Taha TE, Nielsen-Saines K, Celentano DD, Essex M, Hudelson SE, Redd AD, Fleming TR. N Engl J Med. 2016 Jul 18. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: An interim analysis of data from the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 052 trial showed that antiretroviral therapy (ART) prevented more than 96% of genetically linked infections caused by human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) in serodiscordant couples. ART was then offered to all patients with HIV-1 infection (index participants). The study included more than 5 years of follow-up to assess the durability of such therapy for the prevention of HIV-1 transmission.

Methods: We randomly assigned 1763 index participants to receive either early or delayed ART. In the early-ART group, 886 participants started therapy at enrollment (CD4+ count, 350 to 550 cells per cubic millimeter). In the delayed-ART group, 877 participants started therapy after two consecutive CD4+ counts fell below 250 cells per cubic millimeter or if an illness indicative of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (i.e., an AIDS-defining illness) developed. The primary study end point was the diagnosis of genetically linked HIV-1 infection in the previously HIV-1-negative partner in an intention-to-treat analysis.

Results: Index participants were followed for 10,031 person-years; partners were followed for 8509 person-years. Among partners, 78 HIV-1 infections were observed during the trial (annual incidence, 0.9%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.7 to 1.1). Viral-linkage status was determined for 72 (92%) of the partner infections. Of these infections, 46 were linked (3 in the early-ART group and 43 in the delayed-ART group; incidence, 0.5%; 95% CI, 0.4 to 0.7) and 26 were unlinked (14 in the early-ART group and 12 in the delayed-ART group; incidence, 0.3%; 95% CI, 0.2 to 0.4). Early ART was associated with a 93% lower risk of linked partner infection than was delayed ART (hazard ratio, 0.07; 95% CI, 0.02 to 0.22). No linked infections were observed when HIV-1 infection was stably suppressed by ART in the index participant.

Conclusions: The early initiation of ART led to a sustained decrease in genetically linked HIV-1 infections in sexual partners. (Funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; HPTN 052 ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00074581.).

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Editor’s notes: The HPTN 052 trial has been a landmark study in establishing antiretroviral therapy as a strategy for preventing onward transmission of HIV. It was a study of more than 800 couples. More than half of the couples were in African countries. In each couple, one sexual partner was HIV positive and the other HIV negative.  The participants living with HIV were randomised either to receive immediate antiretroviral therapy or to delay until their CD4 count fell to 350, an approved approach at that time. The HIV negative partners were then monitored for acquisition of HIV.  When new HIV infections occurred, the virus was studied for genetic similarity to the virus of the known positive partner. The interim analysis was published in 2011.  It illustrated the programme to be so effective that the randomisation was ended and all the participants living with HIV were offered antiretroviral therapy. 

This article presents data after five years of follow-up, and if anything the results are even more remarkable. In more than 10 000 person-years of follow up, there were only eight transmissions of genetically linked virus from participants receiving antiretroviral therapy. Of these transmissions, four occurred early in treatment when the viral load would not be expected to be suppressed.  The other four occurred after treatment failure. In this enormous study, there were therefore no linked transmissions from participants who were stable on treatment without detectable viraemia. The study provides powerful support for the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target.  The widest possible effective use of antiretroviral therapy will not only improve the health of people treated but could have a dramatic effect on new HIV infections.

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