Articles tagged as "Lebanon"

Key populations need so much more than HIV-specific services – involve them at every stage of planning and programming

Editor’s notes: This month sees a welcome set of papers covering female sex workers in West Africa; gay men and other men who have sex with men in the Middle East and in East Africa; people who inject drugs in the USA and eastern Europe.

Sex work is legal in Cote d’Ivoire although soliciting and pandering are criminalized, which creates legal barriers to practicing sex work.  Legalization does not necessarily prevent widespread abuse of power. Lyons and colleagues recruited 466 female sex workers in Abidjan through a respondent driven sampling approach.  A structured interview and rapid HIV test was performed.  Around 11% of the women were found to be living with HIV and it is clear that there are large unmet needs for HIV-specific services.  Only one quarter of those living with HIV reported that they knew their status and of these, only a few were already taking ART.  However, the focus of this study was on violence, both physical and sexual, which was alarmingly common, with around 54% of women reporting physical violence and 43% sexual violence.  The violence was most often perpetrated by spouses and boyfriends as well as by paying customers.  Other sex workers, pimps or managers and uniformed officers were also responsible for violence, both physical and sexual.  16% of women said that they had been tortured.  Collecting reliable data on sensitive areas with vulnerable populations is challenging.  The sampling method may introduce biases, and the interviews may lead to reported behaviours to “please” the interviewer.  However, this study included major efforts to work with the community of sex workers and their networks, and considerable trust has been built, so the results seem credible.  The authors call for structural interventions and policy reforms that have little to do with HIV directly, but would lead to an environment where HIV and other harms were greatly reduced.  There is also a direct need to ensure that sex workers have good access to HIV and other sexual and reproductive health services.

People who inject drugs also have many needs besides HIV services.  In the USA, the number of people who inject drugs is increasing.  This has led to a rising number of deaths from opioid overdose (around 30 000 in 2014), as well as increased HIV transmission, which makes the headlines of the news, when it occurs in settings where HIV is otherwise rare.  Cost-effective HIV prevention programmes for people who inject drugs are essential to the long-term health outcomes for this population and other high-risk groups in the USA.  Bernard and colleagues used a mathematical model and economic analysis to identify the most cost-effective interventions for HIV prevention programmes for people who inject drugs in the USA.

The authors found that under many likely assumptions about potential scale up, the best buy was always to provide opioid agonist therapy, which reduces injecting frequency and results in multiple, immediate quality-of-life improvements.  Needle and syringe exchange programmes are less expensive, but in these models produced fewer benefits, making them the next most cost-effective intervention, alone or in combination. PrEP was not likely to be cost-effective in this population except in the very highest risk settings.  This is in line with the values and preference expressed by many people who use drugs around the world.  The priority should be for “standard” harm reduction approaches, which will reduce HIV transmission, but have far wider benefits on the health and well-being of drug users and their communities.

Relatively little research is carried out with key populations in the Middle East.  Heimer and colleagues also used respondent driven sampling (with the same potential biases as above) to recruit 292 men who have sex with men in Beirut.  Although one quarter of the participants had been born in Syria and moved recently to Lebanon, the sampling method does reduce the precision of this estimate.  Of 36 people living with HIV identified, 32 were on HIV treatment, which is encouraging.  If the 32 on treatment were virally suppressed, the prevalence of “infectious HIV” in the survey was around 1.4%.  As we move forward into the viral load era, notions of risk for sexual behaviour will change, and we need to think about explicit descriptions such as “condomless sex” rather than simply referring to “unprotected sex”.  As stated above, the benefits of condoms for other sexually transmitted infections as well as for HIV need to be emphasized and the full range of ARV-based prevention made available in order to minimize the epidemic of HIV among gay men and other men who have sex with men in Lebanon and beyond.

The dynamics of the HIV epidemic in Ukraine are shifting.  Increasingly sexual transmission is becoming more common, and transmission through injecting drug use reducing.  Fearnhill and colleagues’ study of phylogenetics and recent infections among 876 newly diagnosed people living with HIV in Kiev highlights these trends.  The study also demonstrates plenty of uncertainty and suggests that the stigma associated with both injecting drug use and with gay men and other men having sex with men may lead to significant under-reporting of both in traditional epidemiological surveillance.  Although phylogenetics cannot prove misclassification, it is highly suggestive when large clusters of HIV from known gay men and other men who have sex with men include no women, but do include other men, who self-report to be heterosexual.  Transmission was most common among gay men and other men who have sex with men, and from those with recent infections.  HIV strains from women often cluster with those from people who inject drugs.  In a complex and dynamic environment with overlapping risk factors for HIV infection, phylogenetics adds a useful lens through which to examine what is happening.  Yet again, the challenge is to translate more granular understanding of the epidemics into clear public health policy and practice.

What do men who have sex with men in Kenya think about participating in HIV prevention research, such as a vaccine trial?  Doshi and colleagues used a social network-based approach to conduct in-depth interviews with 70 gay men and other men who have sex with men.  Here is what some of them said:

“He [the potential study participant] keeps hearing there is a research [study] that is starting, that there is money – one thousand or two, three thousand – he will run for the money…because it is someone’s life you have to be sure of what is going on…. You run for the better option because research comes in every type and researchers are everywhere in town.”

“Ok, you know most of the research coming to Kenya starts with MSM. Those are the ones that are tested on first so if there are side effects, those will be the first victims”

“It will benefit many of us…on my side…because sometimes I’m drunk I go out and meet people and they tell me they do not use condom…or… I’m drunk, I don’t know myself and I have already come to the bed with someone. Even I don’t know what he will do to me, if he will do me with a condom or if he will do me without a condom. Now the [HIV] vaccine…will be beneficial to me and the whole community”

This is a rich paper, giving insights into the reasons that people do or do not want to participate in vaccine trials.  It raises plenty of ethical questions about the balance between self-interest, altruism, coercion and consent.  It is encouraging that on the whole most participants saw the potential benefits to the wider community and would consider volunteering their time despite the associated risks.  Their perceptions were also coloured by previous research studies and how researchers had met their responsibilities for the care and well-being of their participants.  A good advertisement for the UNAIDS-AVAC Good Participatory Practice guidance!

Physical and sexual violence affecting female sex workers in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire: prevalence, and the relationship with the work environment, HIV, and access to health services

Lyons CE, Grosso A, Drame FM, Ketende S, Diouf D, Ba I, Shannon K, Ezouatchi R, Bamba A, Kouame A, Baral S. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 May 1;75(1):9-17. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001310.

Background: Violence is a human rights violation, and an important measure in understanding HIV among female sex workers (FSW). However, limited data exist regarding correlates of violence among FSW in Côte d'Ivoire. Characterizing prevalence and determinants of violence and the relationship with structural risks for HIV can inform development and implementation of comprehensive HIV prevention and treatment programs.

Methods: FSW > 18 years were recruited through respondent driven sampling (RDS) in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. In total, 466 participants completed a socio-behavioral questionnaire and HIV testing. Prevalence estimates of violence were calculated using crude and RDS-adjusted estimates. Relationships between structural risk factors and violence were analyzed using χ2 tests and multivariable logistic regression.

Results: The prevalence of physical violence was 53.6% (250/466), and sexual violence was 43.2% (201/465) among FSW in this study. Police refusal of protection was associated with physical (adjusted Odds Ratio [aOR]: 2.8; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.7 to 4.4) and sexual violence (aOR: 3.0; 95% CI: 1.9 to 4.8). Blackmail was associated with physical (aOR: 2.5; 95% CI: 1.5 to 4.2) and sexual violence (aOR: 2.4; 95% CI: 1.5 to 4.0). Physical violence was associated with fear (aOR: 2.2; 95% CI: 1.3 to 3.1) and avoidance of seeking health services (aOR: 2.3; 95% CI: 1.5 to 3.8).

Conclusions: Violence is prevalent among FSW in Abidjan and associated with features of the work environment and access to care. These relationships highlight layers of rights violations affecting FSW, underscoring the need for structural interventions and policy reforms to improve work environments, and to address police harassment, stigma, and rights violations to reduce violence and improve access to HIV interventions.

Abstract

Estimation of the cost-effectiveness of HIV prevention portfolios for people who inject drugs in the United States: a model-based analysis

Bernard CL, Owens DK, Goldhaber-Fiebert JD, Brandeau ML. PLoS Med. 2017 May 24;14(5):e1002312 doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002312. eCollection 2017 May.

Background: The risks of HIV transmission associated with the opioid epidemic make cost-effective programs for people who inject drugs (PWID) a public health priority. Some of these programs have benefits beyond prevention of HIV-a critical consideration given that injection drug use is increasing across most United States demographic groups. To identify high-value HIV prevention program portfolios for US PWID, we consider combinations of four interventions with demonstrated efficacy: opioid agonist therapy (OAT), needle and syringe programs (NSPs), HIV testing and treatment (Test & Treat), and oral HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Methods and Findings: We adapted an empirically calibrated dynamic compartmental model and used it to assess the discounted costs (in 2015 US dollars), health outcomes (HIV infections averted, change in HIV prevalence, and discounted quality-adjusted life years [QALYs]), and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) of the four prevention programs, considered singly and in combination over a 20-y time horizon. We obtained epidemiologic, economic, and health utility parameter estimates from the literature, previously published models, and expert opinion. We estimate that expansions of OAT, NSPs, and Test & Treat implemented singly up to 50% coverage levels can be cost-effective relative to the next highest coverage level (low, medium, and high at 40%, 45%, and 50%, respectively) and that OAT, which we assume to have immediate and direct health benefits for the individual, has the potential to be the highest value investment, even under scenarios where it prevents fewer infections than other programs. Although a model-based analysis can provide only estimates of health outcomes, we project that, over 20 y, 50% coverage with OAT could avert up to 22 000 (95% CI: 5200, 46 000) infections and cost US$18 000 (95% CI: US$14 000, US$24 000) per QALY gained, 50% NSP coverage could avert up to 35 000 (95% CI: 8900, 43 000) infections and cost US$25 000 (95% CI: US$7000, US$76 000) per QALY gained, 50% Test & Treat coverage could avert up to 6700 (95% CI: 1200, 16 000) infections and cost US$27 000 (95% CI: US$15 000, US$48 000) per QALY gained, and 50% PrEP coverage could avert up to 37 000 (22 000, 58 000) infections and cost US$300 000 (95% CI: US$162 000, US$667 000) per QALY gained. When coverage expansions are allowed to include combined investment with other programs and are compared to the next best intervention, the model projects that scaling OAT coverage up to 50%, then scaling NSP coverage to 50%, then scaling Test & Treat coverage to 50% can be cost-effective, with each coverage expansion having the potential to cost less than US$50 000 per QALY gained relative to the next best portfolio. In probabilistic sensitivity analyses, 59% of portfolios prioritized the addition of OAT and 41% prioritized the addition of NSPs, while PrEP was not likely to be a priority nor a cost-effective addition. Our findings are intended to be illustrative, as data on achievable coverage are limited and, in practice, the expansion scenarios considered may exceed feasible levels. We assumed independence of interventions and constant returns to scale. Extensive sensitivity analyses allowed us to assess parameter sensitivity, but the use of a dynamic compartmental model limited the exploration of structural sensitivities.

Conclusions: We estimate that OAT, NSPs, and Test & Treat, implemented singly or in combination, have the potential to effectively and cost-effectively prevent HIV in US PWID. PrEP is not likely to be cost-effective in this population, based on the scenarios we evaluated. While local budgets or policy may constrain feasible coverage levels for the various interventions, our findings suggest that investments in combined prevention programs can substantially reduce HIV transmission and improve health outcomes among PWID.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

HIV risk, prevalence, and access to care among men who have sex with men in Lebanon

Heimer R, Barbour R, Khoury D, Crawford FW, Shebl FM, Aaraj E, Khoshnood K. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2017 Jun 29 doi: 10.1089/AID.2016.0326. [Epub ahead of print].

Objective: Little is known about HIV prevalence and risk among men who have sex with men in much of the Middle East, including Lebanon. Recent national level surveillance has suggested an increase in HIV prevalence concentrated among men in Lebanon. We undertook a biobehavioral study to provide direct evidence for the spread of HIV.

Design: MSM were recruited by respondent driven sampling, interviewed, and offered HIV testing anonymously at sites located in Beirut, Lebanon from October 2014 through February 2015. The interview questionnaire was designed to obtain information on participants' sociodemographic situation, sexual behaviors, alcohol and drug use, health, HIV testing and care, experiences of stigma and discrimination. Individuals not reporting an HIV diagnosis were offered optional, anonymous HIV testing.

Results: Among the 292 MSM recruited, we identified 36 cases of HIV (12.3%). A quarter of the MSM were born in Syria and recently arrived in Lebanon. Condom use was uncommon; 65% reported unprotected sex with other men. Group sex encounters were reported by 22% of participants. Among the 32 individuals already aware of their infection, 30 were in treatment and receiving antiretroviral therapy.

Conclusions: HIV prevalence was substantially increased over past estimates. Efforts to control future increases will have to focus on reducing specific risk behaviors and experienced stigma and abuse, especially among Syrian refugees.

Abstract

A phylogenetic analysis of HIV-1 sequences in Kiev: findings among key populations

Fearnhill E, Gourlay A, Malyuta R, Simmons R, Ferns RB, Grant P, Nastouli E, Karnets I, Murphy G, Medoeva A, Kruglov Y, Yurchenko A, Porter K; CASCADE Collaboration in EuroCoord. Clin Infec Dis 2017 May 29: doi: 10.1093/cid/cix499. [Epub ahead of print].

Background: The HIV epidemic in Ukraine has been driven by a rapid rise among people who inject drugs, but recent studies have shown an increase through sexual transmission.

Methods: Protease and RT sequences from 876 new HIV diagnoses (April 2013 - March 2015) in Kiev were linked to demographic data. We constructed phylogenetic trees for 794 subtype A1 and 64 subtype B sequences and identified factors associated with transmission clustering. Clusters were defined as ≥ 2 sequences, ≥ 80% local branch support and maximum genetic distance of all sequence pairs in the cluster ≤ 2.5%. Recent infection was determined through the LAg avidity EIA assay. Sequences were analysed for transmitted drug resistance (TDR) mutations.

Results: 30% of subtype A1 and 66% of subtype B sequences clustered. Large clusters (maximum 11 sequences) contained mixed risk groups. In univariate analysis, clustering was significantly associated with subtype B compared to A1 (OR 4.38 [95% CI 2.56-7.50]), risk group (OR 5.65 [3.27-9.75]) for men who have sex with men compared to heterosexual males, recent, compared to long-standing, infection (OR 2.72 [1.64-4.52]), reported sex work contact (OR 1.93 [1.07-3.47]) and younger age groups compared to age ≥36 (OR 1.83 [1.10-3.05] for age ≤25). Females were associated with lower odds of clustering than heterosexual males (OR 0.49 [0.31-0.77]). In multivariate analysis, risk group, subtype and age group were independently associated with clustering (p<0.001, p=0.007 and p=0.033). 18 sequences (2.1%) indicated evidence of TDR.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest high levels of transmission and bridging between risk groups.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Contextualizing willingness to participate: recommendations for engagement, recruitment & enrolment of Kenyan MSM in future HIV prevention trials

Doshi M, Avery L, Kaddu RP, Gichuhi M, Gakii G, du Plessis E, Dutta S, Khan S, Kimani J, Lorway RR. BMC Public Health. 2017 May 18;17(1):469 doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4395-4.

Background: The HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men (MSM) continues to expand globally. The addition of an efficacious, prophylactic vaccine to combination prevention offers immense hope, particularly in low- and middle- income countries which bear the greatest global impact. However, in these settings, there is a paucity of vaccine preparedness studies that specifically pertain to MSM. Our study is the first vaccine preparedness study among MSM and female sex workers (FSWs) in Kenya. In this paper, we explore willingness of Kenyan MSM to participate in HIV vaccine efficacy trials. In addition to individual and socio-cultural motivators and barriers that influence willingness to participate (WTP), we explore the associations or linkages that participants draw between their experiences with or knowledge of medical research both generally and within the context of HIV/AIDS, their perceptions of a future HIV vaccine and their willingness to participate in HIV vaccine trials.

Methods: Using a social network-based approach, we employed snowball sampling to recruit MSM into the study from Kisumu, Mombasa, and Nairobi. A field team consisting of seven community researchers conducted in-depth interviews with a total of 70 study participants. A coding scheme for transcribed and translated data was developed and the data was then analysed thematically.

Results: Most participants felt that an HIV vaccine would bring a number of benefits to self, as well as to MSM communities, including quelling personal fears related to HIV acquisition and reducing/eliminating stigma and discrimination shouldered by their community. Willingness to participate in HIV vaccine efficacy trials was highly motivated by various forms of altruism. Specific researcher responsibilities centred on safe-guarding the rights and well-being of participants were also found to govern WTP, as were reflections on the acceptability of a future preventive HIV vaccine.

Conclusion: Strategies for engagement of communities and recruitment of trial volunteers for HIV vaccine efficacy trials should not only be grounded in and informed by investigations into individual and socio-cultural factors that impact WTP, but also by explorations of participants' existing experiences with or knowledge of medical research as well as attitudes and acceptance towards a future HIV vaccine.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract access 

Improvements in Spectrum's fit to program data tool.

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The negative health impacts of HIV-associated stigma

Examining the associations between HIV-related stigma and health outcomes in people living with HIV/AIDS: a series of meta-analyses.

Rueda S, Mitra S, Chen S, Gogolishvili D, Globerman J, Chambers L, Wilson M, Logie CH, Shi Q, Morassaei S, Rourke SB. BMJ Open. 2016 Jul 13;6(7):e011453. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011453.

Objective: To conduct a systematic review and series of meta-analyses on the association between HIV-related stigma and health among people living with HIV.

Data sources: A structured search was conducted on 6 electronic databases for journal articles reporting associations between HIV-related stigma and health-related outcomes published between 1996 and 2013.

Study eligibility criteria: Controlled studies, cohort studies, case-control studies and cross-sectional studies in people living with HIV were considered for inclusion.

Outcome measures: Mental health (depressive symptoms, emotional and mental distress, anxiety), quality of life, physical health, social support, adherence to antiretroviral therapy, access to and usage of health/social services and risk behaviours.

Results: 64 studies were included in our meta-analyses. We found significant associations between HIV-related stigma and higher rates of depression, lower social support and lower levels of adherence to antiretroviral medications and access to and usage of health and social services. Weaker relationships were observed between HIV-related stigma and anxiety, quality of life, physical health, emotional and mental distress and sexual risk practices. While risk of bias assessments revealed overall good quality related to how HIV stigma and health outcomes were measured on the included studies, high risk of bias among individual studies was observed in terms of appropriate control for potential confounders. Additional research should focus on elucidating the mechanisms behind the negative relationship between stigma and health to better inform interventions to reduce the impact of stigma on the health and well-being of people with HIV.

Conclusions: This systematic review and series of meta-analyses support the notion that HIV-related stigma has a detrimental impact on a variety of health-related outcomes in people with HIV. This review can inform the development of multifaceted, intersectoral interventions to reduce the impact of HIV-related stigma on the health and well-being of people living with HIV.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: There is a growing body of research documenting the negative impact of stigma and discrimination on the health of people living with HIV. 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. This paper reports a comprehensive systematic review and meta-analyses summarising the published evidence on the relationship between HIV-associated stigma and a wide range of health outcomes, including intermediate health outcomes. Results illustrate associations between HIV-associated stigma and depressive symptoms, lower levels of social support, ART adherence and use of health services. However, the majority of studies in the review were cross-sectional and longitudinal studies are necessary to explore the complex relationship between these factors, including the role of moderating factors, such as coping strategies. In addition, more research is necessary from low- and middle-income countries given that much of the published research is from North America. Further, there is also a need to better understand the intersection of HIV-associated stigma with other types of stigma experienced by people living with HIV, including homophobia, racism and gender discrimination. 

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Risks and experiences of transgender women in Lebanon

Forms of safety and their impact on health: an exploration of HIV/AIDS-related risk and resilience among trans women in Lebanon.

Kaplan RL, Wagner GJ, Nehme S, Aunon F, Khouri D, Mokhbat J. Health Care Women Int. 2015 Aug;36(8):917-35. doi: 10.1080/07399332.2014.896012. Epub 2014 Apr 9.

Using minority stress theory, the authors investigated risk behaviors of transgender women (trans women) in Lebanon. Using semistructured interviews, the authors explored six areas: relationships with family and friends; openness about gender and sexuality; experiences with stigma; sexual behavior; attitudes and behaviors regarding HIV testing; and perceived HIV-related norms among transgender peers. Participants voiced the importance of different forms of safety: social/emotional, physical, sexual, and financial. Strategies for obtaining safety were negotiated differently depending on social, behavioral, and structural factors in the environment. In this article, we provide study findings from the perspectives of trans women, their exposure to stigma, and the necessary navigation of environments characterized by transphobia

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Editor’s notes: Transgender women have a high risk of HIV acquisition / transmission, due to experiences of stigma, discrimination and transphobia. However there is a dearth of studies on transgender women from North Africa or the Middle East.

Interviews with ten trans-women from Beirut were included in this qualitative study. The study findings highlight the extreme vulnerability of transgender women to stigma, discrimination, violence, mental ill-health, financial insecurity and HIV and STI risk. Social support and emotional security from family, friends, and the transgender community was frequently lacking. Mental ill-health (9/10) and suicide ideation / attempts was high (5/10). Stigma and discrimination by peers and teachers at school, and at the work-place were common. Many also reported verbal, physical and sexual abuse and violence in public spaces. Many participants were selling anal sex to reduce financial insecurity. Money was a key motivator for condom non-use. 

Programmes with transgender women should be multi-component to reflect the complexity of their needs. They should include HIV prevention, advocacy of laws to prevent discrimination, employment opportunities to enable economic independence, and treatment and support for mental ill-health.

Asia
Lebanon
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Counting and classifying global deaths

Global, regional, and national incidence and mortality for HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria during 1990-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013.

Murray CJ, Ortblad KF, Guinovart C, et al. Lancet. 2014 Sep 13;384(9947):1005-70. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60844-8. Epub 2014 Jul 22.

Background: The Millennium Declaration in 2000 brought special global attention to HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria through the formulation of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 6. The Global Burden of Disease 2013 study provides a consistent and comprehensive approach to disease estimation for between 1990 and 2013, and an opportunity to assess whether accelerated progress has occurred since the Millennium Declaration.

Methods: To estimate incidence and mortality for HIV, we used the UNAIDS Spectrum model appropriately modified based on a systematic review of available studies of mortality with and without antiretroviral therapy (ART). For concentrated epidemics, we calibrated Spectrum models to fit vital registration data corrected for misclassification of HIV deaths. In generalised epidemics, we minimised a loss function to select epidemic curves most consistent with prevalence data and demographic data for all-cause mortality. We analysed counterfactual scenarios for HIV to assess years of life saved through prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) and ART. For tuberculosis, we analysed vital registration and verbal autopsy data to estimate mortality using cause of death ensemble modelling. We analysed data for corrected case-notifications, expert opinions on the case-detection rate, prevalence surveys, and estimated cause-specific mortality using Bayesian meta-regression to generate consistent trends in all parameters. We analysed malaria mortality and incidence using an updated cause of death database, a systematic analysis of verbal autopsy validation studies for malaria, and recent studies (2010-13) of incidence, drug resistance, and coverage of insecticide-treated bednets.

Findings: Globally in 2013, there were 1.8 million new HIV infections (95% uncertainty interval 1.7 million to 2.1 million), 29.2 million prevalent HIV cases (28.1 to 31.7), and 1.3 million HIV deaths (1.3 to 1.5). At the peak of the epidemic in 2005, HIV caused 1.7 million deaths (1.6 million to 1.9 million). Concentrated epidemics in Latin America and eastern Europe are substantially smaller than previously estimated. Through interventions including PMTCT and ART, 19.1 million life-years (16.6 million to 21.5 million) have been saved, 70.3% (65.4 to 76.1) in developing countries. From 2000 to 2011, the ratio of development assistance for health for HIV to years of life saved through intervention was US$ 4498 in developing countries. Including in HIV-positive individuals, all-form tuberculosis incidence was 7.5 million (7.4 million to 7.7 million), prevalence was 11.9 million (11.6 million to 12.2 million), and number of deaths was 1.4 million (1.3 million to 1.5 million) in 2013. In the same year and in only individuals who were HIV-negative, all-form tuberculosis incidence was 7.1 million (6.9 million to 7.3 million), prevalence was 11.2 million (10.8 million to 11.6 million), and number of deaths was 1.3 million (1.2 million to 1.4 million). Annualised rates of change (ARC) for incidence, prevalence, and death became negative after 2000. Tuberculosis in HIV-negative individuals disproportionately occurs in men and boys (versus women and girls); 64.0% of cases (63.6 to 64.3) and 64.7% of deaths (60.8 to 70.3). Globally, malaria cases and deaths grew rapidly from 1990 reaching a peak of 232 million cases (143 million to 387 million) in 2003 and 1.2 million deaths (1.1 million to 1.4 million) in 2004. Since 2004, child deaths from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa have decreased by 31.5% (15.7 to 44.1). Outside of Africa, malaria mortality has been steadily decreasing since 1990.

Interpretation: Our estimates of the number of people living with HIV are 18.7% smaller than UNAIDS's estimates in 2012. The number of people living with malaria is larger than estimated by WHO. The number of people living with HIV, tuberculosis, or malaria have all decreased since 2000. At the global level, upward trends for malaria and HIV deaths have been reversed and declines in tuberculosis deaths have accelerated. 101 countries (74 of which are developing) still have increasing HIV incidence. Substantial progress since the Millennium Declaration is an encouraging sign of the effect of global action.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Editor’s notes: The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study uses standard methods to compare and track over time national distributions of deaths by cause, and the prevalence of disease and disability.  This detailed report focuses on HIV, TB and Malaria. It presents regional summaries of incidence, prevalence and mortality rates, and national estimates of the number of male and female deaths and new infections. Point estimates are shown for 2013, and annualised rates of change for 1990-2000 and 2000-2013. These highlight the contrasting trends in disease impact before and after the formulation of the Millennium Development Goal to combat these diseases.  The global peak of HIV mortality occurred in 2005, but regional annualised rates of change for 2000-2013 indicate that HIV deaths are still increasing significantly in east Asia, southern Africa, and most rapidly in eastern Europe.

The GBD 2013 global estimates of new infections and deaths agree closely with the corresponding estimates made by UNAIDS. But there are significant differences in the respective estimates of the number of people currently living with HIV (UNAIDS estimates are some 18% higher), and historical trends in AIDS deaths, with UNAIDS judging that the recent fall has been steeper. These differences are attributed primarily to methods used in the GBD study to ensure that the sum of deaths from specific causes fits the estimated all cause total, and to varying assumptions about historical survival patterns following HIV infection. 

It may be worthwhile to look at a comment by Michel Sidibé, Mark Dybul, and Deborah Birx in the Lancet on MDG 6 and beyond: from halting and reversing AIDS to ending the epidemic which refers to this study.

Epidemiology
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