Articles tagged as "Malawi"

Improving access to HIV testing—still the most important step to improve the lives of people living with HIV?

Editor’s notes: The target for HIV testing is very clear and well understood as the first 90 in the UNAIDS treatment targets. However, estimating the proportion of people living with HIV who know their status is not completely straightforward.  UNAIDS uses various data sources and a well described algorithm to make its annual estimates.  For some countries, population based surveys allow a random sample of the population to be interviewed and tested for HIV.  Nonetheless, such surveys only occur periodically and so data may be out of date.  People who were HIV-negative a few years ago may now be HIV positive and people who know that they were tested a few years ago and think that they know their status may in fact have acquired HIV in the meantime.  Staveteig and colleagues have used the most recent demographic and health surveys from 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to estimate the first 90 and to analyse the demographic characteristics associated with knowing one’s HIV status.  The authors discuss some of the challenges in the assumptions needed for this estimation process.  However, the surveys had excellent participation and a high rate of acceptance of HIV testing, so that out of more than 14 000 people living with HIV across the countries, the authors are able to state that 54% know their status.  The proportion in different countries ranges from 26% in Sierra Leone to 84% in Rwanda.  Their analysis does not present very surprising associations.  We have come to expect that men, young people and those with less than primary education are found to be less likely to know their status.  However, the study provides a direct estimate from survey data and as such helps to triangulate with other estimates from the region.

In general, the West and Central African region lags behind the East and Southern African region when it comes to access to HIV testing, linkage to treatment and viral suppression.  A catch-up plan has been developed and endorsed at high level political meetings in most countries in the region. The study by Inghels and colleagues from Côte d’Ivoire is therefore important.  They demonstrate that among 273 people recently diagnosed with HIV at the blood donors’ centre, almost half could have been diagnosed up to five years earlier if health care staff had followed guidelines to propose testing for indicator clinical conditions such as extreme weight loss, repeated fevers or shingles.  Approximately a quarter of people recently diagnosed with HIV had recognized risk factors for HIV (apart from their clinical presentation), but only approximately one-sixth, a small minority, of people had mentioned it to their heathcare professional.  If we are to catch up and ensure that 90% of people living with HIV have known their status by 2020, we need to maximize efforts to use a full range of differentiated HIV testing approaches.  Health care staff must offer HIV tests routinely to people with clinical indicator conditions. Staff at all levels of the health system must also promote an environment in which people with risk behaviours for HIV infection feel comfortable to be able to raise it and discuss it.

Reaching the 'first 90': gaps in coverage of HIV testing among people living with HIV in 16 African countries.

Staveteig S, Croft TN, Kampa KT, Head SK. PLoS One. 2017 Oct 12;12(10):e0186316. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186316. eCollection 2017.

Background: UNAIDS has recently proposed a set of three ambitious targets that, if achieved, are predicted to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The targets, known as 90-90-90, call for 90% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) to know their status, 90% of PLHIV to receive antiretroviral therapy, and 90% of those on antiretroviral therapy to achieve viral suppression by the year 2020. We examine the first of these targets, focusing on sub-Saharan Africa, the region of the world most affected by HIV, to measure the proportion of PLHIV estimated to know their HIV status, and to identify background and behavioral characteristics significantly associated with gaps in ever testing among PLHIV.

Methods and findings: We analyze cross-sectional population-based data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and AIDS Indicator Surveys (AIS) fielded since 2010 in 16 sub-Saharan African countries where voluntary serological testing was recently conducted: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Survey response rates averaged 95.0% (range 89.3-99.5%), while consent to serotesting averaged 94.9% (range 88.7-99.6%). This study, which includes more than 14 000 respondents living with HIV, finds that 69% of PLHIV in the average study country have ever been tested for HIV (range 34-95%). Based on timing of the last test and on ART coverage, we estimate that 54% of PLHIV in the average country are aware of their status (range 26-84%). Adjusted logistic regression finds that men (median adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 0.38), adults with less than primary education (median AOR = 0.31), and adolescents (median AOR = 0.32) are consistently less likely to have ever been tested for HIV than women, adults with secondary and above education, and adults age 30-39, respectively. In most countries unadjusted logistic regression also finds significant gaps in testing among the poorest groups and those reporting never having had sex.

Conclusion: The fact that an average of 54% of PLHIV in these 16 countries are estimated to know their status reflects encouraging progress. However, not only is this average far short of the 90% target set by UNAIDS for 2020, but it also implies that in the average study country nearly one-half of PLHIV are unable to access lifesaving care and treatment because they are unaware that they are HIV-positive. Several gaps in HIV testing coverage exist, particularly among adolescents, the least educated, and men. While the need to target demographic groups at greatest risk of HIV continues, additional interventions focused on reaching men and on reaching socially vulnerable populations such as adolescents, the poorest, and the least educated are essential.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Missed opportunities for HIV testing among newly diagnosed HIV-infected adults in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

Inghels M, Niangoran S, Minga A, Yoboue JM, Dohoun L, Yao A, Eholié S, Anglaret X, Danel C. PLoS One. 2017 Oct 4;12(10):e0185117. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185117. eCollection 2017

Background: HIV testing is crucial for starting ART earlier in HIV-infected people. We describe Missed Opportunities (MO) for HIV testing among adults newly diagnosed with HIV in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

Methods: Between April 2nd 2013 and April 1st 2014, a cross-sectional study was conducted among all adults newly diagnosed (< 1year) for HIV at the Blood Donors Medical Center of Abidjan with face to face questionnaire. An MO for HIV testing was defined as a medical consultation for a clinical indicator (e.g. symptoms, hospitalization, and pregnancy) or a non-clinical indicator (e.g. high-risk sexual behavior, HIV-infected partner) potentially related to an HIV infection but did not lead to HIV test proposal by a health care professional.

Results: Of the 341 patients who attended the center during this period, 273 (157 women and 116 men) were included in this analysis. 130 (47.6%) reported at least one medical consultation for an indicator relevant for a test proposal between 1 month and five years prior to their diagnosis. Among them, 92 (77.3%) experienced at least one MO for testing. The 273 included patients reported a total of 216 indicators; 146 (67.6%) were reported without test proposal and thus were MO. Hospitalization, extreme loss of weight, chronic or repeat fever and herpes zoster were the indicators with the largest number of MO. While 66 (24.2%) patients experienced non-clinical indicators relevant to risk of HIV infection, only 11 (4.0%) mentioned it to a health professional.

Conclusion: MO for HIV testing are frequent, even in situations for which testing is clearly recommended. Better train healthcare professionals and creating new opportunities of testing inside and, outside of medical settings are crucial to improve HIV control.

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Africa
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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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Old fashioned AIDS is still with us – shocking in 2017

Editor’s notes: The term AIDS refers to advanced HIV disease with a CD4 count below 200 cells per microl. or with one of several typical opportunistic infections. It is more than twenty years since the revolutionary discovery of highly active combination antiretroviral therapy.  While deaths due to HIV have fallen steadily over the past two decades, it is shocking that so many people are still dying from AIDS.  In part this is due to the same issues of HIV testing discussed above.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published their most recent report on surveillance in the United States of America (USA).  The authors show very gradual progress in the right direction. But, still more than 20% of people are diagnosed with HIV infection in the USA when they already have AIDS.  In fact, in a further 20% of people, the stage of infection was not reported to CDC, so as a proportion of those with a known stage at diagnosis, as many as one quarter were diagnosed with AIDS. As might be expected, there are disparities between states with District of Columbia and California doing a little better.  There are big disparities by age (with over one third of people diagnosed at age greater than 45 years having AIDS) but surprisingly little difference by ethnicity.

Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) recently released a report highlighting the challenge of advanced disease, which was picked up in a commentary in the British Medical Journal by Cousins.  The report points out that in hospital settings in Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Kenya, and Malawi, MSF are still seeing an alarmingly high mortality rate, with one third of deaths occurring within the first 48 hours of admission.  As many as three quarters of the patients had been on antiretroviral therapy (ART), suggesting that their advanced disease was not a consequence of late presentation, but rather of failure of the health system to deliver quality care.  The importance of detecting treatment failure early and changing to effective second (or third) line ART was emphasized.  Once patients do present to hospital with advanced HIV disease, it is a clinical emergency and urgent effective care may make a big difference.  WHO has recently issued guidance on managing advanced HIV disease, and the Journal of the International AIDS Society has recently released a useful supplement on Differentiated Care and HIV.

Back in the USA, Braunstein et al. used existing laboratory and other data to construct a retrospective analysis of what happened in the intervenable period during which different treatment approaches might have prevented more than 11 000 people from dying with HIV between 2007 and 2013.  The intervenable period was defined as the 12 months before the last three months of life.  The authors pointed out that in the last three months of life, people might be in care that was not typical of their engagement during the preceding year.  So the intervenable period is therefore more important to see where change could happen.  Like the MSF team, they found that a substantial proportion of people were not properly treated, as shown by the finding that 60% of people did not have a suppressed viral load in the period analysed.  This was despite 98% having some engagement with the health system as shown by laboratory records, 80% being defined as linked to care, and 76% being prescribed ART. The challenge seemed to be to provide high quality care with continuity of care and decisions made promptly according to the findings in the laboratory.

The package of interventions recommended by WHO in their guidance for people presenting with advanced HIV disease includes screening, treatment and/or prophylaxis for major opportunistic infections, rapid ART initiation and intensified adherence support interventions.  Additional support for this approach comes from the REALITY randomized trial conducted by Hakim and colleagues in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Kenya.  In this trial, people with advanced HIV infection, judged by their CD4 count, were randomized in a factorial design.  1805 participants were randomized to different ART regimens; to nutritional support or not; and to a package of prophylaxis.  This paper reports on the differences seen according to whether or not participants were randomized to receive the enhanced prophylaxis.  The package consisted of at least 12 weeks of co-trimoxazole (against pneumocystis, malaria, and various bacterial and protozoal infections), co-formulated with isoniazid and pyridoxine (against tuberculosis), along with fluconazole (against cryptococcus, candida and other fungi) also for 12 weeks and azithromycin (against a broader range of invasive bacteria including salmonella) for five days.  The enhanced prophylaxis led to a 27% reduction in mortality six months after entering the study, and there was still a clear difference after one year, by when 127 people had died in the standard of care group compared to 98 in the enhanced prophylaxis group.  Nonetheless, the death rate was still considerable.  It is also worth noting that many of the people in whom the CD4 count was extremely low did not complain of any symptoms.  So CD4 testing is still needed at the point of clinical care to determine who needs urgent differentiated care for advanced HIV infection.

The final paper in this section is a randomised trial from GHESKIO in Haiti (Koenig et al.).  The investigators randomized 701 people diagnosed with HIV, to start ART on the same day as their diagnosis, or to wait for three weeks, as is standard of care at the centre.  12 months later, viral suppression was somewhat better in people who started ART on the same day (61% vs. 52% at a cut-off of 1000 copies per ml.).  The authors point out that this was a single centre study, and results from GHESKIO might not be generalizable to other treatment sites in Haiti.  Although there were still substantial losses to follow up, there was clearly no evidence that the policy to start people on HIV treatment immediately was too hasty.

 

Missed opportunities: adapting the HIV care continuum to reduce HIV-related deaths

Braunstein SL, Robbins RS, Daskalakis DC. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 Jul 26. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001509. [Epub ahead of print]

Introduction: With advances in HIV care, persons with HIV/AIDS (PWHA) can lead healthy lives, but avoidable, HIV-related deaths continue to occur in New York City (NYC).

Methods: We selected PWHA from our surveillance registry who died between 2007-2013, resided in NYC, and survived ≥15 months post-diagnosis to generate an HIV Mortality Reduction Continuum of Care (HMRCC) describing pre-death care patterns among PWHA. We used HIV laboratory test reports to measure care outcomes during an "intervenable period" (IP) during which deaths may have been avoided. The continuum was stratified by underlying cause of death (COD) (HIV-related vs. other), and the HIV-related HMRCC was stratified by demographic characteristics.

Results: 11 187 analysis-eligible PWHA died during 2007-2013. 98% linked to care; 80% were retained in care during the IP; 66% were prescribed ART; 47% had VL≤1500 copies/mL; 40% achieved viral suppression (VS). Half (47%) of deaths were HIV-related. Retention was higher among HIV-related COD (83% vs. 78%), but VS was lower (34% vs. 46%). The HIV-related HMRCC revealed disparities in VS. Despite comparable retention rates, Whites had the highest VS (42%, vs. 32% Blacks and 33% Latinos/Hispanics). Additionally, retention and VS increased with increasing age. People with a history of injection drug use had relatively high rates of retention (88%) and VS (37%).

Discussion: The HMRCC is a novel framework for evaluating pre-death care patterns among PWHA and identifying opportunities to reduce preventable deaths. In NYC, reducing mortality will require increasing VS among those already in care, particularly for Blacks and Latinos/Hispanics.

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Enhanced prophylaxis plus antiretroviral therapy for advanced HIV infection in Africa

Hakim J, Musiime V, Szubert AJ, Mallewa J, Siika A, Agutu C, Walker S, Pett SL, Bwakura-Dangarembizi M, Lugemwa A, Kaunda S, Karoney M, Musoro G, Kabahenda S, Nathoo K, Maitland K, Griffiths A, Thomason MJ, Kityo C, Mugyenyi P, Prendergast AJ, Walker AS, Gibb DM; REALITY Trial Team. N Engl J Med. 2017 Jul 20;377(3):233-245. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1615822.

Background: In sub-Saharan Africa, among patients with advanced human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, the rate of death from infection (including tuberculosis and cryptococcus) shortly after the initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) is approximately 10%.

Methods: In this factorial open-label trial conducted in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Kenya, we enrolled HIV-infected adults and children 5 years of age or older who had not received previous ART and were starting ART with a CD4+ count of fewer than 100 cells per cubic millimeter. They underwent simultaneous randomization to receive enhanced antimicrobial prophylaxis or standard prophylaxis, adjunctive raltegravir or no raltegravir, and supplementary food or no supplementary food. Here, we report on the effects of enhanced antimicrobial prophylaxis, which consisted of continuous trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole plus at least 12 weeks of isoniazid-pyridoxine (co-formulated with trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole in a single fixed-dose combination tablet), 12 weeks of fluconazole, 5 days of azithromycin, and a single dose of albendazole, as compared with standard prophylaxis (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole alone). The primary end point was 24-week mortality.

Results: A total of 1805 patients (1733 adults and 72 children or adolescents) underwent randomization to receive either enhanced prophylaxis (906 patients) or standard prophylaxis (899 patients) and were followed for 48 weeks (loss to follow-up, 3.1%). The median baseline CD4+ count was 37 cells per cubic millimeter, but 854 patients (47.3%) were asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. In the Kaplan-Meier analysis at 24 weeks, the rate of death with enhanced prophylaxis was lower than that with standard prophylaxis (80 patients [8.9% vs. 108 [12.2%]; hazard ratio, 0.73; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.55 to 0.98; P=0.03); 98 patients (11.0%) and 127 (14.4%), respectively, had died by 48 weeks (hazard ratio, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.58 to 0.99; P=0.04). Patients in the enhanced-prophylaxis group had significantly lower rates of tuberculosis (P=0.02), cryptococcal infection (P=0.01), oral or esophageal candidiasis (P=0.02), death of unknown cause (P=0.03), and new hospitalization (P=0.03). However, there was no significant between-group difference in the rate of severe bacterial infection (P=0.32). There were nonsignificantly lower rates of serious adverse events and grade 4 adverse events in the enhanced-prophylaxis group (P=0.08 and P=0.09, respectively). Rates of HIV viral suppression and adherence to ART were similar in the two groups.

Conclusion: Among HIV-infected patients with advanced immunosuppression, enhanced antimicrobial prophylaxis combined with ART resulted in reduced rates of death at both 24 weeks and 48 weeks without compromising viral suppression or increasing toxic effects.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

Same-day HIV testing with initiation of antiretroviral therapy versus standard care for persons living with HIV: A randomized unblinded trial

Koenig SP, Dorvil N, Dévieux JG, Hedt-Gauthier BL, Riviere C, Faustin M, Lavoile K, Perodin C, Apollon A, Duverger L, McNairy ML, Hennessey KA, Souroutzidis A, Cremieux PY, Severe P, Pape JW. PLoS Med. 2017 Jul 25;14(7):e1002357. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002357. eCollection 2017 Jul.

Background: Attrition during the period from HIV testing to antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation is high worldwide. We assessed whether same-day HIV testing and ART initiation improves retention and virologic suppression.

Methods and Findings: We conducted an unblinded, randomized trial of standard ART initiation versus same-day HIV testing and ART initiation among eligible adults ≥18 years old with World Health Organization Stage 1 or 2 disease and CD4 count ≤500 cells/mm3. The study was conducted among outpatients at the Haitian Group for the Study of Kaposi's Sarcoma and Opportunistic infections (GHESKIO) Clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Participants were randomly assigned (1:1) to standard ART initiation or same-day HIV testing and ART initiation. The standard group initiated ART 3 weeks after HIV testing, and the same-day group initiated ART on the day of testing. The primary study endpoint was retention in care 12 months after HIV testing with HIV-1 RNA <50 copies/ml. We assessed the impact of treatment arm with a modified intention-to-treat analysis, using multivariable logistic regression controlling for potential confounders. Between August 2013 and October 2015, 762 participants were enrolled; 59 participants transferred to other clinics during the study period, and were excluded as per protocol, leaving 356 in the standard and 347 in the same-day ART groups. In the standard ART group, 156 (44%) participants were retained in care with 12-month HIV-1 RNA <50 copies, and 184 (52%) had <1000 copies/ml; 20 participants (6%) died. In the same-day ART group, 184 (53%) participants were retained with HIV-1 RNA <50 copies/ml, and 212 (61%) had <1000 copies/ml; 10 (3%) participants died. The unadjusted risk ratio (RR) of being retained at 12 months with HIV-1 RNA <50 copies/ml was 1.21 (95% CI: 1.04, 1.38; p = 0.015) for the same-day ART group compared to the standard ART group, and the unadjusted RR for being retained with HIV-1 RNA <1000 copies was 1.18 (95% CI: 1.04, 1.31; p = 0.012). The main limitation of this study is that it was conducted at a single urban clinic, and the generalizability to other settings is uncertain.

Conclusions: Same-day HIV testing and ART initiation is feasible and beneficial in this setting, as it improves retention in care with virologic suppression among patients with early clinical HIV disease.

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Technology is advancing rapidly, but are we making the most of it?

Editor’s notes: HIV self-testing was a key area of discussion in the Paris IAS meeting.  UNITAID signed the next phase of the STAR Initiative that is working with six countries in Southern Africa to transform the market for self-testing and understand the impact of different delivery systems.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are using their resources to lower prices of self-test kits.  Following WHO’s decision to prequalify an oral fluid test, many countries are including self-test commodities within their PEPFAR Country Operation Plans and Global Fund concept notes. WHO have issued guidance on self-testing and assisted partner notification. So we can expect to see more and more self-tests out there in the field!

In Malawi, Choko et al. reported on qualitative research done prior to a cluster randomized trial that involves providing self-tests to women attending antenatal care (ANC) for them to take home to their partners.  Although couples are welcomed at ANC clinics and couple testing is certainly beneficial, many men still feel that the clinic is not a place for them.  As one participant said: “Considering what happens here at the ANC clinic, I don’t see my husband escorting me anymore because you find he is alone among many women and he has to listen to some things concerning birth. . . .”

In contrast, many women and men engaged in conversations about how providing self-test kits could help communication, stigma, privacy, control and time pressure among other aspects of involving men in HIV testing.  Some concerns were raised around violence and it is clear that this approach will suit some but not all couples, so it needs to be delivered in a way that respects autonomy with no coercion.

In a very different context, Jamil et al. have conducted a randomized trial among Australian gay men and men who have sex with men.  The trial enrolled “high risk” men who reported multiple partners and condomless sex over the past months.  A central premise of public health strategies to control the HIV epidemic is to find people who have acquired HIV as early as possible.  So the trial aimed to determine whether the offer of free oral fluid self-tests led to earlier testing and more frequent testing.  They found that compared with standard care, availability of free oral-fluid self-testing increased testing frequency both in men who had not tested recently and in men who had not tested at all in the past years. Importantly there was no decline in facility-based testing for HIV or sexually transmitted infections, which might have implied replacement.  The men commented that self-testing was highly acceptable and easy to do.

Self-tests are not a panacea.  Oral fluid tests do have a slightly lower sensitivity than blood based tests.  This may be important when HIV-antibody levels are not high, particularly in people taking ART (either as treatment or as PrEP), or early in the course of infection.  Furthermore, both oral fluid and blood based test rely on visual identification of bands on the test strip that may be faint, leading to some people assuming that they are negative or failing to see the positive band.  Curlin et al. examined the performance of oral fluid tests in people seroconverting to HIV during three specific trials.  They found a considerable number of false negative results and a long delay before some individuals became positive on oral fluid tests.  There was also a clear suggestion that some test operators were less good than others at performing the test and the possibility that one batch of the test kits were less sensitive.  Overall they concluded that “caution must be exercised when interpreting a negative oral fluid test in settings where acute infection is likely, and where PrEP use, ART induced viral suppression, or profound immunosuppression may result in low HIV-specific antibody titers.”  However, as an additional screening tool to be used in populations where many of whom are “missing” from the first 90 are to be found, self-tests have much to offer.  Many of these people will have acquired HIV some time ago and by definition will not be taking ART.  So the cautions raised by Curlin et al. may be less relevant for the primary intended purpose of self-tests.  Nonetheless, they make it very clear that oral fluid self-tests are not an appropriate technology to follow people on treatment or on PrEP.  Nor are they recommended for the diagnosis of acute infection.

While self-tests may increase the proportion of adults knowing their HIV status, different technology is needed for infants.  Nucleic acid amplification is used to detect pro-viral DNA or viral RNA in samples from infants.  The technology is more complex and often centralized, leading to delays and loss to follow up in mother-infant pairs.  Several systems now aim to provide testing close to the point of care and the evaluation of the SAMBA HIV-1 Qual Whole Blood Test from Ondiek et al. is an encouraging report.  Sensitivity and specificity were high (98.5% and 99.8% on 745 infant samples) and comparable to the standard approach used in centralized labs.  Samples from those with discrepant results were rechecked by assays based on multiple targets and suggested that the SAMBA test and the standard approach were each responsible for some of the few false positive and negatives seen.  The advantages of the SAMBA system is that it has been designed to be used in peripheral health systems.  All the reagents are freeze dried and stable without refrigeration. Turnaround time is approximately 2 hours with minimal sample handling once the sample is put into the machine.  Costs will still need to come down, but competition with other manufacturers may help.

The SAMBA technology that was evaluated is a qualitative assay aimed at diagnosis of infants.  A larger market is for viral load assays that are central to the monitoring of the effectiveness of HIV treatment and form the indicator for UNAIDS’s third 90.  However, at the moment viral load assays are still too expensive. As a result the optimal strategy for their use remains uncertain within programmes that have to make difficult decisions about where their limited resources should be spent.

Negoescu et al. have built an interesting model to explore the economic trade-offs between different frequencies of performing viral load assays.  More importantly they explore models of adapting the frequency of assays according to characteristics of the person taking ART.  People who have been on treatment for longer periods, or are older, or report fewer problems with adherence could be selected for less frequent assays.  This could save resources, without compromising health outcomes.  However, for countries like Uganda, which was used as the example to calibrate the model, the best approach seems to still be a viral load assay once per year, regardless of other factors.  And indeed, many resource limited countries are having to make difficult choices about how to allocate stretched budgets between expansion of access to viral load assays to the possible detriment of basic prevention programmes such as male circumcision and condoms.  As more resources become available (or as the cost of viral load assays fall) countries may well choose to do more frequent viral load assays.  The authors showed that monthly assays were more expensive but did (unsurprisingly) lead to benefits in terms of earlier detection of virological failure.  Given the renewed attention to drug resistance and the role of late detection of HIV treatment failure in propagating it, such models may become increasingly important.  Adapting the viral load assay frequency to the characteristics of the person taking HIV treatment could be a sensible approach in middle and higher income settings.

For some years, WHO has recommended that nucleic acid amplification should also be used as the first line test for tuberculosis among people living with HIV.  The GeneXpert® system has been taken up quite widely in many countries where HIV is common among people with tuberculosis, most notably in South Africa.  However, Hermans et al. remind us that technology is only one part of the solution.  Although there is no doubt that Xpert is considerably more sensitive than sputum microscopy and considerably quicker than mycobacterial culture, incorporating the technology into routine practice is not always straightforward.  At the Infectious Disease Institute in Kampala, Uganda, where there are well trained clinicians and better resources than in much of the rest of Uganda, Xpert was made available at no cost for the diagnosis of tuberculosis in a one stop combined HIV-TB clinic.  In a cohort of people living with HIV with symptoms suggestive of possible tuberculosis and whose sputum smear microscopy result was negative, many clinicians still preferred to treat on the basis of their clinical judgement and chest radiography.  Xpert™ was requested in less than half the patients.  Similar numbers of people were started on treatment for tuberculosis regardless of whether Xpert was requested (22% vs 21%).  And among those in whom an Xpert™ was performed, more were started on anti-tuberculosis treatment who had had a negative test than a positive one.  So it was not really clear that Xpert was useful in the diagnosis and management of HIV-related tuberculosis in this setting.  Xpert is not 100% sensitive, so many clinicians will choose to treat patients who might have tuberculosis regardless of the results of new technology.  Xpert also give a result that includes resistance to rifampicin, but this was not such a major issue in Kampala and was not an objective of this study.  Those treated without a confirmed test result were more likely to die during the next 12 months, but the authors point out that there are many possible reasons for this.  Many clinicians are aware of the high rates of undiagnosed tuberculosis found at autopsy in people with HIV. Thus, empirical treatment is often given to those who are critically unwell, even when there is no clear evidence of tuberculosis.

GeneXpert® was also the technology used in another study of tuberculosis contact tracing among school children in Swaziland (Ustero et al.).  Despite a rapid and extensive response to look for additional cases in schools where a confirmed case of tuberculosis had been found, no secondary cases were identified.  In household contacts of the same children, they found an additional two cases.  WHO recommends contacts tracing in households of infectious tuberculosis patients.  Although there is still a large and important gap in the estimated number of tuberculosis cases and the number who are notified and treated by national programmes, the best ways to find the missing cases are not well established.  Even in settings where both infections are among the most important causes of mortality, tuberculosis is much less prevalent than HIV.  So the challenge for case-finding and screening approaches for tuberculosis is to select the populations most at risk. An alternative would be to develop tools that are so sensitive, specific and cheap that they can be used for widespread screening. GeneXpert® is not that tool.

While tuberculosis remains the single most important cause of mortality among people living with HIV in low resource settings, there is welcome and increasing attention being paid to human papillomaviruses (HPV).  Certain types of HPV are the cause of cervical cancer.  This is an AIDS-defining illness both because it is more common among women living with HIV and because it has such a high mortality when only detected at the late stages.  At the Paris conference there was a morning session on how to do more about cervical cancer and in particular how to build on the synergies of both HPV and HIV programmes to provide more integrated services for women who are at risk of both infections.  The most important types of HPV that cause cervical cancer can be prevented by vaccination.  However, to be most effective the vaccine has to be given prior to becoming infected with the relevant HPV strain.  So the study by Sudenga et al. in South Africa is useful as it demonstrates how many younger women aged 16-24 years in the Western Cape Province had antibodies against four of the important types included in the quadrivalent vaccine that they were testing.  The majority of participants (64%) had antibodies to two or more types present at enrolment and 12% had antibodies to all four.  Furthermore, among those participants who received placebo injections, the seroconversion rates were alarming high at 23% for HPV16 and 5% for HPV6 over the 7 months of the study among baseline seronegative participants.  South Africa has been a leader in the region in HPV vaccination for schoolgirls.  It is clear that vaccination needs to happen at a young enough age to catch most girls before they become sexually active.  This is in contrast to the offer of pre-exposure prophylaxis, which should be focused on young women who are already sexually active and at higher risk of acquiring HIV.  The specificities of synergies and integration need to be clearly delineated if we are to maximize efficiency.

HPV is also the principal cause of anal carcinoma, which is a significant problem among gay men and men who have sex with men.  Jin et al. have been building on the progress in cervical cancer screening, where new technologies such as nucleic acid detection or oncoprotein detection are leading to big improvements in some settings and replacing cytology as the first line screen for women.  The authors determined whether similar biomarkers including both nucleic acids and cellular markers could be used instead of anal cytology.  As with most advances in diagnostic technology, there is a trade-off between sensitivity and specificity.  Tests that do not miss any cases of neoplastic change are also likely to lead to many people being unnecessarily referred for further assessment and treatment.  However, both new approaches seem to be able to be calibrated in this Australian population to allow fewer referrals while still maintaining a similar sensitivity to the current cytological approach.

Acceptability of woman-delivered HIV self-testing to the male partner, and additional interventions: a qualitative study of antenatal care participants in Malawi.

Choko AT, Kumwenda MK, Johnson CC, Sakala DW, Chikalipo MC, Fielding K, Chikovore J, Desmond N, Corbett EL. J Int AIDS Soc. 2017 Jun 26;20(1):1-10. doi: 10.7448/IAS.20.1.21610.

Introduction: In the era of ambitious HIV targets, novel HIV testing models are required for hard-to-reach groups such as men, who remain underserved by existing services. Pregnancy presents a unique opportunity for partners to test for HIV, as many pregnant women will attend antenatal care (ANC). We describe the views of pregnant women and their male partners on HIV self-test kits that are woman-delivered, alone or with an additional intervention.

Methods: A formative qualitative study to inform the design of a multi-arm multi-stage cluster-randomized trial, comprised of six focus group discussions and 20 in-depth interviews, was conducted. ANC attendees were purposively sampled on the day of initial clinic visit, while men were recruited after obtaining their contact information from their female partners. Data were analysed using content analysis, and our interpretation is hypothetical as participants were not offered self-test kits.

Results: Providing HIV self-test kits to pregnant women to deliver to their male partners was highly acceptable to both women and men. Men preferred this approach compared with standard facility-based testing, as self-testing fits into their lifestyles which were characterized by extreme day-to-day economic pressures, including the need to raise money for food for their household daily. Men and women emphasized the need for careful communication before and after collection of the self-test kits in order to minimize the potential for intimate partner violence although physical violence was perceived as less likely to occur. Most men stated a preference to first self-test alone, followed by testing as a couple. Regarding interventions for optimizing linkage following self-testing, both men and women felt that a fixed financial incentive of approximately USD$2 would increase linkage. However, there were concerns that financial incentives of greater value may lead to multiple pregnancies and lack of child spacing. In this low-income setting, a lottery incentive was considered overly disappointing for those who receive nothing. Phone call reminders were preferred to short messaging service.

Conclusions: Woman-delivered HIV self-testing through ANC was acceptable to pregnant women and their male partners. Feedback on additional linkage enablers will be used to alter pre-planned trial arms.

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Effect of availability of HIV self-testing on HIV testing frequency in gay and bisexual men at high risk of infection (FORTH): a waiting-list randomised controlled trial.

Jamil MS, Prestage G, Fairley CK, Grulich AE, Smith KS, Chen M, Holt M, McNulty AM, Bavinton BR, Conway DP, Wand H, Keen P,Bradley J, Kolstee J, Batrouney C, Russell D, Law M, Kaldor JM, Guy RJ. Lancet HIV. 2017 Jun;4(6):e241-e250. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30023-1. Epub 2017 Feb 17.

Background: Frequent testing of individuals at high risk of HIV is central to current prevention strategies. We aimed to determine if HIV self-testing would increase frequency of testing in high-risk gay and bisexual men, with a particular focus on men who delayed testing or had never been tested before.

Methods: In this randomised trial, HIV-negative high-risk gay and bisexual men who reported condomless anal intercourse or more than five male sexual partners in the past 3 months were recruited at three clinical and two community-based sites in Australia. Enrolled participants were randomly assigned (1:1) to the intervention (free HIV self-testing plus facility-based testing) or standard care (facility-based testing only). Participants completed a brief online questionnaire every 3 months, which collected the number of self-tests used and the number and location of facility-based tests, and HIV testing was subsequently sourced from clinical records. The primary outcome of number of HIV tests over 12 months was assessed overall and in two strata: recent (last test ≤2 years ago) and non-recent (>2 years ago or never tested) testers. A statistician who was masked to group allocation analysed the data; analyses included all participants who completed at least one follow-up questionnaire. After the 12 month follow-up, men in the standard care group were offered free self-testing kits for a year. This trial is registered with the Australian New Zealand clinical trials registry, number actrn12613001236785.

Findings: Between Dec 1, 2013, and Feb 5, 2015, 182 men were randomly assigned to self-testing, and 180 to standard care. The analysis population included 178 (98%) men in the self-testing group (174 person-years) and 165 (92%) in the standard care group (162 person-years). Overall, men in the self-testing group had 701 HIV tests (410 self-tests; mean 4·0 tests per year), and men in the standard care group had 313 HIV tests (mean 1·9 tests per year); rate ratio (rr) 2·08 (95% ci 1·82-2·38; p<0·0001). Among recent testers, men in the self-testing group had 627 tests (356 self-tests; mean 4·2 per year), and men in the standard care group had 297 tests (mean 2·1 per year); rr 1·99 (1·73-2·29; p<0·0001). Among non-recent testers, men in the self-testing group had 74 tests (54 self-tests; mean 2·8 per year), and men in the standard care group had 16 tests (mean 0·7 per year); rr 3·95 (2·30-6·78; p<0·0001). The mean number of facility-based HIV tests per year was similar in the self-testing and standard care groups (mean 1·7 vs 1·9 per year, respectively; rr 0·86, 0·74-1·01; P=0·074). No serious adverse events were reported during follow-up.

Interpretation: HIV self-testing resulted in a two times increase in frequency of testing in gay and bisexual men at high risk of infection, and a nearly four times increase in non-recent testers, compared with standard care, without reducing the frequency of facility-based HIV testing. HIV self-testing should be made more widely available to help increase testing and earlier diagnosis.

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Analysis of false-negative human immunodeficiency virus rapid tests performed on oral fluid in 3 international clinical research studies.

Curlin ME, Gvetadze R, Leelawiwat W, Martin M, Rose C, Niska RW, Segolodi TM, Choopanya K, Tongtoyai J, Holtz TH, Samandari T, McNicholl JM; OraQuick Study Group. Clin Infect Dis. 2017 Jun 15;64(12):1663-1669. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix228.

Background: The OraQuick Advance Rapid HIV-1/2 Test is a point-of-care test capable of detecting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-specific antibodies in blood and oral fluid. To understand test performance and factors contributing to false-negative results in longitudinal studies, we examined results of participants enrolled in the Botswana TDF/FTC Oral HIV Prophylaxis Trial, the Bangkok Tenofovir Study, and the Bangkok MSM Cohort Study, 3 separate clinical studies of high-risk, HIV-negative persons conducted in Botswana and Thailand.

Methods: In a retrospective observational analysis, we compared oral fluid OraQuick (OFOQ) results among participants becoming HIV infected to results obtained retrospectively using enzyme immunoassay and nucleic acid amplification tests on stored specimens. We categorized negative OFOQ results as true-negative or false-negative relative to nucleic acid amplification test and/or enzyme immunoassay, and determined the delay in OFOQ conversion relative to the estimated time of infection. We used log-binomial regression and generalized estimating equations to examine the association between false-negative results and participant, clinical, and testing-site factors.

Results: Two-hundred thirty-three false-negative OFOQ results occurred in 80 of 287 seroconverting individuals.  Estimated OFOQ conversion delay ranged from 14.5 to 547.5 (median, 98.5) days. Delayed OFOQ conversion was associated with clinical site and test operator (P < .05), preexposure prophylaxis (P = .01), low plasma viral load (P < .02), and time to kit expiration (P < .01). Participant age, sex, and HIV subtype were not associated with false-negative results. Long OFOQ conversion delay time was associated with antiretroviral exposure and low plasma viral load.

Conclusions: Failure of OFOQ to detect HIV-1 infection was frequent and multifactorial in origin. In longitudinal trials, negative oral fluid results should be confirmed via testing of blood samples.

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Multi-country validation of SAMBA - A novel molecular point-of- care test for HIV-1 detection in resource-limited setting.

Ondiek J, Namukaya Z, Mtapuri-Zinyowera S, Balkan S, Elbireer A, Ushiro Lumb I, Kiyaga C, Goel N, Ritchie A, Ncube P, Omuomu K, Ndiege K, Kekitiinwa A,Mangwanya D, Fowler MG, Nadala L, Lee H. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 Jun 9. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001476. [Epub ahead of print]

Introduction: Early diagnosis of HIV-1 infection and the prompt initiation of antiretroviral therapy are critical to achieving a reduction in the morbidity and mortality of infected infants. The SAMBA HIV-1 Qual Whole Blood Test was developed specifically for early infant diagnosis and prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs implemented at the point-of-care in resource-limited settings.

Methods: We have evaluated the performance of this test run on the SAMBA I semi-automated platform with fresh whole blood specimens collected from 202 adults and 745 infants in Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Results were compared with those obtained with the Roche COBAS AmpliPrep/COBAS TaqMan (CAP/CTM) HIV-1 assay as performed with fresh whole blood or dried blood spots of the same subjects, and discrepancies were resolved with alternative assays.

Results: The performance of the SAMBA and CAP/CTM assays evaluated at five laboratories in the three countries was similar for both adult and infant samples. The clinical sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values for the SAMBA test were 100%, 99.2%, 98.7%, and 100%, respectively, with adult samples, and 98.5%, 99.8%, 99.7%, and 98.8%, respectively, with infant samples.

Discussion: Our data suggest that the SAMBA HIV-1 Qual Whole Blood Test would be effective for early diagnosis of HIV-1 infection in infants at point-of care settings in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Differentiated human immunodeficiency virus RNA monitoring in resource-limited settings: an economic analysis.

Negoescu DM, Zhang Z, Bucher HC, Bendavid E; Swiss HIV Cohort Study. Clin Infect Dis. 2017 Jun 15;64(12):1724-1730. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix177.

Background: Viral load (VL) monitoring for patients receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) is recommended worldwide. However, the costs of frequent monitoring are a barrier to implementation in resource-limited settings. The extent to which personalized monitoring frequencies may be cost-effective is unknown.

Methods: We created a simulation model parameterized using person-level longitudinal data to assess the benefits of flexible monitoring frequencies. Our data-driven model tracked human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected individuals for 10 years following ART initiation. We optimized the interval between viral load tests as a function of patients' age, gender, education, duration since ART initiation, adherence behavior, and the cost-effectiveness threshold. We compared the cost-effectiveness of the personalized monitoring strategies to fixed monitoring intervals every 1, 3, 6, 12, and 24 months.

Results: Shorter fixed VL monitoring intervals yielded increasing benefits (6.034 to 6.221 discounted quality-adjusted life-years [QALYs] per patient with monitoring every 24 to 1 month over 10 years, respectively, standard error = 0.005 QALY), at increasing average costs: US$3445 (annual monitoring) to US$5393 (monthly monitoring) per patient, respectively (standard error = US$3.7). The adaptive policy optimized for low-income contexts achieved 6.142 average QALYs at a cost of US$3524, similar to the fixed 12-month policy (6.135 QALYs, US$3518). The adaptive policy optimized for middle-income resource settings yields 0.008 fewer QALYs per person, but saves US$204 compared to monitoring every 3 months.

Conclusions: The benefits from implementing adaptive vs fixed VL monitoring policies increase with the availability of resources. In low- and middle-income countries, adaptive policies achieve similar outcomes to simpler, fixed-interval policies.

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Treatment decisions and mortality in HIV-positive presumptive smear-negative TB in the Xpert™ MTB/RIF era: a cohort study.

Hermans SM, Babirye JA, Mbabazi O, Kakooza F, Colebunders R, Castelnuovo B, Sekaggya-Wiltshire C, Parkes-Ratanshi R, Manabe YC. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 Jun 16;17(1):433. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2534-2.

Background: The Xpert™ MTB/RIF (XP) has a higher sensitivity than sputum smear microscopy (70% versus 35%) for TB diagnosis and has been endorsed by the WHO for TB high burden countries to increase case finding among HIV co-infected presumptive TB patients. Its impact on the diagnosis of smear-negative TB in a routine care setting is unclear. We determined the change in diagnosis, treatment and mortality of smear-negative presumptive TB with routine use of Xpert MTB/RIF (XP).

Methods: Prospective cohort study of HIV-positive smear-negative presumptive TB patients during a 12-month period after XP implementation in a well-staffed and trained integrated TB/HIV clinic in Kampala, Uganda. Prior to testing clinicians were asked to decide whether they would treat empirically prior to Xpert result; actual treatment was decided upon receipt of the XP result. We compared empirical and XP-informed treatment decisions and all-cause mortality in the first year.

Results: Of 411 smear-negative presumptive TB patients, 175 (43%) received an XP; their baseline characteristics did not differ. XP positivity was similar in patients with a pre-XP empirical diagnosis and those without (9/29 [17%] versus 14/142 [10%], P = 0.23). Despite XP testing high levels of empirical treatment prevailed (18%), although XP results did change who ultimately was treated for TB. When adjusted for CD4 count, empirical treatment was not associated with higher mortality compared to no or microbiologically confirmed treatment.

Conclusions: XP usage was lower than expected. The lower sensitivity of XP in smear-negative HIV-positive patients led experienced clinicians to use XP as a "rule-in" rather than "rule-out" test, with the majority of patients still treated empirically.

Keywords: Empirical treatment; HIV Infections/complications; Molecular diagnostic techniques/methods; Tuberculosis, pulmonary/diagnosis; Tuberculosis, pulmonary/epidemiology

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School and household tuberculosis contact investigations in Swaziland: Active TB case finding in a high HIV/TB burden setting.

Ustero PA, Kay AW, Ngo K, Golin R, Tsabedze B, Mzileni B,Glickman J, Wisile Xaba M, Mavimbela G, Mandalakas AM. PLoS One. 2017 Jun 5;12(6):e0178873. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0178873.eCollection 2017.

Background: Investigation of household contacts exposed to infectious tuberculosis (TB) is widely recommended by international guidelines to identify secondary cases of TB and limit spread. There is little data to guide the use of contact investigations outside of the household, despite strong evidence that most TB infections occur outside of the home in TB high burden settings. In older adolescents, the majority of infections are estimated to occur in school. Therefore, as part of a project to increase active case finding in Swaziland, we performed school contact investigations following the identification of a student with infectious TB.

Methods: The Butimba Project identified 7 adolescent TB index cases (age 10-20) with microbiologically confirmed disease attending 6 different schools between June 2014 and March 2015. In addition to household contact investigations, Butimba Project staff worked with the Swaziland School Health Programme (SHP) to perform school contact investigations. At 6 school TB screening events, between May and October 2015, selected students underwent voluntary TB screening and those with positive symptom screens provided sputum for TB testing.

Results: Among 2015 student contacts tested, 177 (9%) screened positive for TB symptoms, 132 (75%) produced a sputum sample, of which zero tested positive for TB. Household contact investigations of the same index cases yielded 40 contacts; 24 (60%) screened positive for symptoms; 19 produced a sputum sample, of which one case was confirmed positive for TB. The odds ratio of developing TB following household vs. school contact exposure was significantly lower (OR 0.0, 95% CI 0.0 to 0.18, P = 0.02) after exposure in school.

Conclusion: School-based contact investigations require further research to establish best practices in TB high burden settings. In this case, a symptom-based screening approach did not identify additional cases of tuberculosis. In comparison, household contact investigations yielded a higher percentage of contacts with positive TB screens and an additional tuberculosis case.

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HPV serostatus pre- and post-vaccination in a randomized phase II preparedness trial among young Western Cape, South African women: the EVRI trial.

Sudenga SL, Torres BN, Botha MH, Zeier M, Abrahamsen ME, Glashoff RH, Engelbrecht S, Schim Van der Loeff MF, Van der Laan LE, Kipping S, Taylor D, Giuliano AR. Papillomavirus Res. 2017 Jun;3:50-56. doi: 10.1016/j.pvr.2017.02.001. Epub 2017 Feb 16.

Background: HPV antibodies are a marker of past exposure to the virus. Our objective was to assess HPV serostatus pre- and post-vaccination among HIV-negative women.

Methods: Women aged 16-24 years old were randomized in a placebo controlled trial utilizing the 4-valent HPV (4vHPV) vaccine (NCT01489527, clinicaltrials.gov). Participants (n=389) received the 4vHPV vaccine or placebo following a three dose schedule. Sera were collected at Day 1 and Month 7 for assessment of HPV 6, 11, 16, and 18 neutralizing antibody levels using a multiplex competitive Luminex immunoassay (Merck) based on detecting the L1 capsid antigen for each HPV type.

Results: Seroprevalence was 73% for HPV6, 47% for HPV11, 33% for HPV16, and 44% for HPV18. Seroprevalence for any HPV type did not significantly differ by age or lifetime number of partners. The majority of participants (64%) had two or more 4vHPV antibodies present at enrollment and 12% had antibodies to all four. Among women in the vaccine arm, those that were seropositive for HPV16 at enrollment had higher titers at month 7 compared to women that were seronegative for HPV16 at enrollment; this trend holds for the other HPV types as well. Seroconversion among baseline seronegative participants in the placebo group ranged from 5% for HPV16 to 23% for HPV6.

Conclusion: HPV seroprevalence was high in this population, emphasizing the need to vaccinate prior to sexual debut.

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The performance of human papillomavirus biomarkers in predicting anal high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions in gay and bisexual men.

Jin F, Roberts JM, Grulich AE, Poynten IM, Machalek DA, Cornall A, Phillips S, Ekman D, McDonald RL, Hillman RJ, Templeton DJ, Farnsworth A, Garland SM, Fairley CK, Tabrizi SN; SPANC Research Team. AIDS. 2017 Jun 1;31(9):1303-1311. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001462.

Background: We evaluate the performance of human papillomavirus (HPV) biomarkers in prediction of anal histological high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions in gay and bisexual men (GBM) in Sydney, Australia.

Design: Baseline analysis of a 3-year cohort study.

Methods: The study of the prevention of anal cancer is natural history study of anal HPV infection in GBM aged at least 35 years. All participants completed cytological and histological assessments. Stored ThinPrep PreservCyt residua were tested for HPV genotyping (Linear Array and Cobas 4800) and viral load, E6/E7 mRNA expression (NucliSENS easyQ HPV v1) and dual cytology staining of p16/Ki 67 antibodies (CINtecPLUS). Performance of each biomarker was compared with liquid-based anal cytology. The hypothetical referral rates were defined as the proportion of men who had abnormal cytology or tested positive to each of the biomarkers.

Results: The median age of the 617 participants was 49 years (range: 35-79), and 35.7% were HIV-positive. All biomarkers were strongly associated with the grade of HPV-associated anal lesions (P < 0.001 for all). High-risk HPV (HR-HPV) viral load with a 33% cut-off and HR-HPV E6/E7 mRNA had similar sensitivity to anal cytology (78.4 and 75.4 vs. 83.2%, respectively), improved specificity (68.0 and 69.4 vs. 52.4%, respectively) and lower referral rates (47.0 and 45.0 vs. 59.2%, respectively). Specificity was significantly higher in the HIV-negative for HR-HPV viral load (72.3 vs. 58.2%, P = 0.005).

Conclusion: HR-HPV viral load and E6/E7 mRNA had similar sensitivity and higher specificity in predicting histological anal high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion with lower referrals in GBM than anal cytology.

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Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania
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Some key considerations for surveys of key populations

Editor’s notes: A key challenge for epidemiological research involving key populations is to find a representative sample.  Whereas national surveys such as demographic health surveys (DHS) and PHIA can use the total population to create a sampling frame from which to draw individuals at random, researchers interested in key populations have to use a range of methods, all of which have limitations as well as strengths.  Internet and app-based surveys may accrue large numbers, but may have significant biases in terms of who chooses to answer such questionnaires.  Venue-based sampling allows data to be collected from people who happen to be at the venue at the same time as the researchers.  Respondent driven sampling has become increasingly popular as a method to reach individuals that might otherwise be hard to include in studies.  Increasingly sophisticated statistical methods have been developed to adjust estimates, and in particular their precision, according to characteristics of respondents found in the sample.

This month we have three respondent driven studies that highlight different methodological aspects as well as shedding light on key populations in Africa and Asia.  Hladik et al. conducted a major survey of female sex workers in Kampala, Uganda.  Unfortunately, it has taken some time for this study to be published, as the original questionnaires were completed in 2008/9 and it is plausible that many aspects of sex work have been changing over the past decade.  Nonetheless, the authors succeeded in enrolling almost 1000 female sex workers from the capital city using a respondent driven sampling approach.  The authors paid close attention to methods that could maximize the validity of the data they collected as well as ensuring that participants were protected.  Formative research laid out acceptable incentives to participate, as well as approaches to discuss sensitive or taboo areas and to ensure that all the women understood what was being asked in particular questions.  Finger scanners were used to generate unique identification numbers, so that women could be tracked during the study, and these files were subsequently deleted.  This approach was widely accepted, as it has been in many programmes offering services that benefit from a linked identifier.  However, any approach that creates identifiers for populations that are often discriminated or legislated against needs to be examined critically to ensure that any risks to participants are well understood, particularly for research that is not going to bring any direct benefits to the individual participants.  Although the study’s findings are not particularly surprising, they remind us that sex workers in Kampala need to remain a vital part of the HIV response.  Not only are they affected by a high prevalence of 33%, rising to 44% among those over 25 years old, but they are also subject to horribly high rates of violence including both rape and beating in up to one third of the women in the one month prior to the interview.  The study highlights particular factors that might help identify women in most need of HIV and other services.  Women with less education, who rely entirely on sex work for their income and who have never tested for HIV are all more likely to be HIV positive.

In nearby Malawi, Wirtz et al. point out that many respondent driven samples of key populations, such as that from Hladik et al., are only able to collect data from one particular city or region, and that this can lead to misinterpretation if the results are generalized to whole countries.  The authors conducted a large study of gay men and men who have sex with men in seven different communities across Malawi.  They found considerable heterogeneity leading to an overall estimate that the risk of HIV was approximately twice as high in gay men and men who have sex with men as in the general population of men of the same age.  The study managed to enrol a total of almost 2500 men through respondent driven sampling in the different districts.  However, this was at the expense of having to collect data over a considerable time period, with the study team moving from district to district.  As the authors acknowledge, the risk is that data collected in the most recent time period may not be equivalent to data collected four years previously.  The authors did find that the highest rates of HIV among gay men and men who have sex with men were not always where they have been presumed to be.  In particular tourist areas and some rural areas had higher rates than some of the cities that are usually the focus of key populations programmes.  Once again, the finding that so few gay men and men who have sex with men knew their status and were linked to treatment may not be surprising but is still shocking.  Only 1% of men found to be positive reported that they were aware of their status.  The authors point out the tension between public health and policy in a country where homosexuality is criminalized.  If HIV is to be prevented, this tension will need to be resolved.

The third respondent driven sampling study also highlights heterogeneity.  Verdery et al. used additional statistical methods to study the network characteristics of people who use drugs in two cities in the Philippines (Cebu and Mandaue).  The “small world” phenomenon explains how in more closed settings everyone knows everyone else, and among people who use drugs, many people form part of overlapping networks of needle sharing that allow for rapid propagation of infection.  Developing such methods could allow respondent driven samples to yield greater insights in to the epidemiology of HIV in key populations.  However, issues of representation both of the sample interviewed and of the broader geographic population of interest will remain important.  Quantitative research is certainly essential to understand the population sizes of key populations, and their prevalence, incidence and risk factors of HIV infection.  However, research into policy formation; social science research to understand the larger context of HIV and implementation science to determine how better to offer services that engage individuals in HIV testing and care remain a high priority. 

Burden and characteristics of HIV infection among female sex workers in Kampala, Uganda - a respondent-driven sampling survey

Hladik W, Baughman AL, Serwadda D, Tappero JW, Kwezi R, Nakato ND, Barker J. BMC Public Health. 2017 Jun 10;17(1):565. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4428-z.

Background: Sex workers in Uganda are at significant risk for HIV infection. We characterized the HIV epidemic among Kampala female sex workers (FSW).

Methods: We used respondent-driven sampling to sample FSW aged 15+ years who reported having sold sex to men in the preceding 30 days; collected data through audio-computer assisted self-interviews, and tested blood, vaginal and rectal swabs for HIV, syphilis, neisseria gonorrhea, chlamydia trachomatis, and trichomonas vaginalis.

Results: A total of 942 FSW were enrolled from June 2008 through April 2009. The overall estimated HIV prevalence was 33% (95% confidence intervals [CI] 30%-37%) and among FSW 25 years or older was 44%. HIV infection is associated with low levels of schooling, having no other work, never having tested for HIV, self-reported genital ulcers or sores, and testing positive for neisseria gonorrhea or any sexually transmitted infections (STI). Two thirds (65%) of commercial sex acts reportedly were protected by condoms; one in five (19%) FSW reported having had anal sex. Gender-based violence was frequent; 34% reported having been raped and 24% reported having been beaten by clients in the preceding 30 days.

Conclusions: One in three FSW in Kampala is HIV-infected, suggesting a severe HIV epidemic in this population. Intensified interventions are warranted to increase condom use, HIV testing, STI screening, as well as antiretroviral treatment and pre-exposure prophylaxis along with measures to overcome gender-based violence.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

Geographical disparities in HIV prevalence and care among men who have sex with men in Malawi: results from a multisite cross-sectional survey.

Wirtz AL, Trapence G, Kamba D, Gama V, Chalera R, Jumbe V, Kumwenda R, Mangochi M, Helleringer S, Beyrer C, Baral S. Lancet HIV. 2017 Jun;4(6):e260-e269. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30042-5. Epub 2017 Feb 28.

Background: Epidemiological assessment of geographical heterogeneity of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) is necessary to inform HIV prevention and care strategies in the more generalised HIV epidemics across sub-Saharan Africa, including Malawi. We aimed to measure the HIV prevalence, risks, and access to HIV care among MSM across multiple localities to better inform HIV programming for MSM in Malawi.

Methods: Between Aug 1, 2011, and Sept 13, 2014, we recruited MSM into cross-sectional research via respondent-driven sampling (RDS) in seven districts of Malawi. RDS and site weights were used to estimate national HIV prevalence and engagement in care and in multilevel regression models to identify correlates of prevalent HIV infection. The comparative prevalence ratio of HIV among MSM relative to adult men was calculated by use of direct age-stratification.

Findings: 2453 MSM were enrolled with a population HIV prevalence of 18·2% (95% CI 15·5-21·2), as low as 4·1% (2·2-7·6) in Mzuzu and as high as 24·5% (19·5-30·3) in Mulanje. The comparative HIV prevalence ratio was 2·52 when comparing MSM with the adult male population. Age-stratified HIV prevalence showed early onset of infection with 11·8% (95% CI 7·3-18·4) of MSM aged 18-19 years HIV infected. Factors positively associated with HIV infection included being aged 21-30 years and reporting female or transgender identity. Among HIV infected MSM, less than 1% reported ever being diagnosed with HIV infection (0·9%, 95% CI 0·4-2·5) and initiated antiretroviral treatment (0·2%, 0·2-0·3).

Interpretation: HIV disproportionately affects MSM in Malawi with disparities sustained across the HIV care continuum. These issues are geographically heterogeneous and begin among young MSM, supporting geographically focused and age-specific approaches to confidential HIV testing with linkage to HIV services. 

Abstract access 

 

Social network clustering and the spread of HIV/AIDS among persons who inject drugs in two cities in the Philippines

Verdery AM, Siripong N, Pence BW. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 Sep 1;76(1):26-32. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001485. Epub 2017 Jun 22.

Introduction: The Philippines has seen rapid increases in HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs. We study two neighboring cities where a linked HIV epidemic differed in timing of onset and levels of prevalence. In Cebu, prevalence rose rapidly from under 1% to 54% between 2009 and 2011 and remained high through 2013. In nearby Mandaue, HIV remained below 4% through 2011 then rose rapidly to 38% by 2013.

Objectives: We hypothesize that infection prevalence differences in these cities may owe to aspects of social network structure, specifically levels of network clustering. Building on prior research, we hypothesize that higher levels of network clustering are associated with greater epidemic potential.

Methods: Data were collected with respondent-driven sampling among males who inject drugs in Cebu and Mandaue in 2013. We first examine sample composition using estimators for population means. We then apply new estimators of network clustering in respondent-driven sampling data to examine associations with HIV prevalence.

Results: Samples in both cities were comparable in terms of composition by age, education, and injection locations. Dyadic needle sharing levels were also similar between the two cities, but network clustering in the needle sharing network differed dramatically. We found higher clustering in Cebu than Mandaue, consistent with expectations that higher clustering is associated with faster epidemic spread.

Conclusion: This paper is the first to apply estimators of network clustering to empirical respondent-driven samples, and it offers suggestive evidence that researchers should pay greater attention to network structure's role in HIV transmission dynamics.

Abstract access

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case for investing in the male condom

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

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

Editor’s notes: Risk compensation is a phenomenon well known to behavioural scientists.  When car-drivers wear seat belts, they may drive faster because they feel safer.  Despite some evidence to the contrary, a commonly voiced concern about PrEP is that people who take it will take more risks with their sexual health.  So it is reassuring to see two studies that examine partnership dynamics and condom use among people on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and among men who have been circumcised.

McGrath and Grapsa studied relationships and reported sexual behaviour among 632 people living with HIV and enrolled in an ongoing cohort study in KwaZulu Natal during the period, when only those with lower CD4 counts were eligible for ART.  They interviewed participants every 6 months, in person or by phone, for up to 36 months. This was in order to follow which relationships were formed and which dissolved and to determine how often participants were having sex and how often they were having condomless sex.  The authors clearly document (perhaps unsurprisingly) that many relationships dissolved (192 out of 565 partnerships at some time in the study) or formed (161 out of 132 individuals who were single at some time in the study).  Partnerships dissolved more frequently among people who had only been in a relationship for less than a year; people who drank alcohol and in partnerships where the participant described the relationship as being of “poor quality”.  New partners were more common for people who were younger; had not disclosed their HIV status; drank alcohol or reported having more than 3 lifetime sexual partners at the start of the study.  There was no suggestion that being on ART affected the likelihood of forming or leaving a partnership. This is important for mathematical models of HIV transmission in the era of universal treatment policies.

Sex was more frequently reported in people in more recent partnerships; people who knew their partners’ HIV status and among people who wanted more children.  Sex was less frequent and more often protected by a condom among people who did not trust their partner’s fidelity or where the couple did not live together.  People who were eligible for ART tended to use condoms more regularly during the follow up than people who were still “waiting for treatment”.  Other factors associated with more condom use included more equitable gender norms; HIV status disclosure and not living together.  Condoms were used less often in partnerships that included alcohol, partner violence or where the couple wanted more children.  Overall, the authors estimated that around 5.5% of sex acts were “risky” (that is unprotected with a partner who was HIV negative or where the HIV status was unknown) among those eligible for ART and around 13.2% for those not yet eligible.  Around one third of the participants reported having condomless sex at least once, but in almost half of these, they knew that their partner was also living with HIV.

Taking effective ART regularly means that people living with HIV are no longer infectious once their viral load is reliably suppressed.  However, it is clear that not everyone achieves viral load suppression.  This study provides useful prospective information about partnerships and sexual behaviour in the context of very high HIV transmission.  It is reassuring in showing that on the whole, sexual behaviour seems less risky, even before taking the huge effect of ART into account.  There was no evidence to suggest that risk compensation occurred in those offered ART.

In order to maximize the preventive benefits of ART, it is essential that people are supported to take their medicines regularly.  In crowded urban facilities in high prevalence settings, long waiting times, and challenges in stock management mean that people living with HIV have to be quite determined to negotiate the systems and minimize treatment interruptions.  Although it is national policy in Zambia and some other highly burden countries to provide three-month supplies to people whose HIV is stable and well controlled, McCarthy and colleagues found that less than half of people who should be getting three-month refills were doing so.  They instituted a cluster randomized trial of a quality improvement programme across 16 health facilities in Lusaka.  Each clinic follows around 4-5000 people on ART of whom around 1000 are stable and eligible for three-monthly refills.  The key element was for a focal point in each of the eight intervention clinics to be designated as a quality improvement officer and to be supported with materials to plan and monitor drug stocks and support local changes.  This is to ensure that stable patients did not have to spend long periods in the clinic or go away with less medicine than they needed.  The District Health Management team supported the quality improvement officers when the challenges identified were beyond their responsibilities or capabilities to change.  The programme led to a statistically significant 15% increase in the proportion of appropriate people receiving three-month refills (reaching 69%).  On average the intervention clinics became less congested (35 fewer visits per day compared to the controls) and had shorter waiting times (20 minutes shorter per visit) although these results did not reach statistical significance.

Another study exploring risk compensation was carried out by Shi and colleagues.  The authors used data from recent demographic and health surveys from countries that are part of the scale-up of voluntary medical male circumcision in East and Southern Africa.  Circumcision was most prevalent in Kenya (88% and 94% before and after 2008, when scale-up was pushed) and lowest in Zimbabwe (12% and 11% respectively). Overall condom usage increased in both circumcised and uncircumcised men.  Reports of condom use at last sex averaged around 15-16% before 2008 across the ten countries surveyed and rose to around 21% after 2008.  There was no suggestion that men who were circumcised were any less likely to use a condom than men who were not.  Similarly, there was no suggestion that circumcised men were more likely to have non-cohabiting partners.

The study also highlights big differences between countries, and between different groups.  Even among men with no regular partner, the use of a condom at last sex is often less than 50% with differences as expected also seen by age, education, religion and residence.  Promoting circumcision remains a hugely cost-effective approach to HIV prevention.  This study therefore provides important reassurance that the possibility of risk compensation is not serious for circumcision programmes.  Nonetheless we still have plenty of work to do to reach our targets and prevent HIV.

Does ART change partnership dynamics and HIV risk behaviours among PLWH? A cohort study in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

McGrath N, Grapsa E. AIDS. 2017 Apr 10. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001502. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective: We explore the impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART) on partnership acquisition and dissolution rates and changes in sexual behaviours among HIV-infected adults.

Design: Using detailed longitudinal data from a prospective cohort of HIV-infected adults with CD4<200 cell/ml (ART-eligible) or CD4>500 cell/ml (pre-ART) conducted in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, 2009-2012.

Methods: Partnership acquisition and dissolution are explored through survival analysis methods, while generalized linear models were fitted for the sexual behaviour outcomes with interaction terms to allow the association with ART to vary over time. Throughout, the primary comparison of interest for each outcome is differences between the two ART groups.

Results: ART is not associated with partner acquisition or relationship dissolution. During follow-up, the two ART groups do not differ in the odds of being sexually active nor the number of sex acts, while the odds of unprotected sex are significantly lower for partnerships of ART-eligible participants, a0R = 0.26, 95%CI(0.15,0.43). Relationship-level characteristics including cohabitation status and wanting more children with that partner are associated with higher odds and increased frequency of sexual activity, increased odds of unprotected sex; while living with partner, higher relationship quality and longer relationship duration are associated with lower risk of partnership dissolution.

Conclusion: Being on ART was not associated with increased sexual risk behaviours, a reassuring finding given the WHO recommends ART initiation upon HIV diagnosis. The importance of relationship-level characteristics provides evidence that HIV care services should offer routine support for HIV disclosure and sexual risk reduction, and promotion of couples-testing and positive couple-relationships.

Abstract access 

Quality improvement intervention to increase adherence to ART prescription policy at HIV treatment clinics in Lusaka, Zambia: A cluster randomized trial.

McCarthy EA, Subramaniam HL, Prust ML, Prescott MR, Mpasela F, Mwango A, Namonje L, Moyo C, Chibuye B, van den Broek JW, Hehman L, Moberley S. PLoS One. 2017 Apr 18;12(4):e0175534. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0175534. eCollection 2017.

Introduction: In urban areas, crowded HIV treatment facilities with long patient wait times can deter patients from attending their clinical appointments and picking up their medications, ultimately disrupting patient care and compromising patient retention and adherence.

Methods: Formative research at eight facilities in Lusaka revealed that only 46% of stable HIV treatment patients were receiving a three-month refill supply of antiretroviral drugs, despite it being national policy for stable adult patients. We designed a quality improvement intervention to improve the operationalization of this policy. We conducted a cluster-randomized controlled trial in sixteen facilities in Lusaka with the primary objective of examining the intervention's impact on the proportion of stable patients receiving three-month refills. The secondary objective was examining whether the quality improvement intervention reduced facility congestion measured through two proxy indicators: daily volume of clinic visits and average clinic wait times for services.

Results: The mean change in the proportion of three-month refills among control facilities from baseline to endline was 10% (from 38% to 48%), compared to a 25% mean change (an increase from 44% to 69%) among intervention facilities. This represents a significant 15% mean difference (95% CI: 2%-29%; P = 0.03) in the change in proportion of patients receiving three-month refills. On average, control facilities had 15 more visits per day in the endline than in the baseline, while intervention facilities had 20 fewer visits per day in endline than in baseline, a mean difference of 35 fewer visits per day (P = 0.1). The change in the mean facility total wait time for intervention facilities dropped 19 minutes between baseline and endline when compared to control facilities (95% CI: -10.2-48.5; P = 0.2).

Conclusion: A more patient-centred service delivery schedule of three-month prescription refills for stable patients is viable. We encourage the expansion of this sustainable intervention in Zambia's urban clinics.

Abstract Full-text [free] access

Evidence that promotion of male circumcision did not lead to sexual risk compensation in prioritized sub-Saharan countries.

Shi CF, Li M, Dushoff J. PLoS One. 2017 Apr 25;12(4):e0175928. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0175928. eCollection 2017.

Background: WHO and UNAIDS prioritized 14 eastern and southern African countries with high HIV and low male circumcision prevalence for a voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) scale-up in 2007. Because circumcision provides only partial protection against HIV infection to men, the issue of possible risk compensation in response to VMMC campaigns is of particular concern. In this study, we looked at population-level survey data from the countries prioritized by WHO for a VMMC scale-up. We compared the difference in sexual risk behaviours (SRB) between circumcised and uncircumcised men before and after the WHO's official VMMC promotion.

Materials and Methods: Ten countries (Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) participating in the WHO's VMMC scale-up had available data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). We used cumulative-link mixed models to investigate interactions between survey period and circumcision status in predicting SRB, in order to evaluate whether the difference between the behavior of the two groups changed before and after the scale-up, while controlling for socio-demographic and knowledge-related covariates. The main responses were condom use at last sex and number of non-cohabiting sexual partners, both in the last 12 months.

Results: There was little change in condom use by circumcised men relative to uncircumcised men from before the VMMC scale up to after the scale up. The relative odds ratio is 1.06 (95% CI, 0.95-1.18; interaction P = 0.310). Similarly, there was little change in the number of non-cohabiting partners in circumcised men (relative to uncircumcised men): the relative odds ratio of increasing the number of partners is 0.95 (95% CI, 0.86-1.05; interaction P = 0.319). Age, religion, education, job, marital status, media use and HIV knowledge also showed statistically significant association with the studied risk behaviours. We also found significant differences among countries, while controlling for covariates.

Conclusions: Overall, we find no evidence of sexual risk compensation in response to VMMC campaigns in countries prioritized by WHO. Changes in relative partner behaviour and the relative odds of condom use were small (and of uncertain sign). In fact, our estimates, though not significant, both suggest slightly less risky behavior. We conclude that sexual risk compensation in response to VMMC campaigns has not been a serious problem to date, but urge continued attention to local context, and to promulgating accurate messages about circumcision within and beyond the VMMC context.

Abstract   Full-text [free] access 

Africa
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Increasing HIV testing by sharing the load and updating tasks and traditions for traditional birth attendants and lay providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Africa, Asia
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Antiretroviral therapy in pregnancy is not associated with an increased risk of preterm delivery

PMTCT Option B+ does not increase preterm birth risk and may prevent extreme prematurity: A retrospective cohort study in Malawi.

Chagomerana MB, Miller WC, Pence BW, Hosseinipour MC, Hoffman IF, Flick RJ, Tweya H, Mumba S, Chibwandira F, Powers KA. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2016 Nov 21. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective: To estimate preterm birth risk among infants of HIV-infected women in Lilongwe, Malawi according to maternal antiretroviral therapy (ART) status and initiation time under Option B+.

Design: Retrospective cohort study of HIV-infected women delivering at ≥27 weeks of gestation, April 2012- November 2015. Among women on ART at delivery, we restricted our analysis to those who initiated ART before 27 weeks of gestation.

Methods: We defined preterm birth as a singleton live birth at ≥27 and <37 weeks of gestation, with births at <32 weeks classified as extremely to very preterm. We used log-binomial models to estimate risk ratios (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for the association between ART and preterm birth.

Results: Among 3074 women included in our analyses, 731 preterm deliveries were observed (24%). Overall preterm birth risk was similar in women who had initiated ART at any point before 27 weeks and those who never initiated ART (RR = 1.14; 95% CI: 0.84 - 1.55), but risk of extremely to very preterm birth was 2.33 (1.39 - 3.92) times as great in those who never initiated ART compared to those who did at any point before 27 weeks. Among women on ART before delivery, ART initiation before conception was associated with the lowest preterm birth risk.

Conclusions: ART during pregnancy was not associated with preterm birth, and it may in fact be protective against severe adverse outcomes accompanying extremely to very preterm birth. As pre-conception ART initiation appears especially protective, long-term retention on ART should be a priority to minimize preterm birth in subsequent pregnancies.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: Effectively delivered antiretroviral therapy (ART) in pregnancy virtually eliminates the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission and has been widely adopted. Option B+ is a strategy to start all HIV-positive pregnant women on ART regardless of their CD4 count or other HIV parameters and to continue it indefinitely after delivery to further protect the mother’s health. Balanced against the substantial health gains from the use of ART in pregnancy have been concerns that they may make some adverse pregnancy outcomes more common. Concerns about teratogenicity and birth defects with commonly-used drugs have largely gone as more data has accumulated but prematurity has remained an issue. There has been conflicting evidence from previous studies. Some have suggested an increased risk of preterm birth but others, including meta-analysis, have not. Many earlier studies were predominantly of women with advanced HIV disease, a group with an already-increased risk of preterm birth, and included single- or dual-drug regimens that are no longer recommended. Thus, the results of earlier studies may not be generalizable to women with early stage HIV disease who are being offered newer ART regimens in the context of Option B+.

This study has shown no increase in preterm birth associated with ART in pregnancy, and in fact a statistically and clinically significant protective effect for very early birth (before 32 weeks gestational age). It is a large, thorough and impressive piece of work but has the limitations of any observational study. The risk of unmeasured confounders can never be eliminated; in this case perhaps economic status or level of education. No precise data are presented on the ARV combinations used but it is implied that the great majority of women received efavirenz-based treatment, in accordance with national guidelines in Malawi. Previous studies have suggested that protease inhibitors may be responsible for increased preterm birth. The present study cannot address this question.

This large study of pregnancy outcomes from Option B+ should reassure HIV-positive women and their clinicians that no significant harms were found to be associated with this strategy.  

Africa
Malawi
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Poor adherence during the first three months post-delivery among women on Option B+

Adherence to antiretroviral therapy during and after pregnancy: cohort study on women receiving care in Malawi's Option B+ program.

Haas AD, Msukwa MT, Egger M, Tenthani L, Tweya H, Jahn A, Gadabu OJ, Tal K, Salazar-Vizcaya L, Estill J, Spoerri A, Phiri N, Chimbwandira F, van Oosterhout JJ, Keiser O. Clin Infect Dis. 2016 Nov 1;63(9):1227-1235. Epub 2016 Jul 26.

Background: Adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) is crucial to preventing mother-to-child transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and ensuring the long-term effectiveness of ART, yet data are sparse from African routine care programs on maternal adherence to triple ART.

Methods: We analyzed data from women who started ART at 13 large health facilities in Malawi between September 2011 and October 2013. We defined adherence as the percentage of days "covered" by pharmacy claims. Adherence of ≥90% was deemed adequate. We calculated inverse probability of censoring weights to adjust adherence estimates for informative censoring. We used descriptive statistics, survival analysis, and pooled logistic regression to compare adherence between pregnant and breastfeeding women eligible for ART under Option B+, and nonpregnant and nonbreastfeeding women who started ART with low CD4 cell counts or World Health Organization clinical stage 3/4 disease.

Results: Adherence was adequate for 73% of the women during pregnancy, for 66% in the first 3 months post partum, and for about 75% during months 4-21 post partum. About 70% of women who started ART during pregnancy and breastfeeding adhered adequately during the first 2 years of ART, but only about 30% of them had maintained adequate adherence at every visit. Risk factors for inadequate adherence included starting ART with an Option B+ indication, at a younger age, or at a district hospital or health center.

Conclusions: One-third of women retained in the Option B+ program adhered inadequately during pregnancy and breastfeeding, especially soon after delivery. Effective interventions to improve adherence among women in this program should be implemented.

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Editor’s notes: To maximize the impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART), people living with HIV should be diagnosed early, enrolled and retained in pre-ART care, initiated on ART and retained in ART care.  Long-term adherence to achieve and maintain viral load suppression is the last step in the continuum of HIV care.

“Option B+” is the programmatic option for preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission, pioneered by Malawi, in which combination ART is started during pregnancy and continued life-long. This manuscript describes adherence to ART among pregnant women in the Option B+ programme in Malawi. The authors had access to prospectively-collected pharmacy data, and created an adherence measure that estimates the percentage of days ARVs were actually available to women during a time period. Therefore, this indicator measures the maximum number of days that ART could have been taken, but does not measure how much of the treatment was actually consumed. In this study, about a quarter of women started on ART with an Option B+ indication were lost to follow-up during the first year of ART. Among women retained, 30% adhered inadequately during pregnancy and breastfeeding, especially during the first three months after delivery. Unreported transfers of care to other clinics after delivery, postnatal depression, or difficulties with travelling to the facilities may be explanations for this temporary decline in adherence.

The authors validated their pharmacy-based adherence measure against viral load data in a subsample of about 500 people. They found that their adherence measure correlated well with the viral load measurement, and suggest that if access to viral load testing is limited, pharmacy-based adherence measures might be useful to identify people with adherence problems for targeted viral load testing.

These data are consistent with other studies reporting suboptimal retention particularly among women starting ART during pregnancy. Suboptimal adherence to ART during breastfeeding increases the risk of post-natal transmission, and the risk of the emergence of resistant virus in both mother and infant, as well as compromising the mother’s treatment outcome. Programmes need to address these issues in order to support adherence and retention in the early post-natal period. 

Africa
Malawi
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