Articles tagged as "Mexico"

Despite better access to HIV treatment we need stronger evidence based guidance on treating people with serious complications of advanced HIV infection

Editor’s notes: The emphasis for scaling up HIV treatment usually focuses on outpatient and primary care clinics with increasing decentralization to the community.  It is therefore sobering to see the results of a randomized trial conducted at a national referral hospital in Zambia.  Andrews and colleagues report on 209 adults admitted to hospital with sepsis and hypotension, a combination referred to as septic shock.  Several important points emerge.  Almost 90% of patients admitted with this serious condition were HIV-positive.  Most had only been diagnosed with HIV infection in the last three months, and approximately half were taking ART.  The median CD4 count was only 70 cells per microlitre. Almost half had a history of having tuberculosis and one quarter were currently on anti-tuberculosis treatment at the time of admission to hospital. Most were also anaemic, with an average haemoglobin of 7.8 g/dl. Mortality from septic shock has been falling in Europe and the United States of America largely due to more intensive management of intravenous fluids and blood pressure.  The focus has been on strict protocols to ensure that all patients get the best treatment. However, there has been debate about the best approach to take when less sophisticated monitoring and supportive technology such as artificial ventilation is not available. In this Zambian tertiary hospital setting, only one patient was able to be managed in the intensive care unit due to resource constraints.  Patients were randomized to receive a protocolized intensive fluid and blood pressure resuscitation or to receive the more standard care with the responsible physicians making the decisions.  The death rate from this severe condition was very high.  85 of the 209 patients randomized died.  However, despite receiving more intravenous fluids, more blood transfusions and more drugs to raise blood pressure, the outcomes were worse in the group treated according to the protocol with 48% mortality compared to 33% in the standard care arm.  As always, the lesson is that many of these deaths could have been avoided if we were able to diagnose, link and treat people living with HIV much earlier in the course of their infection.  However, there is also an important caution that treatments that make good sense and seem the best course of action may in fact make the situation worse, even if the same treatments have been shown in other contexts to be beneficial.  Such information will only come from randomized trials, and the authors should be congratulated for being bold enough to conduct a high-quality study that should make us reflect on our preconceptions about how best to treat seriously ill patients in resource poor settings.

Andrade and colleagues have reviewed the literature in order to determine the best approach to treating critically unwell people living with HIV who are admitted to intensive care units.  They examined whether starting ARVs while the person was already critically ill was associated with better outcomes.  Patients in intensive care may already have many different medicines, as well as altered metabolism.  In addition, ARVs can provoke immune reconstitution inflammatory syndromes that have been shown to make outcomes worse in some serious conditions such as cryptococcal meningitis.  On the other hand, the evidence from patients with tuberculosis is clear – starting ARVs as soon as possible is associated with better outcomes.  In this review and meta-analysis, there was a clear short-term advantage to starting ARVs while the patient was still in intensive care.  The data were not sufficient to tell whether the longer-term outcome as also improved by the earlier start of ART.  One limitation is that all the studies reviewed were observational, and the decision to start ARVs was not randomized, so that it is plausible that clinicians may have started ARVs more willingly in those patients who were most likely to survive.  Nonetheless, in the absence of randomized trials, this study makes a strong case for starting ARVs promptly even in the sickest patients.

Effect of an early resuscitation protocol on in-hospital mortality among adults with sepsis and hypotension: a randomized clinical trial.

Andrews B, Semler MW, Muchemwa L, Kelly P, Lakhi S, Heimburger DC, Mabula C, Bwalya M, Bernard GR. JAMA. 2017 Oct 3;318(13):1233-1240. doi: 10.1001/jama.2017.10913.

Importance: The effect of an early resuscitation protocol on sepsis outcomes in developing countries remains unknown.

Objective: To determine whether an early resuscitation protocol with administration of intravenous fluids, vasopressors, and blood transfusion decreases mortality among Zambian adults with sepsis and hypotension compared with usual care.

Design, setting, and participants: Randomized clinical trial of 212 adults with sepsis (suspected infection plus ≥2 systemic inflammatory response syndrome criteria) and hypotension (systolic blood pressure ≤90 mm Hg or mean arterial pressure ≤65 mm Hg) presenting to the emergency department at a 1500-bed referral hospital in Zambia between October 22, 2012, and November 11, 2013. Data collection concluded December 9, 2013.

Interventions: Patients were randomized 1:1 to either (1) an early resuscitation protocol for sepsis (n = 107) that included intravenous fluid bolus administration with monitoring of jugular venous pressure, respiratory rate, and arterial oxygen saturation and treatment with vasopressors targeting mean arterial pressure (≥65 mm Hg) and blood transfusion (for patients with a hemoglobin level <7 g/dL) or (2) usual care (n = 105) in which treating clinicians determined hemodynamic management.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was in-hospital mortality and the secondary outcomes included the volume of intravenous fluid received and receipt of vasopressors.

Results: Among 212 patients randomized to receive either the sepsis protocol or usual care, 3 were ineligible and the remaining 209 completed the study and were included in the analysis (mean [SD] age, 36.7 [12.4] years; 117 men [56.0%]; 187 [89.5%] positive for the human immunodeficiency virus). The primary outcome of in-hospital mortality occurred in 51 of 106 patients (48.1%) in the sepsis protocol group compared with 34 of 103 patients (33.0%) in the usual care group (between-group difference, 15.1% [95% CI, 2.0%-28.3%]; relative risk, 1.46 [95% CI, 1.04-2.05]; P = .03). In the 6 hours after presentation to the emergency department, patients in the sepsis protocol group received a median of 3.5 L (interquartile range, 2.7-4.0 L) of intravenous fluid compared with 2.0 L (interquartile range, 1.0-2.5 L) in the usual care group (mean difference, 1.2 L [95% CI, 1.0-1.5 L]; P < .001). Fifteen patients (14.2%) in the sepsis protocol group and 2 patients (1.9%) in the usual care group received vasopressors (between-group difference, 12.3% [95% CI, 5.1%-19.4%]; P < .001).

Conclusions and relevance: Among adults with sepsis and hypotension, most of whom were positive for HIV, in a resource-limited setting, a protocol for early resuscitation with administration of intravenous fluids and vasopressors increased in-hospital mortality compared with usual care. Further studies are needed to understand the effects of administration of intravenous fluid boluses and vasopressors in patients with sepsis across different low- and middle-income clinical settings and patient populations.

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Highly active antiretroviral therapy for critically ill HIV patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Andrade HB, Shinotsuka CR, da Silva IRF, Donini CS, Yeh Li H, de Carvalho FB, Americano do Brasil PEA, Bozza FA, Miguel Japiassu A. PLoS One. 2017 Oct 24;12(10):e0186968. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0186968. eCollection 2017

Introduction: It is unclear whether the treatment of an HIV infection with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) affects intensive care unit (ICU) outcomes. In this paper, we report the results of a systematic review and meta-analysis performed to summarize the effects of HAART on the prognosis of critically ill HIV positive patients.

Materials and methods: A bibliographic search was performed in 3 databases (PubMed, Web of Science and Scopus) to identify articles that investigated the use of HAART during ICU admissions for short- and long-term mortality or survival. Eligible articles were selected in a staged process and were independently assessed by two investigators. The methodological quality of the selected articles was evaluated using the Methodological Index for Non-Randomized Studies (MINORS) tool.

Results: Twelve articles met the systematic review inclusion criteria and examined short-term mortality. Six of them also examined long-term mortality (≥90 days) after ICU discharge. The short-term mortality meta-analysis showed a significant beneficial effect of initiating or maintaining HAART during the ICU stay (random effects odds ratio 0.53, p = 0.02). The data analysis of long-term outcomes also suggested a reduced mortality when HAART was used, but the effect of HAART on long-term mortality of HIV positive critically ill patients remains uncertain.

Conclusions: This meta-analysis suggests improved survival rates for HIV positive patients who were treated with HAART during their ICU admission.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case for investing in the male condom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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How do we know which activities make a difference to HIV prevention?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract access 

Improvements in Spectrum's fit to program data tool.

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access 

Analytical advances in the ex vivo challenge efficacy assay.

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

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

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Short and sweet? Do study participants prefer shorter or longer consent forms? Do they understand the contents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stigma and sex work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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High mortality persists among people presenting with advanced HIV disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

Africa, Asia, Latin America
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Negative police activity a structural determinant of HIV

Policing practices as a structural determinant for HIV among sex workers: a systematic review of empirical findings.

Footer KH, Silberzahn BE, Tormohlen KN, Sherman SG. J Int AIDS Soc. 2016 Jul 18;19(4 Suppl 3):20883. doi: 10.7448/IAS.19.4.20883. eCollection 2016.

Introduction: Sex workers are disproportionately infected with HIV worldwide. Significant focus has been placed on understanding the structural determinants of HIV and designing related interventions. Although there is growing international evidence that policing is an important structural HIV determinant among sex workers, the evidence has not been systematically reviewed.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review of quantitative studies to examine the effects of policing on HIV and STI infection and HIV-related outcomes (condom use; syringe use; number of clients; HIV/STI testing and access) among cis and trans women sex workers. Databases included PubMed, Embase, Scopus, Sociological Abstracts, Popline, Global Health (OVID), Web of Science, IBSS, IndMed and WHOLIS. We searched for studies that included police practices as an exposure for HIV or STI infection or HIV-related outcomes.

Results: Of the 137 peer-reviewed articles identified for full text review, 14 were included, representing sex workers' experiences with police across five settings. Arrest was the most commonly explored measure with between 6 and 45% of sex workers reporting having ever been arrested. Sexual coercion was observed between 3 and 37% of the time and police extortion between 12 and 28% across studies. Half the studies used a single measure to capture police behaviours. Studies predominantly focused on "extra-legal policing practices," with insufficient attention to the role of "legal enforcement activities". All studies found an association between police behaviours and HIV or STI infection, or a related risk behaviour.

Conclusions: The review points to a small body of evidence that confirms policing practices as an important structural HIV determinant for sex workers, but studies lack generalizability with respect to identifying those police behaviours most relevant to women's HIV risk environment.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: The paper reports on a systematic review, which explored how quantitative research to date has operationalized the measurement of law enforcement practices as a structural determinant of HIV for female (including transgender) sex workers. The authors reviewed 14 quantitative studies using policing practices as a micro-structural determinant for HIV risk among sex workers. They found substantial heterogeneity in both the police measures and the health outcomes considered by the different studies. Overall, the studies found that police measures were regularly reported by sex workers, with an average of 34% of sex workers experiencing at least one police measure. They found that arrest was the most commonly explored measure in the studies. Following this, sexual coercion and then police extortion were important.

The studies reported that these police measures were consistently, positively, associated with either HIV infection or STI symptoms or with inconsistent condom use. Having ever been arrested, sexual coercion, police extortion, and syringe confiscation was associated with an increased risk of acquiring an HIV infection or an STI. These measures, and displacement by the police, were also associated with inconsistent condom use. Intervening on interactions between sex workers and the police reduced HIV risk over the time of the programme.

The authors argue that these findings point to the potentially pivotal role that the police have as a structural determinant for HIV in vulnerable populations. However, they argue that nearly all the papers identified in this review fail to take account of the complexities of the risk environment in which law enforcement occurs. The authors thus suggest a need for better measures for legal and extra-legal enforcement practices as mechanisms through which sex workers’ HIV risk is mediated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Europe, Latin America
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Tenofovir resistance – need for caution but not panic

Global epidemiology of drug resistance after failure of WHO recommended first-line regimens for adult HIV-1 infection: a multicentre retrospective cohort study.

TenoRes Study Group. Lancet Infect Dis. 2016 Jan 28. pii: S1473-3099(15)00536-8. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(15)00536-8. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is crucial for controlling HIV-1 infection through wide-scale treatment as prevention and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Potent tenofovir disoproxil fumarate-containing regimens are increasingly used to treat and prevent HIV, although few data exist for frequency and risk factors of acquired drug resistance in regions hardest hit by the HIV pandemic. We aimed to do a global assessment of drug resistance after virological failure with first-line tenofovir-containing ART.

Methods: The TenoRes collaboration comprises adult HIV treatment cohorts and clinical trials of HIV drug resistance testing in Europe, Latin and North America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. We extracted and harmonised data for patients undergoing genotypic resistance testing after virological failure with a first-line regimen containing tenofovir plus a cytosine analogue (lamivudine or emtricitabine) plus a non-nucleotide reverse-transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI; efavirenz or nevirapine). We used an individual participant-level meta-analysis and multiple logistic regression to identify covariates associated with drug resistance. Our primary outcome was tenofovir resistance, defined as presence of K65R/N or K70E/G/Q mutations in the reverse transcriptase (RT) gene.

Findings: We included 1926 patients from 36 countries with treatment failure between 1998 and 2015. Prevalence of tenofovir resistance was highest in sub-Saharan Africa (370/654 [57%]). Pre-ART CD4 cell count was the covariate most strongly associated with the development of tenofovir resistance (odds ratio [OR] 1.50, 95% CI 1.27-1.77 for CD4 cell count <100 cells per µL). Use of lamivudine versus emtricitabine increased the risk of tenofovir resistance across regions (OR 1.48, 95% CI 1.20-1.82). Of 700 individuals with tenofovir resistance, 578 (83%) had cytosine analogue resistance (M184V/I mutation), 543 (78%) had major NNRTI resistance, and 457 (65%) had both. The mean plasma viral load at virological failure was similar in individuals with and without tenofovir resistance (145 700 copies per mL [SE 12 480] versus 133 900 copies per mL [SE 16 650; p=0.626]).

Interpretation: We recorded drug resistance in a high proportion of patients after virological failure on a tenofovir-containing first-line regimen across low-income and middle-income regions. Effective surveillance for transmission of drug resistance is crucial.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Global surveillance for tenofovir (TDF) resistance is important at a time of expanding use of TDF-containing regimens for treatment and prevention. This collaborative analysis used data collated from several small studies in different settings. Overall, around one in three people who had failed on TDF-containing treatment had evidence of TDF resistance, although this frequency varied between 20% in Europe to almost 60% in Africa. Mutations associated with NNRTIs and lamivudine/emtricitabine resistance were more common overall and were present in most people with TDF resistance.

The regional variation probably reflects differences in clinical practice and study inclusion criteria. All European studies involved cohorts with frequent viral load monitoring, whereas half of the African cohorts had no routine viral load monitoring. All European studies included people with virologic failure but with low-level viraemia (viral load <1000 copies/ml) whereas almost all African studies included only people with viral load >1000 copies/ml.

While these data provide useful estimates of the frequency of drug resistance mutations in people with virologic failure on first-line ART, there should be caution about extrapolating beyond this. Reports from cohort studies with an accurate denominator of all people starting TDF-containing first-line ART would be useful to give more reliable estimates of overall incidence of acquired TDF resistance. Moreover, there remains a need for representative population-based surveillance for acquired and transmitted drug resistance. So far, global surveillance has detected limited evidence of transmitted TDF-associated mutations, but this needs to be monitored closely, especially in high incidence settings.

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