Articles tagged as "Romania"

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 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Improvements in Spectrum's fit to program data tool.

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

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

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

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

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

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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Stigma and sex work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

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

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High TB mortality among people living with HIV in eastern Europe: a growing concern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Europe, Latin America
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Violence experience of women living with HIV: a global study

Violence. Enough already: findings from a global participatory survey among women living with HIV.

Orza L, Bewley S, Chung C, Crone ET, Nagadya H, Vazquez M, Welbourn A. J Int AIDS Soc. 2015 Dec 1;18(6 Suppl 5):20285. doi: 10.7448/IAS.18.6.20285. eCollection 2015.

Introduction: Women living with HIV are vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV) before and after diagnosis, in multiple settings. This study's aim was to explore how GBV is experienced by women living with HIV, how this affects women's sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and human rights (HR), and the implications for policymakers.

Methods: A community-based, participatory, user-led, mixed-methods study was conducted, with women living with HIV from key affected populations. Simple descriptive frequencies were used for quantitative data. Thematic coding of open qualitative responses was performed and validated with key respondents.

Results: In total, 945 women living with HIV from 94 countries participated in the study. Eighty-nine percent of 480 respondents to an optional section on GBV reported having experienced or feared violence, either before, since and/or because of their HIV diagnosis. GBV reporting was higher after HIV diagnosis (intimate partner, family/neighbours, community and health settings). Women described a complex and iterative relationship between GBV and HIV occurring throughout their lives, including breaches of confidentiality and lack of SRH choice in healthcare settings, forced/coerced treatments, HR abuses, moralistic and judgemental attitudes (including towards women from key populations), and fear of losing child custody. Respondents recommended healthcare practitioners and policymakers address stigma and discrimination, training, awareness-raising, and HR abuses in healthcare settings.

Conclusions: Respondents reported increased GBV with partners and in families, communities and healthcare settings after their HIV diagnosis and across the life-cycle. Measures of GBV must be sought and monitored, particularly within healthcare settings that should be safe. Respondents offered policymakers a comprehensive range of recommendations to achieve their SRH and HR goals. Global guidance documents and policies are more likely to succeed for the end-users if lived experiences are used.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Editor’s notes: Violence against women who are living with HIV is common globally. This paper reports on a study of 832 women living with HIV from 94 countries who participated in an online survey, recruited through a non-random snowball sampling model. The survey comprised quantitative and qualitative (free text) components. Participants included women who had ever or were currently using injection drugs (14%), who had ever or were currently selling sex (14%), and who had ever or were currently homeless (14%). Lifetime experience of violence among respondents was high (86%). Perpetrators included: intimate partner (59%), family member / neighbour (45%), community member (53%), health care workers (53%) and police, military, prison or detention services (17%). Findings suggest that violence is not a one off occurrence and cannot easily be packaged as a cause or a consequence of HIV. Instead violence occurs throughout women’s lives, takes multiple forms, and has a complex and iterative relationship with HIV.

The study population did not represent all women living with HIV, and was biased towards women with internet access who have an activist interest. Nonetheless, the study provides further evidence of the breadth and frequency of gender based violence experienced by women living with HIV. Key recommendations for policy makers include training of health care workers working in sexual and reproductive services to offer non-discriminatory services to women living with HIV and to effectively respond to disclosures of gender based violence (such as intimate partner violence) as part of the package of care.

Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Bolivia, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Republic of the Congo, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Togo, Transdniestria, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Zambia, Zimbabwe
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Expanding ART access: increasing costs

The HIV treatment gap: estimates of the financial resources needed versus available for scale-up of antiretroviral therapy in 97 countries from 2015 to 2020.

Dutta A, Barker C, Kallarakal A. PLoS Med. 2015 Nov 24;12(11):e1001907. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001907. eCollection 2015.

Background: The World Health Organization (WHO) released revised guidelines in 2015 recommending that all people living with HIV, regardless of CD4 count, initiate antiretroviral therapy (ART) upon diagnosis. However, few studies have projected the global resources needed for rapid scale-up of ART. Under the Health Policy Project, we conducted modeling analyses for 97 countries to estimate eligibility for and numbers on ART from 2015 to 2020, along with the facility-level financial resources required. We compared the estimated financial requirements to estimated funding available.

Methods and findings: Current coverage levels and future need for treatment were based on country-specific epidemiological and demographic data. Simulated annual numbers of individuals on treatment were derived from three scenarios: (1) continuation of countries' current policies of eligibility for ART, (2) universal adoption of aspects of the WHO 2013 eligibility guidelines, and (3) expanded eligibility as per the WHO 2015 guidelines and meeting the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS "90-90-90" ART targets. We modeled uncertainty in the annual resource requirements for antiretroviral drugs, laboratory tests, and facility-level personnel and overhead.

We estimate that 25.7 (95% CI 25.5, 26.0) million adults and 1.57 (95% CI 1.55, 1.60) million children could receive ART by 2020 if countries maintain current eligibility plans and increase coverage based on historical rates, which may be ambitious. If countries uniformly adopt aspects of the WHO 2013 guidelines, 26.5 (95% CI 26.0 27.0) million adults and 1.53 (95% CI 1.52, 1.55) million children could be on ART by 2020. Under the 90-90-90 scenario, 30.4 (95% CI 30.1, 30.7) million adults and 1.68 (95% CI 1.63, 1.73) million children could receive treatment by 2020. The facility-level financial resources needed for scaling up ART in these countries from 2015 to 2020 are estimated to be US$45.8 (95% CI 45.4, 46.2) billion under the current scenario, US$48.7 (95% CI 47.8, 49.6) billion under the WHO 2013 scenario, and US$52.5 (95% CI 51.4, 53.6) billion under the 90-90-90 scenario. After projecting recent external and domestic funding trends, the estimated 6-y financing gap ranges from US$19.8 billion to US$25.0 billion, depending on the costing scenario and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief contribution level, with the gap for ART commodities alone ranging from US$14.0 to US$16.8 billion. The study is limited by excluding above-facility and other costs essential to ART service delivery and by the availability and quality of country- and region-specific data.

Conclusions: The projected number of people receiving ART across three scenarios suggests that countries are unlikely to meet the 90-90-90 treatment target (81% of people living with HIV on ART by 2020) unless they adopt a test-and-offer approach and increase ART coverage. Our results suggest that future resource needs for ART scale-up are smaller than stated elsewhere but still significantly threaten the sustainability of the global HIV response without additional resource mobilization from domestic or innovative financing sources or efficiency gains. As the world moves towards adopting the WHO 2015 guidelines, advances in technology, including the introduction of lower-cost, highly effective antiretroviral regimens, whose value are assessed here, may prove to be "game changers" that allow more people to be on ART with the resources available.

Abstract Full-text [free] access

Editor’s notes: This is a complex and important paper that seeks to understand the financial requirements necessary to: a) continue countries’ current policies of eligibility for ART, b) roll out universal adoption of certain aspects of WHO 2013 eligibility guidelines, and c) expand eligibility as per WHO 2015 guidelines and meeting the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS ‘90-90-90’ targets.

The authors estimated the number of adults and children eligible for and receiving HIV treatment, as well as the cost of providing ART in 97 countries across six regions, covering different income levels. They estimated that 25.7 million adults and 1.57 million children could receive ART by 2020 if countries maintain the current eligibility strategies. If countries adopted WHO 2013 eligibility guidelines, 26.5 million adults and 1.53 million children would be on ART by 2020, and if they adopted the 90-90-90 scenario, 30.4 million adults and 1.68 million children could receive treatment by then. The financial resources necessary for this scale up are estimated to be US$ 45.8 billion under current eligibility, US$ 48.7 billion under WHO 2013 scenario and US$ 52.5 billion under the 90-90-90 scenario. The estimated funding gap for the six year period ranges between US$ 20 and US$ 25 billion. In this study, the costs of commodities were taken directly from data collated by other organisations.  No empirical cost estimates of service delivery were made.  Nor was there an attempt to understand the cost implications of the development synergies and social and programme enablers that may be needed to increase the number of people living with HIV knowing their status.  The new WHO recommendations need to be actively pursued if we are to meet targets, rather than passively continuing with “business as usual”. 

Nonetheless, the findings of this study highlight the gap between guidelines written by WHO and very real programmatic obstacles on the ground. There is evidence to suggest that universal test-and-treat strategies could lead to substantially improved health outcomes at the population level, as well as potentially being cost-saving in the long-term. However, as the authors have illustrated, it would require increased levels of funding. What needs to be explored further now is how to overcome the logistical hurdles of rolling out such an initiative. Changing systems and practices is costly and takes time. Health workers will have to be retrained, data collection strategies will have to be revised. Expanding treatment may also mean increasing the number of health staff working on this initiative, which has an opportunity cost that may reverberate in other parts of the health system. Substantially altering health service provision, particularly in weak health systems, may have knock-on effects with unexpected and unintended consequences.

WHO guidelines serve a vital purpose of giving us a goal to aim for. But studies like this one help us know if and how we can get there. 

Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, Oceania
Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Comoros, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of the Congo, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, Serbia and Montenegro, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, United Republic of Tanzania, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe
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When to switch to second-line ART in children?

HIV-1 drug resistance and second-line treatment in children randomized to switch at low versus higher RNA thresholds.

Harrison L, Melvin A, Fiscus S, Saidi Y, Nastouli E, Harper L, Compagnucci A, Babiker A, McKinney R, Gibb D, Tudor-Williams G; PENPACT-1 (PENTA 9PACTG 390) Study Team. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2015 Sep 1;70(1):42-53. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000000671.

Background: The PENPACT-1 trial compared virologic thresholds to determine when to switch to second-line antiretroviral therapy (ART). Using PENPACT-1 data, we aimed to describe HIV-1 drug resistance accumulation on first-line ART by virologic threshold.

Methods: PENPACT-1 had a 2 x 2 factorial design, randomizing HIV-infected children to start protease inhibitor (PI) versus nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI)-based ART, and switch at a 1000 copies/mL versus 30 000 copies/mL threshold. Switch criteria were not achieving the threshold by week 24, confirmed rebound above the threshold thereafter, or Center for Disease Control and Prevention stage C event. Resistance tests were performed on samples ≥1000 copies/mL before switch, resuppression, and at 4-years/trial end.

Results: Sixty-seven children started PI-based ART and were randomized to switch at 1000 copies/mL (PI-1000), 64 PIs and 30 000 copies/mL (PI-30 000), 67 NNRTIs and 1000 copies/mL (NNRTI-1000), and 65 NNRTI and 30 000 copies/mL (NNRTI-30 000). Ninety-four (36%) children reached the 1000 copies/mL switch criteria during 5-year follow-up. In 30 000 copies/mL threshold arms, median time from 1000 to 30 000 copies/mL switch criteria was 58 (PI) versus 80 (NNRTI) weeks (P = 0.81). In NNRTI-30 000, more nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI) resistance mutations accumulated than other groups. NNRTI mutations were selected before switching at 1000 copies/mL (23% NNRTI-1000, 27% NNRTI-30 000). Sixty-two children started abacavir + lamivudine, 166 lamivudine + zidovudine or stavudine, and 35 other NRTIs. The abacavir + lamivudine group acquired fewest NRTI mutations. Of 60 switched to second-line, 79% PI-1000, 63% PI-30 000, 64% NNRTI-1000, and 100% NNRTI-30 000 were <400 copies/mL 24 weeks later.

Conclusions: Children on first-line NNRTI-based ART who were randomized to switch at a higher virologic threshold developed the most resistance, yet resuppressed on second-line. An abacavir + lamivudine NRTI combination seemed protective against development of NRTI resistance.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: Paediatric guidelines recommend that children living with HIV initiate ART early in life. Therefore duration of treatment is likely to be for several decades in children. Children have tended to be maintained on failing therapies longer than adults due to limited treatment options, particularly in resource-limited settings.

The PENPACT-1 trial compared two HIV viral load thresholds, <1000 and <30 000 copies/ml, for switching to second-line ART among children taking non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI) or protease inhibitor (PI)-based first-line regimens. As expected, children starting NNRTIs as their first-line regimen developed more NRTI mutations than children starting on boosted PIs. Importantly, children switching to second line ART at the higher viral load threshold were much more likely to develop resistance if they were taking NNRTI as their first line regimen than if they were taking boosted PIs. The study highlights the more “forgiving” nature of the PI drug class in terms of development of drug resistance. The main implication of this finding is that delayed switching on PI-based ART is a safe option in settings where future drug options are limited, as the risk of development of clinically significant PI or NRTI mutations is low. Interestingly, use of an abacavir + lamivudine nucleoside backbone resulted in fewer thymidine analogue mutations (TAMs) than use of lamivudine + zidovudine or stavudine backbone. This finding was based on analysis of non-randomised data, but supports the current WHO recommendations to use abacavir as the first-line drug of choice in the NRTI backbone.

HIV Treatment
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Adolescent adherence to antiretroviral therapy: what matters?

Factors associated with adherence to antiretroviral therapy among adolescents living with HIV/AIDS in low- and middle-income countries: a systematic review.

Hudelson C, Cluver L. AIDS Care. 2015 Feb 23:1-12. [Epub ahead of print]

Adolescents living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are disproportionately burdened by the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. Maintaining medication adherence is vital to ensuring that adolescents living with HIV/AIDS receive the benefits of antiretroviral therapy (ART), although this group faces unique challenges to adherence. Knowledge of the factors influencing adherence among people during this unique developmental period is needed to develop more targeted and effective adherence-promoting strategies. This systematic review summarizes the literature on quantitative observational studies examining correlates, including risk and resilience-promoting factors, of ART adherence among adolescents living with HIV/AIDS in LMICs. A systematic search of major electronic databases, conference-specific databases, gray literature, and reference lists of relevant reviews and documents was conducted in May 2014. Included studies examined relationships between at least one factor and ART adherence as an outcome and were conducted in primarily an adolescent population (age 10-19) in LMICs. The search identified 7948 unique citations from which 15 studies fit the inclusion criteria. These 15 studies identified 35 factors significantly associated with ART adherence representing a total of 4363 participants across nine different LMICs. Relevant studies revealed few consistent relationships between measured factors and adherence while highlighting potentially important themes for ART adherence including the impact of (1) adolescent factors such as gender and knowledge of serostatus, (2) family structure, (3) the burdensome ART regimens, route of administration, and attitudes about medication, and (4) health care and environmental factors, such as rural versus urban location and missed clinic appointments. Rates of adherence across studies ranged from 16% to 99%. This review identifies unique factors significantly related to ART adherence among adolescents living in LMICs. More research using longitudinal designs and rigorous measures of adherence is required in order to identify the range of factors influencing ART adherence as adolescents living with HIV/AIDS in LMICs grow into adulthood.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: Expanded access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) and scale-up of programmes to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission has resulted in the burden of paediatric HIV infection shifting onto adolescents, in low- and middle-income countries. Adolescents and young adults account for 41% of incident infections globally and are the only age group for which AIDS-associated deaths have risen in the past decade.

As the number of adolescents on ART increases, sustaining optimal adherence has emerged as the key challenge. While there are limited adolescent-specific data available, estimates of ART adherence suggest that adolescents have much poorer adherence than adults. This leads to increased risk of disease progression, transmission to sexual partners and antiretroviral drug resistance.

There is a growing body of literature that has examined factors affecting adherence, but to date the focus has been on adults and young children. Therefore, this systematic review of factors associated with good and suboptimal adherence specifically among adolescents aged 10 to 19 years, is timely.

There were a diverse range of factors associated with adherence across the fifteen studies considered. These include knowledge of serostatus, the influence of family structure, burdensome regimens, route of administration (caregiver giving medication versus adolescent self-medicating), and attitudes about medication and missed appointments. These factors likely interact with the complexities faced during adolescence to increase the risk of suboptimal adherence.   

The studies considered in this review had significant weaknesses. Firstly, most studies were cross-sectional. Therefore the extent to which causality between the considered factors and adherence can be inferred is limited. Secondly, not all studies reported on the strengths of the relationship between the factors and adherence or accounted for confounding. Thirdly, the method of measuring adherence varied between studies. Only one study in the review used a gold standard, objective treatment outcome measure, HIV viral load.

Notwithstanding these limitations, this is the first study to examine correlates of adherence to ART in adolescence. Although there were few consistent relationships between these factors and adherence, the study does suggest potential activities to improve adherence.

Given the central role of adolescents in determining the trajectory of the HIV epidemic, there is a need for more rigorous research to define factors affecting adherence behaviours among adolescents. Programmes addressing important risk- and resilience-promoting factors such as caregiver support and less burdensome regimens have potential to improve adherence. 

Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America
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Increasing transmitted resistance to antiretroviral therapy in low/middle-income countries - highest prevalence in MSM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIV Treatment
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