Articles tagged as "South Africa"

Age-disparate sexual partnerships - it’s more complicated than sugar daddies and blessers

Editor’s notes: Sugar daddies and blessers are men who provide gifts, money or other benefits to much younger women in exchange for sex.  These relationships are inevitably complex and are often seen as an important mode of transmission for HIV, particularly in Southern and East Africa.  Health education campaigns have raised the issue and aimed to discourage young women from having sex with older men.  However, the research on age-disparate relationships has been harder to interpret. Some studies show that having older partners is not necessarily an independent risk factor for HIV acquisition and others demonstrate a clear age difference in some couples where phylogenetics makes transmission seem very likely.  Nor do all age-disparate relationships involve sugar daddies or blessers.  Many women choose partners who are a few years older than themselves without such clear cut transactional motives.

This month saw Akulian et al. conclude that “age of sexual partner is a major risk factor for HIV acquisition” with frighteningly high rates of HIV incidence of 9.7 per 100 person years occurring among women aged 15-24 years old reporting partnerships with men aged 30-34 years old.  Yet the same research group (Harling et al.), in the same geographic community three years ago, concluded that “partner age disparity did not predict HIV acquisition” and cautioned against using resources for public health campaigns to reduce such partnerships.  A recent paper (de Oliveira et al.) from another research setting, also in KwaZulu-Natal, used phylogenetics to link isolates that were likely to be transmission pairs.  They too found that younger women (aged younger than 25 years) were more likely to have older male partners.  On average in the couples linked by phylogenetics the age difference was 8.7 years when the woman was younger than 25 but only 1.1 years when she was older than 25 years.

This month Schaefer et al. also demonstrated that in the Manicaland cohort in Zimbabwe, where incidence is somewhat lower than in KwaZulu-Natal, young women aged 15-24 years in partnerships with older men were likely to become  HIV positive .  They note that even the introduction of ART has not changed this observed finding, suggesting that the failure to reach men as effectively as we are reaching women, may be a significant reason for ongoing transmission.

The Akullian et al. paper used statistical techniques to smooth the observations from more than 1000 seroconversions observed in more than 25 000 person years of follow-up.  Harling et al. followed the cohort of women aged 15-29 years in the study area and observed 458 seroconversions over 5913 woman years of observation.  Although age-disparate relationships were common, age disparity was not an independent risk factor for HIV infection.  Akullian et al. explain that the real risk is from men aged 25-34 years.  Men in this age group are more likely to have recently acquired HIV, as it is the peak age group for incidence in males.  They are therefore likely to be particularly infectious with higher viral loads. They are also a group that has a low uptake of HIV testing and linkage to ART. 

The rates of ART use and HIV prevalence of older male partners for young women was explored by Evans et al. using data from the South African 2012 National HIV survey.  They found that male partners who were considerably older were more likely to be taking ART and so were likely to transmit fewer infections to their partners, which would tie in well with the Akullian et al. hypothesis of the highest risk being men aged 25-34 years.  The highest incidence is among young women, and these women are most likely to have partners in the 25-34 year old age band.  So we must be careful not to over-generalize.  This helps to explain the apparently differing results from these various studies.  If all age-disparate relationships are included in epidemiological studies, the important impact of transmission from recently infected and untreated 25-34 year old men to their younger female partners aged younger than 25 years may be diluted.

All these studies come from South Africa (usually KwaZulu-Natal) and Zimbabwe and so further detailed epidemiology supported by phylogenetics would be welcome from elsewhere.  Nonetheless, these various studies do translate into a clear message for action.  We need to work hard to find better ways to engage men aged 25-34 years, encourage them to get tested for HIV (see the HIV self-testing approaches above for instance) and link them to care and effective treatment much more efficiently than we are doing at present. 

Sexual partnership age pairings and risk of HIV acquisition in rural South Africa.

Akullian A, Bershteyn A, Klein D, Vandormael A, Bärnighausen T, Tanser F. AIDS. 2017 Jul 31;31(12):1755-1764. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001553.

Objective: To quantify the contribution of specific sexual partner age groups to the risk of HIV acquisition in men and women in a hyperendemic region of South Africa.

Design: We conducted a population-based cohort study among women (15-49 years of age) and men (15-55 years of age) between 2004 and 2015 in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Methods: Generalized additive models were used to estimate smoothed HIV incidence rates across partnership age pairings in men and women. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to estimate the relative risk of HIV acquisition by partner age group.

Results: A total of 882 HIV seroconversions were observed in 15  935 person-years for women, incidence rate = 5.5 per 100 person-years [95% confidence interval (CI), 5.2-5.9] and 270 HIV seroconversions were observed in 9372 person-years for men, incidence rate = 2.9 per 100 person-years (95% CI, 2.6-3.2). HIV incidence was highest among 15-24-year-old women reporting partnerships with 30-34-year-old men, incidence rate = 9.7 per 100 person-years (95% CI, 7.2-13.1). Risk of HIV acquisition in women was associated with male partners aged 25-29 years (adjusted hazard ratio; aHR = 1.44, 95% CI, 1.02-2.04) and 30-34 years (aHR = 1.50, 95% CI, 1.08-2.09) relative to male partners aged 35 and above. Risk of HIV acquisition in men was associated with 25-29-year-old (aHR = 1.72, 95% CI, 1.02-2.90) and 30-34-year-old women (aHR = 2.12, 95% CI, 1.03-4.39) compared to partnerships with women aged 15-19 years.

Conclusion: Age of sexual partner is a major risk factor for HIV acquisition in both men and women, independent of one's own age. Partner age pairings play a critical role in driving the cycle of HIV transmission.

Abstract Full-text [free] access

 

Do age-disparate relationships drive HIV incidence in young women? Evidence from a population cohort in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Harling G, Newell ML, Tanser F, Kawachi I, Subramanian SV, Bärnighausen T.J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2014 Aug 1;66(4):443-51. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000000198.

Background: Based on ethnographic investigations and mathematical models, older sexual partners are often considered a major risk factor for HIV for young women in sub-Saharan Africa. Numerous public health campaigns have been conducted to discourage young women from relationships with older men. However, longitudinal evidence relating sex partner age disparity to HIV acquisition in women is limited.

Methods: Using data from a population-based open cohort in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, we studied 15- to 29-year-old women who were HIV seronegative at first interview between January 2003 and June 2012 (n = 2444). We conducted proportional hazards analysis to establish whether the age disparity of women's most recent sexual partner, updated at each surveillance round, was associated with subsequent HIV acquisition.

Results: A total of 458 HIV seroconversions occurred over 5913 person-years of follow-up (incidence rate: 7.75 per 100 person-years). Age disparate relationships were common in this cohort; 37.7% of women reported a partner 5 or more years older than themselves. The age disparity of women's partners was not associated with HIV acquisition when measured either continuously [hazard ratio (HR) for 1-year increase in partner's age: 1.00, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.97 to 1.03] or categorically (man ≥5 years older: HR, 0.98; 95% CI: 0.81 to 1.20; man ≥10 years older: HR, 0.98; 95% CI: 0.67 to 1.43). These results were robust to adjustment for known sociodemographic and behavioral HIV risk factors and did not vary significantly by women's age, marital status, education attainment, or household wealth.

Conclusions: HIV incidence in young women was very high in this rural community in KwaZulu-Natal. Partner age disparity did not predict HIV acquistion. Campaigns to reduce age-disparate sexual relationships may not be a cost-effective use of HIV prevention resources in this setting.

Abstract Full-text [free] access

 

Transmission networks and risk of HIV infection in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: a community-wide phylogenetic study.

de Oliveira T, Kharsany AB, Gräf T, Cawood C, Khanyile D, Grobler A, Puren A, Madurai S, Baxter C, Karim QA, Karim SS. Lancet HIV. 2017 Jan;4(1):e41-e50. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30186-2. Epub 2016 Dec 1.

Background: The incidence of HIV infection in young women in Africa is very high. We did a large-scale community-wide phylogenetic study to examine the underlying HIV transmission dynamics and the source and consequences of high rates of HIV infection in young women in South Africa.

Methods: We did a cross-sectional household survey of randomly selected individuals aged 15-49 years in two neighbouring subdistricts (one urban and one rural) with a high burden of HIV infection in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Participants completed structured questionnaires that captured general demographic, socioeconomic, psychosocial, and behavioural data. Peripheral blood samples were obtained for HIV antibody testing. Samples with HIV RNA viral load greater than 1000 copies per mL were selected for genotyping. We constructed a phylogenetic tree to identify clusters of linked infections (defined as two or more sequences with bootstrap or posterior support ≥90% and genetic distance ≤4·5%).

Findings: From June 11, 2014, to June 22, 2015, we enrolled 9812 participants, 3969 of whom tested HIV positive. HIV prevalence (weighted) was 59·8% in 2835 women aged 25-40 years, 40·3% in 1548 men aged 25-40 years, 22·3% in 2224 women younger than 25 years, and 7·6% in 1472 men younger than 25 years. HIV genotyping was done in 1589 individuals with a viral load of more than 1000 copies per mL. In 90 transmission clusters, 123 women were linked to 103 men. Of 60 possible phylogenetically linked pairings with the 43 women younger than 25 years, 18 (30·0%) probable male partners were younger than 25 years, 37 (61·7%) were aged 25-40 years, and five (8·3%) were aged 41-49 years: mean age difference 8·7 years (95% CI 6·8-10·6; p<0·0001). For the 92 possible phylogenetically linked pairings with the 56 women aged 25-40 years, the age difference dropped to 1·1 years (95% CI -0·6 to 2·8; p=0·111). 16 (39·0%) of 41 probable male partners linked to women younger than 25 years were also linked to women aged 25-40 years. Of 79 men (mean age 31·5 years) linked to women younger than 40 years, 62 (78·5%) were unaware of their HIV-positive status, 76 (96·2%) were not on antiretroviral therapy, and 29 (36·7%) had viral loads of more than 50 000 copies per mL.

Interpretation: Sexual partnering between young women and older men, who might have acquired HIV from women of similar age, is a key feature of the sexual networks driving transmission. Expansion of treatment and combination prevention strategies that include interventions to address age-disparate sexual partnering is crucial to reducing HIV incidence and enabling Africa to reach the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat.

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Age-disparate relationships and HIV incidence in adolescent girls and young women: evidence from Zimbabwe.

Schaefer R, Gregson S, Eaton JW, Mugurungi O, Rhead R, Takaruza A, Maswera R, Nyamukapa C. AIDS. 2017 Jun 19;31(10):1461-1470. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001506.

Objective: Age-disparate sexual relationships with older men may drive high rates of HIV acquisition in young women in sub-Saharan Africa, but evidence is limited. We investigate the association between age-disparate relationships and HIV incidence in Manicaland, Zimbabwe.

Design: A general-population open-cohort study (six surveys) (1998-2013).

Methods: A total of 3746 young women aged 15-24 years participated in consecutive surveys and were HIV-negative at the beginning of intersurvey periods. Last sexual partner age difference and age-disparate relationships [intergenerational (≥10 years age difference) and intragenerational (5-9 years) versus age-homogeneous (0-4 years)] were tested for associations with HIV incidence in Cox regressions. A proximate determinants framework was used to explore factors possibly explaining variations in the contribution of age-disparate relationships to HIV incidence between populations and over time.

Results: About 126 HIV infections occurred over 8777 person-years (1.43 per 100 person-years; 95% confidence interval = 1.17-1.68). Sixty-five percent of women reported partner age differences of at least 5 years. Increasing partner age differences were associated with higher HIV incidence [adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) = 1.05 (1.01-1.09)]. Intergenerational relationships tended to increase HIV incidence [aHR = 1.78 (0.96-3.29)] but not intragenerational relationships [aHR = 0.91 (0.47-1.76)]. Secondary education was associated with reductions in intergenerational relationships [adjusted odds ratio (aOR) = 0.49 (0.36-0.68)]. Intergenerational relationships were associated with partners having concurrent relationships [aOR = 2.59 (1.81-3.70)], which tended to increase HIV incidence [aHR = 1.74 (0.96-3.17)]. Associations between age disparity and HIV incidence did not change over time.

Conclusion: Sexual relationships with older men expose young women to increased risk of HIV acquisition in Manicaland, which did not change over time, even with introduction of antiretroviral therapy.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

 

HIV prevalence and ART use among men in partnerships with 15-29 year old women in South Africa: HIV risk implications for young women in age-disparate partnerships.

Evans M, Maughan-Brown B, Zungu N, George G. AIDS Behav. 2017 Aug;21(8):2533-2542. doi: 10.1007/s10461-017-1741-6.

This study assesses whether men's ART use mitigates HIV-risk within age-disparate partnerships. Using data from the 2012 South African National HIV survey, we analyzed differences in HIV prevalence and ART use between men in age-disparate and age-similar partnerships with young women aged 15-29 using multiple logistic regression analyses. Within partnerships involving women 15-24 years old, men in age-disparate partnerships were more likely to be HIV-positive (5-9 year age-gap: aOR 2.8, 95%CI 1.4-5.2; p < 0.01; 10+ year age-gap: aOR 2.2, 95%CI 1.0-4.6; p < 0.05). Men in age-disparate partnerships who were 5-9 years older were significantly more likely to be HIV-positive and ART-naïve (aOR 2.4, 95%CI 1.2-4.8; p < 0.05), while this was not the case for men 10+ years older (aOR 1.5, 95%CI 0.7-3.6; p = 0.32). No evidence was found that 25-29 year old women were at greater HIV-risk in age-disparate partnerships. Our results indicate that young women aged 15-24 have a greater likelihood of exposure to HIV through age-disparate partnerships, but ART use among men 10+ years older could mitigate risk.

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Africa
South Africa, Zimbabwe
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90-90-90: a clear roadmap for HIV treatment. But each 90 brings with it opportunities and challenges

Editor’s notes: The discovery of effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) will go down in history as the greatest success of biomedical science of the past decades.  Landmark studies have shown that the earlier people living with HIV start ART, not only is their clinical outlook improved, but also their likelihood of transmitting infection to their sexual partners falls dramatically.  People who take their ART effectively and in whom the virus is suppressed to undetectable levels are no longer infectious.  A massive public health and social justice response has led to unprecedented scale up of this miraculous treatment.  There is widespread adoption of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target.  The target is easy to recite: 90% of people living with HIV know their status; 90% of people who know their status are on ART and 90% of people taking ART have suppressed their viral load.  Many mathematical models show that if these targets are achieved, there should be a substantial impact on the trajectory of the epidemic with a large reduction in new HIV infections and HIV-related deaths, leading to huge cost-savings in the future.

Several large community based studies have been established to examine both the necessary processes to reach these goals and the impact at community level of the wider coverage with effective ART.  We have commented in previous editions on the ANRS Treatment as Prevention (TasP) study in rural Kwazulu-Natal and on papers from the SEARCH study in rural Kenya and Uganda.  Not surprisingly, given the different contexts, approaches, methods and definitions, the studies each shed light on different aspects of the 90-90-90 target.

This month, there are two new papers from the PopART (HPTN071) study, along with an accompanying commentary from the TasP study team.  PopART is the largest of the large community randomized studies of the universal test and treat approach, nested within a broader combination prevention package.  The population covered by the trial is around one million people living in largely urban or peri-urban communities in Zambia and the Western Cape province of South Africa.  The approach used in two of the three arms of the trial, is to deliver HIV testing and other prevention services by means of community health workers.  These so called CHiPs (Community HIV care Providers) also encourage linkage of people either known to be or newly found to be living with HIV to the local government health facilities, where ART is started regardless of CD4 count in one arm of the study, or in line with government guidelines (which is now also regardless of CD4 count in both countries) in the other. In the third arm of the trial, there are no CHiPs and HIV testing and linkage to treatment is performed by routine services, with treatment also offered to all, regardless of CD4 count.

The papers in this month’s edition cover only the four Zambian communities receiving the most intensive package during the first year of the intervention. Shanaube and colleagues focus on the first 90, while Hayes and colleagues focus on the second 90.  The overall conclusion is that the CHiPs approach leads to a very high uptake of HIV testing, but that linkage to care still takes longer than expected.  However, there is a wealth of detail in both the process and the ways to measure these apparently straightforward statistics.  When the CHiPs actually see people, acceptance of HIV testing is very high, unless people have recently had an HIV test.  Even then, almost three quarters of women are happy to have another test four to six months after their most recent negative test, whereas for men, there is somewhat more reluctance.  The main challenges for the CHiPs are that people may need more than one visit to decide to test and that men are often not at home, despite multiple visits and scheduled appointments.  Furthermore, as Iwuju and Newell point out in their slightly pessimistic commentary, people move around and migration makes it hard to define a reliable denominator (a challenge also faced by the SEARCH team in Uganda and Kenya).  Around 20% of the people who knew they were HIV positive were not able to be seen at one year follow-up, so it is not possible to know whether they were linked to care or not.  The TasP study also found that the second 90 was the real challenges, with a very high coverage of HIV testing, but not enough linkage to lead to a reduction in incidence at the community level.

The PopART study is ongoing, and recent presentations suggest that with time, a larger proportion of people are indeed linking to care.  The lesson may be that it requires ongoing and continuing support in an urban and peri-urban community to achieve high levels of coverage.  We await eagerly the next instalments and final results demonstrating whether there is a wider public health impact which will not be available before 2019!

These huge longitudinal studies also remind us that the 90-90-90 target is defined as cross-sectional measurements, and does not take into account directly the length of time that it takes to start treatment or to become virally supressed.  The information from large cross-sectional studies, such as ICAP and PEPFAR’s population-based HIV impact assessments (PHIA) give a direct measurement of 90-90-90.  However, in contrast to PopART and the other community-based studies, gives no insight into the dynamics of the processes through which people decide to get tested, link to care and remain in care.

McCreesh and colleagues used an individual-based mathematical model of the flow through testing, linkage to treatment and retention based on data from Uganda and using a novel method of calibration.  They show that removing the CD4 threshold (as is recommended by WHO and the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target) is very likely to be the most cost-effective approach to reduce the burden of HIV over the years up to 2030.  However, they also found that their model predicts that efforts to improve linkage to and retention in care are likely to be more cost-effective than increased coverage of testing in Uganda.  This is in part because many Ugandans already know their HIV status as a result of previous efforts, so it should not be taken as a general recommendation not to work to improve the first 90 as well as the second two!  The authors state clear conclusions: “Our results strongly suggest that an increase in the rates of HIV testing in the general population in Uganda ….. should not be prioritized above interventions to improve linkage to, and retention in, care…..  In Uganda, interventions to improve retention in and movement through the HIV care pathway should be prioritized over case finding interventions in the general population.”

In rural Kwazulu-Natal, the challenge of retention among populations that are by necessity mobile was also shown in a study by Arnesen and colleagues.  In this study of risk factors for people on ART being lost to follow up they found that more than one quarter of the 3242 people on the treatment register in 15 primary care clinics were thought to be lost.  However, the authors found that one-third of these people labelled as lost were in fact taking treatment at another clinic.  As in other similar studies men were more likely to discontinue treatment, as were people with advanced immunosuppression (who are at high risk of dying in the absence of treatment) and being on ART for less than six months. This is a useful reminder of priorities.  Providing more support to men, and the sickest patients, maintaining closer supervision for the first year, might lead to better programme outcomes and (as predicted by the Ugandan model) save money in the medium term.

By comparison, a large records-based study in the United States of America by Youn and colleagues examined time trends in retention on treatment (persistence in the authors’ terminology).  The author used insurance claims for prescriptions for ART and for other medicines for heart disease, hypertension or diabetes taken regularly over a long time by both HIV positive and HIV-negative people.  They were able to examine persistence in over 40 000 people living with HIV starting treatment in 2001-2003 (when ART was more cumbersome and more toxic) compared to 2004-2006 and 2007-2010.  Persistence improved dramatically over this time period for ART, but hardly changed at all for the other medicines studied.  This demonstrates that the changes were not merely secular trends in the likelihood of remaining on treatment.  Interestingly, in people living with HIV, persistence on the non-HIV related medicines also improved, suggesting that HIV care provided additional benefits in terms of retention and adherence to medicines that went beyond ART. 

There was also good news from Australia, where Medland and colleagues used records from the two largest HIV treatment clinics in the state of Victoria to examine time trends in the delay from HIV diagnosis to starting ART.  Among 729 people started on ART, the proportion of patient in care and on ART within one year of diagnosis increased from 43.4% to 78.9% from 2011 to 2014.  By 2014, 50% of people were starting ART within 77 days of being diagnosed.  The authors point out that this is a key measurement of programme effectiveness that is not routinely captured.  Nor does it form part of the 90-90-90 targets.  Of course, it is important to remember that the period prior to HIV diagnosis is probably even more important in terms of risks of transmission, as there have been numerous studies showing that people who know their HIV status are less likely to transmit HIV.  So we really need to know the period from infection to HIV diagnosis, as well as the time from diagnosis to treatment, and perhaps also the time to become virally supressed.  Viral suppression can take months or even more than a year depending on an individual’s initial virological and immunological state and variations in response to treatment as well as with the choice of ART regimen.

Despite massive scale up of ART, there are still many people living with HIV who present to services late with a CD4 count of <200 cells per ml.  A recent report in MMWR, showed that in 10 PEPFAR supported countries, there are still as many as one third of people presenting late.  Many of these people have opportunistic infections that have characterised HIV infection since the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic.  Botswana has made huge progress towards 90-90-90, but Tenforde and colleagues show that cryptococcal meningitis is still a major health problem.  They were able to collect laboratory based data over the past decade, as well as more detailed records from the two largest referral centres.  Although the number of cases of cryptococcal meningitis has halved since 2004, when the scale up of ART in Botswana really got going, the two referral hospitals still see more than 150 cases per year.  Mortality is still horribly high.  Overall, the authors explored data from more than 5000 episodes of cryptococcal meningitis in 4702 individuals over the period 2004-2014.  For people who could be linked to their clinical medical records, they demonstrate that the risk rises dramatically as the CD4 count falls – people with a CD4 count of < 50 cells per ml have an incidence of around 2000/100 000 person years, whereas the rates of people with 50-100 or 100-200 cells per ml are around 350 and 80 respectively.  More than 90% of the cases identified occurred in people whose CD4 cell count was <200 cells per ml.  As other studies might have predicted, men are more affected, as they tend to present to services later.  The most useful medicines for cryptococcal meningitis, i.e., liposomal Amphotericin and 5 flucytosine, remain too expensive or not available in most African countries.  Not only do we need to bring the prices of these commodities down to affordable levels, but we also need continued efforts to engage men (and other populations who get left behind) earlier in the course of their HIV infection.

The improvements in overall survival and life expectancy for people living with HIV if they have access to effective treatments are well known.  A large collaborative study (the ART Cohort Collaboration) has brought together 18 European and North American cohorts in order to look at the mortality experienced in the first years after starting ART.  They found the biggest improvements in people who started treatment in the last period that they studied (2008-2010).  There were also greater changes in mortality in the second and third years after starting ART.  Even so, they conclude that life expectancy is still not as good as that of HIV negative people.  Previous studies have sometimes been biased towards people who survive longer, partly through not including as many people in the first year after ART when mortality is at its highest.  They propose that much of the improvement seen is due to newer drugs and more options for treatment failure.  They therefore caution against the temptation to save money on cheaper generics as they become available for older medicines that may be less palatable or less effective.

What works-reaching universal HIV testing: lessons from HPTN 071 (PopART) trial in Zambia

Shanaube K, Schaap A, Floyd S, Phiri M, Griffith S, Chaila J, Bock P, Hayes R, Fidler S, Ayles H; HPTN 071 (PopART) Study Team. AIDS. 2017 Jul 17;31(11):1555-1564. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001514..

Objective: To determine the uptake of home-based HIV counselling and testing (HCT) in four HPTN071 (PopART) trial communities (implementing a 'full' combination HIV prevention package that includes universal HIV testing and treatment) in Zambia. We also explore factors associated with uptake of HCT in these communities.

Design: HPTN071 (PopART) is a 3-arm community-randomized trial in 12 communities in Zambia and 9 communities in South Africa evaluating the impact of a combination HIV prevention package, including universal HIV testing and treatment, on HIV incidence.

Methods: Using a door-to-door approach that includes systematically re-visiting households, individuals were offered participation in the intervention and verbal consent was obtained. Data were analysed for the first 18 months of the intervention, December 2013 to June 2015 for individuals 18 years and older.

Results: Among 121 130 enumerated household members, 101 102 (83.5%) accepted the intervention. HCT uptake was 72.2% (66 894/92 612), similar by sex but varied across communities. HCT uptake was associated with younger age, sex, community, being symptomatic for TB and STI and longer time since previous HIV test. Knowledge of HIV status due to the intervention increased by 36% overall and by 66% among HIV positives; the highest impact was among 18-24 year olds.

Conclusion: Overall acceptance of HIV-testing through offering a door-to-door-based combination HIV prevention package was 72.2%. The intervention increased knowledge of HIV status from 50% to 90%. However, challenges still remain and a one-off intervention is unlikely to be successful but will require repeated visits and multiple strategies.

Abstract access

A universal testing and treatment intervention to improve HIV control: One-year results from intervention communities in Zambia in the HPTN 071 (PopART) cluster-randomised trial

Hayes R, Floyd S, Schaap A, Shanaube K, Bock P, Sabapathy K, Griffith S, Donnell D, Piwowar-Manning E, El-Sadr W, Beyers N, Ayles H, Fidler S; HPTN 071 (PopART) Study Team. PLoS Med. 2017 May 2;14(5):e1002292. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002292. eCollection 2017 May.

Objective: The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 90-90-90 targets require that, by 2020, 90% of those living with HIV know their status, 90% of known HIV-positive individuals receive sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART), and 90% of individuals on ART have durable viral suppression. The HPTN 071 (PopART) trial is measuring the impact of a universal testing and treatment intervention on population-level HIV incidence in 21 urban communities in Zambia and South Africa. We report observational data from four communities in Zambia to assess progress towards the UNAIDS targets after 1 y of the PopART intervention.

Methods and Findings: The PopART intervention comprises annual rounds of home-based HIV testing delivered by community HIV-care providers (CHiPs) who also support linkage to care, ART retention, and other services. Data from four communities in Zambia receiving the full intervention (including immediate ART for all individuals with HIV) were used to determine proportions of participants who knew their HIV status after the CHiP visit; proportions linking to care and initiating ART following referral; and overall proportions of HIV-infected individuals who knew their status (first 90 target) and the proportion of these on ART (second 90 target), pre- and post-intervention. We are not able to assess progress towards the third 90 target at this stage of the study. Overall, 121 130 adults (59 283 men and 61 847 women) were enumerated in 46 714 households during the first annual round (December 2013 to June 2015). Of the 45 399 (77%) men and 55 703 (90%) women consenting to the intervention, 80% of men and 85% of women knew their HIV status after the CHiP visit. Of 6197 HIV-positive adults referred by CHiPs, 42% (95% CI: 40%-43%) initiated ART within 6 mo and 53% (95% CI: 52%-55%) within 12 mo. In the entire population, the estimated proportion of HIV-positive adults who knew their status increased from 52% to 78% for men and from 56% to 87% for women. The estimated proportion of known HIV-positive individuals on ART increased overall from 54% after the CHiP visit to 74% by the end of the round for men and from 53% to 73% for women. The estimated overall proportion of HIV-positive adults on ART, irrespective of whether they knew their status, increased from 44% to 61%, compared with the 81% target (the product of the first two 90 targets). Coverage was lower among young men and women than in older age groups. The main limitation of the study was the need for assumptions concerning knowledge of HIV status and ART coverage among adults not consenting to the intervention or HIV testing, although our conclusions were robust in sensitivity analyses.

Conclusions: In this analysis, acceptance of HIV testing among those consenting to the intervention was high, although linkage to care and ART initiation took longer than expected. Knowledge of HIV-positive status increased steeply after 1 y, almost attaining the first 90 target in women and approaching it in men. The second 90 target was more challenging, with approximately three-quarters of known HIV-positive individuals on ART by the end of the annual round. Achieving higher test uptake in men and more rapid linkage to care will be key objectives during the second annual round of the intervention.

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Universal test, treat, and keep: improving ART retention is key in cost-effective HIV control in Uganda

McCreesh N, Andrianakis I, Nsubuga RN, Strong M, Vernon I, McKinley TJ, Oakley JE, Goldstein M, Hayes R, White RG. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 May 3;17(1):322. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2420-y.

Background: With ambitious new UNAIDS targets to end AIDS by 2030, and new WHO treatment guidelines, there is increased interest in the best way to scale-up ART coverage. We investigate the cost-effectiveness of various ART scale-up options in Uganda.

Methods: Individual-based HIV/ART model of Uganda, calibrated using history matching. 22 ART scale-up strategies were simulated from 2016 to 2030, comprising different combinations of six single interventions (1. increased HIV testing rates, 2. no CD4 threshold for ART initiation, 3. improved ART retention, 4. increased ART restart rates, 5. improved linkage to care, 6. improved pre-ART care). The incremental net monetary benefit (NMB) of each intervention was calculated, for a wide range of different willingness/ability to pay (WTP) per DALY averted (health-service perspective, 3% discount rate).

Results: For all WTP thresholds above $210, interventions including removing the CD4 threshold were likely to be most cost-effective. At a WTP of $715 (1 × per-capita-GDP) interventions to improve linkage to and retention/re-enrolment in HIV care were highly likely to be more cost-effective than interventions to increase rates of HIV testing. At higher WTP (> ~ $1690), the most cost-effective option was 'Universal Test, Treat, and Keep' (UTTK), which combines interventions 1-5 detailed above.

Conclusion: Our results support new WHO guidelines to remove the CD4 threshold for ART initiation in Uganda. With additional resources, this could be supplemented with interventions aimed at improving linkage to and/or retention in HIV care. To achieve the greatest reductions in HIV incidence, a UTTK policy should be implemented.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Predictors of loss to follow-up among patients on ART at a rural hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Arnesen R, Moll AP, Shenoi SV. PLoS One. 2017 May 24;12(5):e0177168. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177168. eCollection 2017

Introduction: Improved HIV outcomes as a result of expanded antiretroviral therapy (ART) access is threatened by increasing rates of loss to follow up (LTFU) among those on ART, largely reported in urban populations. Some reports suggest that LTFU rates are overestimated due to patient movement to other facilities and inadequate medical records.

Study Objective: To define the proportion disengaging from HIV care as well as the characteristics of those LTFU in order to design and implement appropriate interventions to increase retention.

Methods: We performed a retrospective review of patients who discontinued ART at a central hospital ART clinic in rural South Africa and compared with patients receiving care at the 15 primary health clinics (PHCs) to determine the true proportion of those who were LTFU. We also compared those who discontinued ART with those who did not at the central hospital ART clinic to determine predictors of loss to follow up.

Results: Among 3242 patients on ART, 820 were originally marked as LTFU. Among all patients, 272 (8.4%) were found at a clinic on treatment, 56 (1.7%) were found at a clinic from which they had since discontinued treatment, and 10 (0.3%) returned to care between June and July 2016, leaving 475 (14.7%) unaccounted for and thus categorized as 'true' LTFU. Factors found to be associated with discontinuation include being male, age 18-35, having a CD4 count under 200 cells/μL, and being on ART for under six months.

Conclusions: Young men with low CD4 counts early after ART initiation are at highest risk of ART disengagement in this rural South African HIV clinic. Novel interventions targeting this group are needed to improve retention in care.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Ten-year trends in anti-retroviral therapy persistence among US Medicaid beneficiaries, 2001-2010

Youn B, Shireman TI, Lee Y, Galárraga O, Rana AI, Justice AC, Wilson IB. AIDS. 2017 May 16. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001541. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective: Whether the rate of HIV antiretroviral therapy (ART) persistence has improved over time in the U.S. is unknown. We examined ART persistence trends between 2001 and 2010, using non-HIV medications as a comparator.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective cohort study using Medicaid claims. We defined persistence as the duration of treatment from the first to the last fill date before a 90-day permissible gap, and used Kaplan-Meier curves and Cox proportional hazard models to assess crude and adjusted non-persistence. The secular trends of ART persistence in 43 598 HIV patients were compared with the secular trends of persistence with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE) or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB), statins, and metformin in (1) non-HIV-infected patients and (2) subgroups of HIV patients who started these control medications while using ART.

Results: Median time to ART non-persistence increased from 23.9 months in 2001-2003 to 35.4 months in 2004-2006, and was not reached for those starting ART in 2007-2010. In adjusted models, ART initiators in 2007-2010 had 11% decreased hazards of non-persistence compared with those who initiated in 2001-2003 (p < 0.001). For non-HIV patients initiating ACE/ARB, statins, and metformin, the hazard ratios (HR) for non-persistence comparing 2007-2010 to 2001-2003 were 1.07, 0.94, and 1.02, respectively (all p < 0.001). For HIV patients initiating the three control medications, the HRs of non-persistence comparing 2007-2010 to 2001-2003 were 0.71, 0.65, and 0.63, respectively (all p < 0.001).

Conclusions: Persistence with ART improved between 2001 and 2010. Persistence with control medications improved at a higher rate among HIV patients using ART than HIV-negative controls.

Abstract

Time from HIV diagnosis to commencement of antiretroviral therapy as an indicator to supplement the HIV cascade: Dramatic fall from 2011 to 2015

Medland NA, Chow EP, McMahon JH, Elliott JH, Hoy JF, Fairley CK. PLoS One. 2017 May 16;12(5):e0177634. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177634. eCollection 2017.

Introduction:  The HIV care cascade is increasingly used to evaluate HIV treatment programs at the population level. However, the cascade indicators lack the ability to show changes over time, which reduces their utility to guide health policy. Alternatives have been proposed but are complex or result in a delay in results. We propose a new indicator of ART uptake, the time from HIV diagnosis to commencement of ART, and compare it to the existing cascade indicator of proportion of patients on treatment and the WHO proposed cohort cascade indicator of proportion of patients on treatment within one year of diagnosis.

Methods and Materials: Records from patients from the two largest HIV treatment centres in the state of Victoria, Australia (Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and The Alfred Hospital Department of Infectious Diseases) from 2011 to 2015 were extracted. The intervals between date of diagnosis, entry into care and initiation of ART were compared.

Results and Discussion: From 2011 to 2015 the proportion of in-care patients who were on ART rose from 87% to 93% (p<0.0001). From 2011 to 2014, the proportion of patients in care and on ART within one year of diagnosis increased from 43.4% to 78.9% (p = 0.001). The median time from diagnosis to ART fell from 418 days (IQR: 91-1176) to 77 days (IQR: 39-290)(p<0.001) by calendar year in which ART was commenced.

Conclusions: From 2011 to 2015 there were substantial and clinically important falls in the median time from diagnosis to commencing ART in those that commenced ART. The size of this dramatic change was not apparent when only reporting the proportion of patients on ART. Time to ART is a useful indicator and can be used to supplement existing cascade indicators in measuring progress toward universal ART coverage.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Trends in prevalence of advanced HIV disease at antiretroviral therapy enrollment — 10 countries, 2004–2015

Auld AF, Shiraishi RW, Oboho I, Ross C, Bateganya M, Pelletier V, Dee J, Francois K, Duval N, Antoine M, Delcher C, Desforges G, Griswold M, Domercant JW, Joseph N, Deyde V, Desir Y, Van Onacker JD, Robin E, Chun H, Zulu I, Pathmanathan I, Dokubo EK, Lloyd S, Pati R, Kaplan J, Raizes E, Spira T, Mitruka K, Couto A, Gudo ES, Mbofana F, Briggs M, Alfredo C, Xavier C, Vergara A, Hamunime N, Agolory S, Mutandi G, Shoopala NN, Sawadogo S, Baughman AL, Bashorun A, Dalhatu I, Swaminathan M, Onotu D, Odafe S, Abiri OO, Debem HH, Tomlinson H, Okello V, Preko P, Ao T, Ryan C, Bicego G, Ehrenkranz P, Kamiru H, Nuwagaba-Biribonwoha H, Kwesigabo G, Ramadhani AA, Ng'wangu K, Swai P, Mfaume M, Gongo R, Carpenter D, Mastro TD, Hamilton C, Denison J, Wabwire-Mangen F, Koole O, Torpey K, Williams SG, Colebunders R, Kalamya JN, Namale A, Adler MR, Mugisa B, Gupta S, Tsui S, van Praag E, Nguyen DB, Lyss S, Le Y, Abdul-Quader AS, Do NT, Mulenga M, Hachizovu S, Mugurungi O, Barr BAT, Gonese E, Mutasa-Apollo T, Balachandra S, Behel S, Bingham T, Mackellar D, Lowrance D, Ellerbrock TV.MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017 Jun 2;66(21):558-563. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6621a3.

Monitoring prevalence of advanced human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease (i.e., CD4+ T-cell count <200 cells/μL) among persons starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) is important to understand ART program outcomes, inform HIV prevention strategy, and forecast need for adjunctive therapies. To assess trends in prevalence of advanced disease at ART initiation in 10 high-burden countries during 2004-2015, records of 694 138 ART enrollees aged ≥15 years from 797 ART facilities were analyzed. Availability of national electronic medical record systems allowed up-to-date evaluation of trends in Haiti (2004-2015), Mozambique (2004-2014), and Namibia (2004-2012), where prevalence of advanced disease at ART initiation declined from 75% to 34% (p<0.001), 73% to 37% (p<0.001), and 80% to 41% (p<0.001), respectively. Significant declines in prevalence of advanced disease during 2004-2011 were observed in Nigeria, Swaziland, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. The encouraging declines in prevalence of advanced disease at ART enrollment are likely due to scale-up of testing and treatment services and ART-eligibility guidelines encouraging earlier ART initiation. However, in 2015, approximately a third of new ART patients still initiated ART with advanced HIV disease. To reduce prevalence of advanced disease at ART initiation, adoption of World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended "treat-all" guidelines and strategies to facilitate earlier HIV testing and treatment are needed to reduce HIV-related mortality and HIV incidence.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Advanced HIV disease in Botswana following successful antiretroviral therapy rollout: Incidence of and temporal trends in cryptococcal meningitis

Tenforde MW, Mokomane M, Leeme T, Patel RK, Lekwape N, Ramodimoosi C, Dube B, Williams EA, Mokobela KO, Tawanana E, Pilatwe T, Hurt WJ, Mitchell H, Banda DL, Stone H, Molefi M, Mokgacha K, Phillips H, Mullan PC, Steenhoff AP, Mashalla Y, Mine M, Jarvis JN. Clin Infect Dis. 2017 May 13. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix430. [Epub ahead of print].

Background: Botswana has a well-developed antiretroviral therapy (ART) program which serves as a regional model. With wide ART availability, the burden of advanced HIV and associated opportunistic infections would be expected to decline. We performed a nationwide surveillance study to determine the national incidence of cryptococcal meningitis, and describe characteristics of cases 2000-2014 and temporal trends at two national referral hospitals.

Methods: Cerebrospinal fluid data from all 37 laboratories performing meningitis diagnostics in Botswana were collected 2000-2014 to identify cases of cryptococcal meningitis. Basic demographic and laboratory data were recorded. Complete national data from 2013-2014 were used to calculate national incidence using UNAIDS population estimates. Temporal trends in cases were derived from national referral centers 2004-2014.

Results: 5296 episodes of cryptococcal meningitis were observed in 4702 individuals; 60.6% were male, and median age was 36 years. Overall 2013-2014 incidence was 17.8 cases/100 000 person-years (95%CI 16.6 - 19.2). In the HIV-infected population, incidence was 96.8 cases/100 000 person-years (95%CI 90.0 - 104.0); male predominance was seen across CD4 strata. At national referral hospitals, cases decreased 2007-2009 but stabilized 2010-2014.

Conclusions: Despite excellent ART coverage in Botswana, there is still a substantial burden of advanced HIV, with 2013-2014 incidence of cryptococcal meningitis comparable to pre-ART era rates in South Africa. Our findings suggest a key population of individuals, often men, are developing advanced disease and associated opportunistic infections due to a failure to effectively engage in care, highlighting the need for differentiated care models.

Abstract

Survival of HIV-positive patients starting antiretroviral therapy between 1996 and 2013: a collaborative analysis of cohort studies

Trickey A, May MT, Vehreschild JJ, Obel N, Gill MJ, Crane HM, Boesecke C, Patterson S, Grabar S, Cazanave C, Cavassini M, Shepherd L, Monforte AD, van Sighem A, Saag M, Lampe F, Hernando V, Montero M, Zangerle R, Justice AC, Sterling T, Ingle SM, Sterne JAC (Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration). Lancet HIV. 2017 May 10. pii: S2352-3018(17)30066-8. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30066-8. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Health care for people living with HIV has improved substantially in the past two decades. Robust estimates of how these improvements have affected prognosis and life expectancy are of utmost importance to patients, clinicians, and health-care planners. We examined changes in 3 year survival and life expectancy of patients starting combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) between 1996 and 2013.

Methods: We analysed data from 18 European and North American HIV-1 cohorts. Patients (aged ≥16 years) were eligible for this analysis if they had started ART with three or more drugs between 1996 and 2010 and had at least 3 years of potential follow-up. We estimated adjusted (for age, sex, AIDS, risk group, CD4 cell count, and HIV-1 RNA at start of ART) all-cause and cause-specific mortality hazard ratios (HRs) for the first year after ART initiation and the second and third years after ART initiation in four calendar periods (1996-99, 2000-03 [comparator], 2004-07, 2008-10). We estimated life expectancy by calendar period of initiation of ART.

Findings: 88 504 patients were included in our analyses, of whom 2106 died during the first year of ART and 2302 died during the second or third year of ART. Patients starting ART in 2008-10 had lower all-cause mortality in the first year after ART initiation than did patients starting ART in 2000-03 (adjusted HR 0·71, 95% CI 0·61-0·83). All-cause mortality in the second and third years after initiation of ART was also lower in patients who started ART in 2008-10 than in those who started in 2000-03 (0·57, 0·49-0·67); this decrease was not fully explained by viral load and CD4 cell count at 1 year. Rates of non-AIDS deaths were lower in patients who started ART in 2008-10 (vs 2000-03) in the first year (0·48, 0·34-0·67) and second and third years (0·29, 0·21-0·40) after initiation of ART. Between 1996 and 2010, life expectancy in 20-year-old patients starting ART increased by about 9 years in women and 10 years in men.

Interpretation: Even in the late ART era, survival during the first 3 years of ART continues to improve, which probably reflects transition to less toxic antiretroviral drugs, improved adherence, prophylactic measures, and management of comorbidity. Prognostic models and life expectancy estimates should be updated to account for these improvements.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America, Oceania
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How are we going to get to our prevention targets? Old tools, new tools and a more nuanced understanding of transmission dynamics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case for investing in the male condom

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract   Full-text [free] access 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access 

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract Full-text [free] access 

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Integration of reproductive health and rights

Editor’s notes: Integration of reproductive health services and rights needs to be well coordinated with HIV services, so a randomized trial of integration of family planning services into HIV care clinics in Kenya by Cohen CR and colleagues is encouraging.  In their initial randomized trial, 12 clinics were randomly selected for early integration using resources from the study team, while six were delayed.  Subsequently the Ministry of Health took over the integration and provision of “one stop shop” services at all 18 clinics.  The improvements in contraceptive uptake and decreased pregnancy rates that had been observed in the first phase were maintained during the second phase giving more confidence that it was truly the integrated nature of the services rather than the presence of special study team that had led to the difference.

Another major push for integration or coordination between HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights services is around the prevention of cervical cancer.  Cervical cancer is caused by long-term infection with specific types of human papilloma virus.  Women living with HIV are at considerably increased risk of cervical cancer compared to their HIV-negative peers.  A large cohort study by Kelly HA et al. in Burkina Faso and South Africa has shown that women living with HIV, attending clinical care services have a high prevalence (59-79% at baseline), incidence (48%) and persistence (up to 70% for some types) of HR-HPV and correspondingly a high prevalence and incidence of cervical neoplasia. There are two HPV vaccines currently available, the first prevents HPV types 16 and 18 (the causes of around 70% of cervical cancer) while the newer (and currently more expensive) vaccine prevents nine types (that cause at least 90% of cervical cancer).  HPV vaccination is recommended to be given before sexual debut, as it gives high protection against the specific types of HPV prior to acquisition.  The dynamics of the many different types of HPV after acquisition is less clear.  The virus is often acquired and they may be cleared or may persist.  So this study provides important background data for understanding the possible role of vaccination and also which types are most associated with pre-cancers (cervical Intra-epithelial neoplasia [CIN]) that can be treated and cured relatively easily.  In particular, in this study, HPV58, which is in the same (alpha-9) family as HPV16 showed the greatest association with CIN2+.  HPV58 is included in the newer nonavalent vaccine, but not the current bi- or quadrivalent vaccine.  Overall this is an area where we need more research on the impact of vaccination and screening programmes for women living with HIV, but in the meantime, HPV vaccination for school girls (and boys) is an investment in the future, since these vaccines are effective ways to stop people dying of cervical (and other HPV-related) cancers.

One of the challenges for integrated reproductive services is to continue to emphasize the importance of condoms for protection against HIV and sexually transmitted infections even if other methods are being used for contraception.  Such “dual protection” is particularly hard to achieve in married or cohabiting couples despite evidence of ongoing risk of HIV infection.  A study in 2388 urban 18-24 year old individuals in Zambia (69% female; 35% married) shows that condom use is still much too low with only 45% reporting that they had used a condom in the last 12 months. As might be anticipated, the study found that the poorest and people who were married were least likely to use condoms while people who discussed contraception and agreed to use condoms were more likely to do so [Pinchoff J et al.] The importance of dual protection, and of promoting broader HIV prevention messages to women through integrated (or at least coordinated) reproductive health and rights services is made even more important given the possibility that depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) as a long acting reversible contraceptive may increase the risk of HIV acquisition.  WHO has recently changed their guidance to make such contraceptives grade 2 in the Medical Eligibility for Contraceptives (MEC) guidelines.

Integration of family planning services into HIV care clinics: Results one year after a cluster randomized controlled trial in Kenya.

Cohen CR, Grossman D, Onono M, Blat C, Newmann SJ, Burger RL, Shade SB, Bett N, Bukusi EA. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 22;12(3):e0172992. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172992.eCollection 2017.

Objectives: To determine if integration of family planning (FP) and HIV services led to increased use of more effective contraception (i.e. hormonal and permanent methods, and intrauterine devices) and decreased pregnancy rates.

Design: Cohort analysis following cluster randomized trial, when the Kenya Ministry of Health led integration of the remaining control (delayed integration) sites and oversaw integrated services at the original intervention (early integration) sites.

Setting: Eighteen health facilities in Kenya.

Subjects: Women aged 18-45 receiving care: 5682 encounters at baseline, and 11 628 encounters during the fourth quarter of year 2.

Intervention: "One-stop shop" approach to integrating FP and HIV services.

Main outcome measures: Use of more effective contraceptive methods and incident pregnancy across two years of follow-up.

Results: Following integration of FP and HIV services at the six delayed integration clinics, use of more effective contraception increased from 31.7% to 44.2% of encounters (+12.5%; Prevalence ratio (PR) = 1.39 (1.19-1.63). Among the twelve early integration sites, the proportion of encounters at which women used more effective contraceptive methods was sustained from the end of the first to the second year of follow-up (37.5% vs. 37.0%). Pregnancy incidence including all 18 integrated sites in year two declined in comparison to the control arm in year one (rate ratio: 0.72; 95% CI 0.60-0.87).

Conclusions: Integration of FP services into HIV clinics led to a sustained increase in the use of more effective contraceptives and decrease in pregnancy incidence 24 months following implementation of the integrated service model.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01001507.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Associations of human papillomavirus (HPV) genotypes with high-grade cervical neoplasia (CIN2+) in a cohort of women living with HIV in Burkina Faso and South Africa.

Kelly HA, Ngou J, Chikandiwa A, Sawadogo B, Gilham C, Omar T, Lompo O, Doutre S), Meda N, Weiss HA, Delany-Moretlwe S, Segondy M, Mayaud P; HARP Study Group. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 23;12(3):e0174117. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0174117.eCollection 2017.

Objective: To describe associations of high-risk human papillomavirus (HR-HPV) with high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN2+) in women living with HIV (WLHIV) in Burkina Faso (BF) and South Africa (SA).

Methods: Prospective cohort of WLHIV attending HIV outpatient clinics and treatment centres. Recruitment was stratified by ART status. Cervical HPV genotyping using INNO-LiPA and histological assessment of 4-quadrant cervical biopsies at enrolment and 16 months later.

Results: Among women with CIN2+ at baseline, the prevalence of any HR-HPV genotypes included in the bi/quadrivalent (HPV16/18) or nonavalent (HPV16/18/31/35/45/52/58) HPV vaccines ranged from 37% to 90%. HPV58 was most strongly associated with CIN2+ (aOR = 5.40, 95%CI: 2.77-10.53). At 16-months follow-up, persistence of any HR-HPV was strongly associated with incident CIN2+ (aOR = 7.90, 95%CI: 3.11-20.07), as was persistence of HPV16/18 (aOR = 5.25,95%CI: 2.14-12.91) and the additional HR types in the nonavalent vaccine (aOR =3.23, 95%CI: 1.23-8.54).

Conclusion: HR-HPV persistence is very common among African WLHIV and is linked to incident CIN2+. HPV vaccines could prevent between 37-90% of CIN2+ among African WLHIV.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Why don't urban youth in Zambia use condoms? The influence of gender and marriage on non-use of male condoms among young adults.

Pinchoff J, Boyer CB, Mutombo N, Chowdhuri RN, Ngo TD. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 23;12(3):e0172062. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172062.eCollection 2017.

Background: Zambia experiences high unmet need for family planning and high rates of HIV, particularly among youth. While male condoms are widely available and 95%of adults have heard of them, self-reported use in the past 12 months is low among young adults (45%). This study describes factors associated with non-use of male condoms among urban young adults in Zambia.

Methods: A household cross-sectional survey in four urban districts was conducted from November 2015 to January 2016 among sexually active young adults ages 18-24 years. A random walk strategy was implemented in urban areas; eligible, enrolled participants were administered a survey on household characteristics, health access, and knowledge, attitudes and practices related to contraception. Relative risk regression models were built to determine factors associated with the decision to not use a male condom (non-use) at most recent sexual intercourse.

Results: A total of 2388 individuals were interviewed; 69% were female, 35% were married, and average lifetime sex partners was 3.45 (SD±6.15). Non-use of male condoms was 59% at most recent sexual intercourse. In a multivariate model, women were more likely to report non-use of a male condom compared with men (aRR = 1.24[95% CI: 1.11, 1.38]), married individuals were more likely to report non-use compared with unmarried individuals (aRR = 1.59 [1.46, 1.73]), and those residing in the highest poverty wards were more likely to report non-use compared with those in the lowest poverty wards (aRR = 1.31 [1.16, 1.48]). Those with more negative perceptions of male condom use were 6% more likely to report non-use (aRR = 1.06 [1.03, 1.09]). Discussion regarding contraception with a partner decreased non-use 13% (aRR = 0.87 [0.80, 0.95]) and agreement regarding male condom use with a partner decreased non-use 16% (aRR = 0.84 [0.77, 0.91)]).

Discussion: Non-use of male condoms is high among young, married adults, particularly women, who may be interested in contraception for family planning but remain at risk of STI infection. Effective marketing strategy of dual protection methods to this population is critical.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Africa
Burkina Faso, Kenya, South Africa, Zambia
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Keeping up appearances – the reasons people living with HIV who are not yet ill, give for starting ART

Factors that motivated otherwise healthy HIV-positive young adults to access HIV testing and treatment in South Africa.

Lambert RF, Orrell C, Bangsberg DR, Haberer JE. AIDS Behav. 2017 Feb 11. doi: 10.1007/s10461-017-1704-y. [Epub ahead of print]

The World Health Organization recommends early initiation of HIV antiretroviral therapy (ART) for all those infected with the virus at any CD4 count. Successfully reaching individuals with relatively high CD4 counts depends in large part on healthy individuals seeking testing and treatment; however, little is known about factors motivating this decision. We conducted a qualitative study to explore this issue among 25 young HIV-positive adults (age 18-35) with a CD4 count >350 cells/mm3 who recently started or made the decision to start ART in Gugulethu, South Africa. Using an inductive content analytical approach, we found that most individuals sought testing and treatment early in the disease progression because of a desire to appear healthy thereby avoiding stigma associated with AIDS. Other factors included social support, responsibilities and aspirations, normalcy of having HIV, and accessible services. These findings suggest that maintenance of physical appearance should be included in the development of novel testing and treatment interventions.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: A lot has been written on why people delay entry into care, when they are living with HIV. The guidance that all people living with HIV should now start treatment means that many people who are healthy are being offered treatment. The authors of this paper found that in a small sample of people in South Africa, looking healthy mattered. There was a value in the message that ART could maintain health, and in the words of one participant in their study, to ‘remain beautiful’. In addition, other positive anticipated results of taking ART emerged from the data. Young people saw the benefit in maintaining their health so they can help their family in the future, for example. However, despite the positive messages on appearance and a future role for the family and society, many concerns remained. Participants wanted privacy to live with HIV without others knowing. Fears of stigma, fears of an altered appearance and faltering strength haunted participants. The authors stress the value of the positive messaging of ART as an aid to sustaining a healthy appearance. They suggest that this messaging could be used to encourage people to start ART promptly. 

Africa
South Africa
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Only a quarter of people living with HIV in South Africa virally suppressed

The continuum of HIV care in South Africa: implications for achieving the second and third UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets.

Takuva S, Brown AE, Pillay Y, Delpech V, Puren AJ. AIDS. 2017 Feb 20;31(4):545-552. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001340.

Background: We characterize engagement with HIV care in South Africa in 2012 to identify areas for improvement towards achieving global 90-90-90 targets.

Methods: Over 3.9 million CD4 cell count and 2.7 million viral load measurements reported in 2012 in the public sector were extracted from the national laboratory electronic database. The number of persons living with HIV (PLHIV), number and proportion in HIV care, on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and with viral suppression (viral load <400 copies/ml) were estimated and stratified by sex and age group. Modified Poisson regression approach was used to examine associations between sex, age group and viral suppression among persons on ART.

Results: We estimate that among 6 511 000 PLHIV in South Africa in 2012, 3 300 000 individuals (50.7%) accessed care and 32.9% received ART. Although viral suppression was 73.7% among the treated population in 2012, the overall percentage of persons with viral suppression among all PLHIV was 23.8%. Linkage to HIV care was lower among men (38.5%) than among women (57.2%). Overall, 47.1% of those aged 0-14 years and 47.0% of those aged 15-49 years were linked to care compared with 56.2% among those aged above 50 years.

Conclusion: Around a quarter of all PLHIV have achieved viral suppression in South Africa. Men and younger persons have poorer linkage to HIV care. Expanding HIV testing, strengthening prompt linkage to care and further expansion of ART are needed for South Africa to reach the 90-90-90 target. Focus on these areas will reduce the transmission of new HIV infections and mortality in the general population.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: To maximise the impact of ART, people living with HIV should be diagnosed early, enrolled and initiated on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and retained in ART care. Long-term adherence to achieve and maintain viral load suppression is the last step in the continuum of HIV care. Engagement along the complete treatment cascade will determine the long-term success of the global response to HIV.

In this manuscript, the authors used a combination of national HIV prevalence estimates and routine data collected through the National Health Laboratory Service to construct and characterize the different stages of the HIV care continuum in South Africa.

They estimate that, despite the expansion of the ART programme in South Africa, only about a quarter of people living with HIV were virally suppressed in 2012, contrasting with recent estimates from Botswana where about 70% of people living with HIV were reported to be virally suppressed. They estimate that only about half of all people living with HIV accessed care, but report that, once in care, the ART programme proves to be effective with three-quarters of people on ART achieving virologic suppression. Not surprisingly they found that men and younger persons have poorer linkage to care. They recommend that HIV testing needs to be expanded, and linkage to care needs to be promoted for people testing HIV-positive, if the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target is to be reached.

This paper illustrates how, in the context of a national public sector laboratory diagnostic service, routine laboratory data can be used to monitor the public health response to HIV at a national level. 

Africa
South Africa
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A cohort-based approach to the HIV treatment cascade finds linkage the major bottleneck

From HIV infection to therapeutic response: a population-based longitudinal HIV cascade-of-care study in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Haber N, Tanser F, Bor J, Naidu K, Mutevedzi T, Herbst K, Porter K, Pillay D, Barnighausen T. Lancet HIV. 2017 Jan 30. pii: S2352-3018(16)30224-7. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30224-7. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Standard approaches to estimation of losses in the HIV cascade of care are typically cross-sectional and do not include the population stages before linkage to clinical care. We used individual-level longitudinal cascade data, transition by transition, including population stages, both to identify the health-system losses in the cascade and to show the differences in inference between standard methods and the longitudinal approach.

Methods: We used non-parametric survival analysis to estimate a longitudinal HIV care cascade for a large population of people with HIV residing in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. We linked data from a longitudinal population health surveillance (which is maintained by the Africa Health Research Institute) with patient records from the local public-sector HIV treatment programme (contained in an electronic clinical HIV treatment and care database, ARTemis). We followed up all people who had been newly detected as having HIV between Jan 1, 2006, and Dec 31, 2011, across six cascade stages: three population stages (first positive HIV test, HIV status knowledge, and linkage to care) and three clinical stages (eligibility for antiretroviral therapy [ART], initiation of ART, and therapeutic response). We compared our estimates to cross-sectional cascades in the same population. We estimated the cumulative incidence of reaching a particular cascade stage at a specific time with Kaplan-Meier survival analysis.

Findings: Our population consisted of 5205 individuals with HIV who were followed up for 24 031 person-years. We recorded 598 deaths. 4539 individuals gained knowledge of their positive HIV status, 2818 were linked to care, 2151 became eligible for ART, 1839 began ART, and 1456 had successful responses to therapy. We used Kaplan-Meier survival analysis to adjust for censorship due to the end of data collection, and found that 8 years after testing positive in the population health surveillance, 16% had died. Among living patients, 82% knew their HIV status, 45% were linked to care, 39% were eligible for ART, 35% initiated ART, and 33% had reached therapeutic response. Median times to transition for these cascade stages were 52 months, 52 months, 20 months, 3 months, and 9 months, respectively. Compared with the population stages in the cascade, the transitions across the clinical stages were fast. Over calendar time, rates of linkage to care have decreased and patients presenting for the first time for care were, on average, healthier.

Interpretation: HIV programmes should focus on linkage to care as the most important bottleneck in the cascade. Cascade estimation should be longitudinal rather than cross-sectional and start with the population stages preceding clinical care.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: The HIV treatment cascade outlines the stages required to effectively treat HIV, starting with HIV testing and ending with viral suppression. The cascade has become a widely-used framework to evaluate the performance of HIV care programmes, to measure progress towards universal treatment coverage, and to identify gaps in care. However, methods for constructing the HIV treatment cascade vary considerably. The majority of cascade analyses rely on cross-sectional data obtained from different sources. The authors present the first analysis of the HIV treatment cascade that follows individuals longitudinally from the time of HIV infection across all stages of the cascade. By linking data from a demographic surveillance system with electronic clinical records, they are able to describe the cascade for a large population-based cohort of people living with HIV in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.  They demonstrate that, once people became eligible for ART, the rates of ART initiation, and of viral suppression after initiation, were high. Half of individuals started ART within three months of becoming eligible, and 94% of people on therapy achieved virologic suppression. In addition, retention in care improved over time. However, a key finding is that rates of HIV diagnosis and linkage to care worsened over time, and less than 50% of people had linked to care within eight years of HIV infection, despite 82% being aware of their status. As illustrated by cascade analyses in other settings, increasing linkage to care remains a major challenge for reaching the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target in sub-Saharan Africa.  

In addition to highlighting linkage as the most important bottleneck in the HIV care cascade in this part of rural KwaZulu-Natal, the study illustrates some of the weaknesses in traditional cascade analyses based on cross-sectional data. The cross-sectional cascade is constructed from snapshots of different groups of people in a particular moment in time, rather than describing what happens to the same group of people over time. The authors illustrate how a cross-sectional analysis can give a misleading impression of improvement in the cascade over time, because it fails to take account of changes in the population. The longitudinal cascade, by following the same group of people, provides important insights into the true progression of the cascade over time, and identification of losses along each stage. However, the individual-level longitudinal data necessary for this type of analysis requires a large investment in data collection, and is unlikely to be feasible in most resource-limited settings.

Africa
South Africa
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