Articles tagged as "Spain"

Excessive cardiovascular morbidity and mortality among people living with HIV – preventable with better services?

Editor’s notes: Opportunities to prevent mortality among people living with HIV also include careful attention to risk factors for modifiable cardiovascular health risk factors such as smoking, cholesterol levels, weight and exercise.  In an interesting study from Canada, Jeon and colleagues used the Ontario administrative databases to look at differences between 259 475 people being admitted with acute myocardial infarction according to their HIV status.  Overall, people living with HIV who had heart attacks were around 15 years younger and more than twice as likely to die within 30 days following discharge from the hospital compared to HIV-negative people.  This was not because people living with HIV had received care that was obviously different, with similar rates of revascularisation procedures and follow up visits to the cardiology services.  The study highlights the ongoing uncertainty about the reasons for increased morbidity and mortality among people living with HIV.  However, it is clear that we do have several well proven tools with which to reduce cardiovascular morbidity, so we should ensure that they are incorporated into HIV treatment services.

The relationship between known indicators of cardiovascular risk and HIV were also studied in 67 black South Africans living with HIV.  Borkum and colleagues demonstrate that HIV infection in black South Africans living with HIV was generally well controlled with 84% being virally suppressed and that they had a median CD4 count of over 500 cells per microlitre.  Nonetheless, most had a variety of characteristics that suggest that they were at high risk of cardiovascular events.  Markers of inflammation were raised in 68% and “non-dipping” blood pressure, which is a measure of excessive stiffness of the arteries, was present in 65%.  Straightforward measures that could be made even at the most peripheral ART clinic also demonstrated risk, with 67% being classified as overweight and 76% having an increased waist circumference, both well recognized independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease.  Worryingly this sample, which was largely female (91%), had an average age of only 42 years.  It is clear that intervention on cardiovascular risks is something for all ART providers to consider in every setting.

The Australian Positive and Peers Longevity Evaluation study (beautifully given the acronym of APPLES) also points out the importance of making valid comparisons between people living with HIV and their HIV negative peers.  In Australia, almost half of all people living with HIV are now over the age of 50 years.  Petoumenos and colleagues show that among gay and bisexual men older than 55 years, recruited in Sydney, those living with HIV were more likely to report noncommunicable comorbidities including heart disease and diabetes. However, some of the more obvious risk factors, such as smoking status, were not different between the groups and people living with HIV drank less alcohol than their HIV negative peers.  The relationships between HIV, lifestyle and noncommunicable disease risk are complex but probably important as the population of people living with HIV continues to age.

In a study from the Cohorte de la Red de Investigación en Sida (CoRIS) in Spain, Masiá and colleagues have also explored long term outcomes of almost 9000 people living with HIV and their experience of non-AIDS defining events.  They show that mortality rates are considerably higher in people living with HIV who have any non-AIDS event, even if these are traditionally considered less severe, such as bacterial pneumonia, psychiatric diseases, bone fractures, or diabetes. In addition to standard indicators (such as low CD4 count at ART initiation), we should take the development of non-AIDS events as a warning to intensify management efforts and more targeted prevention of complications.

In the UK, Molloy and colleagues conducted an audit of clinical services provided at different sites.  They show that systems need to catch up with the changes in life experience of people living with HIV.  While sexual health screening was almost universally available, only 71.4% of sites were able to offer cervical cytology despite the increased risk of cervical cancer in women living with HIV.  Less than half of people taking ART had their risk for cardiovascular disease documented.  Regular audit of appropriate services, even with simple checklists for service providers is a strong tool to improve care for people living with HIV and should have a direct impact on mortality.


Mortality and health service use following acute myocardial infarction among persons with HIV: a population-based study


Jeon C, Lau C, Kendall CE, Burchell AN, Bayoumi AM, Loutfy M, Rourke SB, Antoniou T. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2017 Sep 14. doi: 10.1089/AID.2017.0128. [Epub ahead of print]

People with HIV have higher rates of acute myocardial infarction (AMI) than HIV-negative individuals. We compared mortality risk and health service use following AMI among people with and without HIV between January 1, 2002, and March 31, 2015. We conducted a population-based study using Ontario's administrative databases. Our primary outcomes were risk of inpatient death and death at 30 days following hospital discharge. In secondary analyses, we compared use of revascularization procedures within 90 days of AMI, as well as readmission or emergency department visits for heart disease and cardiology follow-up within 90 days of discharge. We studied 259 475 AMI patients, of whom 345 (0.13%) were people with HIV. AMI patients with HIV were younger than HIV-negative patients (mean age ± standard deviation: 54.4 ± 10.5 years vs. 69.3 ± 14.3 years). Following multivariable adjustment, the odds ratios for inpatient death and death at 30 days following discharge were 1.04 [95% confidence intervals (CI) 0.64-1.56] and 2.42 (95% CI 1.00-4.92), respectively. In secondary analyses, no differences were observed in receipt of revascularization procedures (hazard ratio (HR) 0.98; 95% CI 0.85-1.12), readmission or emergency department visit for heart disease (HR 1.18; 95% CI 0.85-1.62), or cardiology follow-up (HR 0.88; 95% CI 0.76-1.01). People with HIV experience AMI at younger ages and may be at higher risk of death in the 30 days following hospital discharge, underscoring the importance of targeting modifiable cardiovascular disease risk factors in these patients.

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High prevalence of "non-dipping" blood pressure and vascular stiffness in HIV-infected South Africans on antiretrovirals

Borkum MS, Heckmann JM, Manning K, Dave JA, Levitt NS, Rayner BL, Wearne N. PLoS One. 2017 Sep 20;12(9):e0185003. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185003. eCollection 2017.

Background: HIV-infected individuals are at increased risk of tissue inflammation and accelerated vascular aging ('inflamm-aging'). Abnormal diurnal blood pressure (BP) rhythms such as non-dipping may contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events in HIV infected individuals. However, little data exists on ambulatory blood pressure (ABP) and measures of vascular stiffness in the black African HIV infected population.

Methods: This is a cross-sectional analysis of otherwise well, HIV infected outpatients on ART for >5 years. Study assessments included: 24hr ABP monitoring, pulse wave velocity (PWV) and central aortic systolic pressure (CASP) using a AtCor Medical Sphygmocor device, fasting lipogram, oral glucose tolerance test, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) and anthropometric data. Patients completed a questionnaire of autonomic symptoms. CD4+ counts and viral loads were obtained from the National Laboratory results system.

Results: Sixty-seven black participants were included in the analysis of whom 91% (n = 61) were female with a mean age of 42.2 ± 8.6 years. The median duration on ART was 7.5 years (IQR = 6-10), 84% were virally supressed and the median CD4 count was 529.5cells/mm3 (IQR = 372.0-686.5). The majority (67%) were classified as overweight and 76% had an increased waist circumference, yet only 88% of participants were normotensive. A hsCRP level in the high cardiovascular risk category was found in 68% of participants. The prevalence of non-dipping BP was 65%. Interestingly, there was no association on multivariable analysis between dipping status and traditional risk factors for non-dipping BP, such as: obesity, autonomic dysfunction and older age.

Conclusion: This relatively young cross-sectional sample of predominantly normotensive, but overweight black women on effective ART >5 years showed: a high prevalence of non-dipping BP, inflammation and vascular stiffness. Causality cannot be inferred but cardiovascular risk reduction should be emphasized in these patients.  

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Prevalence of self-reported comorbidities in HIV positive and HIV negative men who have sex with men over 55 years—The Australian Positive & Peers Longevity Evaluation Study (APPLES)

Petoumenos K, Huang R, Hoy J, Bloch M, Templeton DJ, Baker D, Giles M, Law MG, Cooper DA. PLoS One. 2017 Sep 8;12(9):e0184583. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184583. eCollection 2017.

In Australia, almost half of HIV-positive people are now aged over 50 and are predominately gay and bisexual men (GBM). Compared to the general HIV-negative population, GBM engage more in behaviours that may increase the risk of age-related comorbidities, including smoking, high alcohol consumption and recreational drug use. The objective of APPLES was to compare comorbidities and risk factors in HIV-positive older GBM with an appropriate control group of HIV-negative GBM. We undertook a prospectively recruited cross-sectional sample of HIV-positive and HIV-negative GBM ≥ 55 years. Detailed data collection included clinic data, a health and lifestyle survey, and blood sample collection. We report key demographic, laboratory markers and self-reported comorbidities by HIV status. For selected comorbidities we also adjust HIV status a priori for age, smoking and body mass index. Over 16 months 228 HIV-positive and 218 HIV-negative men were recruited. Median age was 63 years (IQR: 59-67). Although more HIV-positive men reported having ever smoked, smoking status was not statistically different between HIV positive and HIV negative men (p = 0.081). Greater alcohol use was reported by HIV-negative men (p = 0.002), and recreational drug use reported more often by HIV-positive men (p<0.001). After adjustment, HIV-positive men had significantly increased odds of diabetes (adjusted Odds ratio (aOR): 1.97, p = 0.038), thrombosis (aOR: 3.08, p = 0.007), neuropathy (aOR: 34.6, P<0.001), and non-significantly increased odds for heart-disease (aOR: 1.71, p = 0.077). In conclusion, HIV-positive GBM have significantly increased odds for key self-reported comorbidities. This study underscores the importance of an appropriate HIV-negative control group for more accurate evaluation of the risk and attribution of age-related comorbidities in HIV-positive people.

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Prediction of long-term outcomes of HIV-infected patients developing non-AIDS events using a multistate approach

Masiá M, Padilla S, Moreno S, Barber X, Iribarren JA, Del Romero J, Gómez-Sirvent JL, Rivero M, Vidal F, Campins AA, Gutiérrez F; Cohorte de la Red de Investigación en Sida (CoRIS). PLoS One. 2017 Sep 8;12(9):e0184329. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184329. eCollection 2017.

Objectives: Outcomes of people living with HIV (PLWH) developing non-AIDS events (NAEs) remain poorly defined. We aimed to classify NAEs according to severity, and to describe clinical outcomes and prognostic factors after NAE occurrence using data from CoRIS, a large Spanish HIV cohort from 2004 to 2013.

Design: Prospective multicenter cohort study.

Methods: Using a multistate approach we estimated 3 transition probabilities: from alive and NAE-free to alive and NAE-experienced ("NAE development"); from alive and NAE-experienced to death ("Death after NAE"); and from alive and NAE-free to death ("Death without NAE"). We analyzed the effect of different covariates, including demographic, immunologic and virologic data, on death or NAE development, based on estimates of hazard ratios (HR). We focused on the transition "Death after NAE".

Results: 8789 PLWH were followed-up until death, cohort censoring or loss to follow-up. 792 first incident NAEs occurred in 9.01% PLWH (incidence rate 28.76; 95% confidence interval [CI], 26.80-30.84, per 1000 patient-years). 112 (14.14%) NAE-experienced PLWH and 240 (2.73%) NAE-free PLWH died. Adjusted HR for the transition "Death after NAE" was 12.1 (95%CI, 4.90-29.89). There was a graded increase in the adjusted HRs for mortality according to NAE severity category: HR (95%CI), 4.02 (2.45-6.57) for intermediate-severity; and 9.85 (5.45-17.81) for serious NAEs compared to low-severity NAEs. Male sex (HR 2.04; 95% CI, 1.11-3.84), age >50 years (1.78, 1.08-2.94), hepatitis C-coinfection (2.52, 1.38-4.61), lower CD4 cell count at cohort entry (HR 2.49; 95%CI 1.20-5.14 for CD4 cell count below 200 and HR 2.16; 95%CI 1.01-4.66 for CD4 cell count between 200-350, both compared to CD4 cell count higher than 500) and concomitant CD4 <200 cells/mL (2.22, 1.42-3.44) were associated with death after NAE. CD4 count and HIV-1 RNA at engagement, previous AIDS and hepatitis C-coinfection predicted mortality in NAE-free persons.

Conclusion: NAEs, including low-severity events, increase prominently the risk for mortality in PLWH. Prognostic factors differ between NAE-experienced and NAE-free persons. These findings should be taken into account in the clinical management of PLWH developing NAEs and may permit more targeted prevention efforts.

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Routine monitoring and assessment of adults living with HIV: results of the British HIV Association (BHIVA) national audit 2015

Molloy A, Curtis H, Burns F, Freedman A; BHIVA Audit and Standards Sub-Committee. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 Sep 13;17(1):619. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2708-y.

Background: The clinical care of people living with HIV changed fundamentally as a result of the development of effective antiretroviral therapy (ART). HIV infection is now a long-term treatable condition. We report a national audit to assess adherence to British HIV Association guidelines for the routine investigation and monitoring of adult HIV-1-infected individuals.

Methods: All UK sites known as providers of adult HIV outpatient services were invited to complete a case-note review and a brief survey of local clinic practices. Participating sites were asked to randomly select 50-100 adults, who attended for specialist HIV care during 2014 and/or 2015. Each site collected data electronically using a self-audit spreadsheet tool. This included demographic details (gender, ethnicity, HIV exposure, and age) and whether 22 standardised and pre-defined clinical audited outcomes had been recorded.

Results: Data were collected on 8258 adults from 123 sites, representing approximately 10% of people living with HIV reported in public health surveillance as attending UK HIV services. Sexual health screening was provided within 96.4% of HIV services, cervical cytology and influenza vaccination within 71.4% of HIV services. There was wide variation in resistance testing across sites. Only 44.9% of patients on ART had a documented 10-year CVD risk within the past three years and fracture risk had been assessed within the past three years for only 16.7% patients aged over 50 years.

Conclusions: There was high participation in the national audit and good practice was identified in some areas. However, improvements can be made in monitoring of cardiovascular risk, bone and sexual health.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.


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.

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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.


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.

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Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America, Oceania
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H*V – can we do better for HIV, HBV and HCV if we all work together?

Editor’s notes: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) signal a major shift in the way that the United Nations and her development partners aim to shape the next decades.  Whereas the Millennium Development Goals reinforced specific programmes for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, the SDGs call for a more integrated approach to health and well-being and encourage integration and synergy wherever it makes sense.  Hepatitis is one obvious area in which better collaboration and coordination could yield benefits.  Hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV) viruses are both more common in some of the populations most affected by HIV.  HCV can now be cured with drugs that derive directly from the HIV portfolio, while some ARVs have a direct effect on HBV.

Rwanda is one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to set up a control programme for viral hepatitis, building on the infrastructure established for HIV. Umutesi and colleagues report on results of screening almost 120 000 people living with HIV who entered care for markers of HBV and HCV.  Around 5000 people (4.3%) were identified with a positive Hepatitis B surface antigen and a similar number (4.6%) were found to have antibodies against HCV.  There was marked variation geographically with a range by district from 2%-11% for HBV, higher in more urban areas and in men.  For HCV the range was from 3%-8% and was higher in more rural areas, and also in men.  This study provides a good platform to estimate numbers of people who might need treatment and to plan the next steps in an integrated programme.

People who inject drugs are particularly severely affected by HCV, and so co-infection with both HIV and HCV is common in areas where both viruses circulate.  Some estimates from Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam suggest that more than 40% of people who inject drugs are living with HIV and that essentially all of these people are also co-infected with HCV.  Birger R and colleagues developed a mathematical model to explore the likely impact of interventions aimed at HIV, HCV or broad harm reduction [with methadone maintenance treatment (MMT)] on future mortality and incidence of both infections.  While ART scale up reduces HIV incidence and mortality, it has no effect on HCV.  MMT is effective at reducing incidence of both HIV and HCV (and has morbidity and mortality benefits beyond these viruses).  However, MMT does not help the many people already living with HCV and so has little effect on HCV related mortality. So the model is clear that treatment for HCV needs to be an important part of a combined programme and that we urgently need to find ways to reduce the price of directly acting antivirals if we are to save more Vietnamese lives.

Haldane and colleagues have also focused on this intersection between HIV and substance use services.  They carried out a systematic review to understand the models and implications of integration of service delivery.  The authors expand their typology of integration models considering the point of entry of the client, and the degree to which services are co-located and delivered.  Integration can be considered as “clinical”, “service” or “systems”.  The first two can operate at the micro or meso level meaning that individual staff can deal with both situations, or that staff are trained to provide appropriate referrals.  Systems level integration operates at a macro level and implies that programmes for each service make collaborations and coordinate in ways that may affect staffing, funding and fragmentation of services. Although there are theoretical advantages to coordination and integration (as shown by the mathematical model above), there are few good empirical studies of integrated service delivery reported outside the USA.  The authors considered that most of the intervention studies had a risk of bias in the interpretation of their impact, although all demonstrated positive changes in outcomes.  Furthermore, almost all the studies focussed on integration at the clinic or individual provider level (meso or micro) rather than addressing the larger systemic challenges that we need to consider.  If we are to achieve the ideals laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals, we will need to overcome some of these systemic challenges, particularly for populations that are criminalized and marginalized by many of the public services.

Prevalence of hepatitis B and C infection in persons living with HIV enrolled in care in Rwanda.

Umutesi J, Simmons B, Makuza JD, Dushimiyimana D, Mbituyumuremyi A, Uwimana JM, Ford N, Mills EJ, Nsanzimana S. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 May 2;17(1):315. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2422-9.

Background: Hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV) are important causes of morbidity and mortality in people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The burden of these co-infections in sub-Saharan Africa is still unclear. We estimated the prevalence of the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and hepatitis C antibody (HCVAb) among HIV-infected individuals in Rwanda and identified factors associated with infection.

Methods: Between January 2016 and June 2016, we performed systematic screening for HBsAg and HCVAb among HIV-positive individuals enrolled at public and private HIV facilities across Rwanda. Results were analyzed to determine marker prevalence and variability by demographic factors.

Results: Overall, among 117 258 individuals tested, the prevalence of HBsAg and HCVAb was 4.3% (95% confidence interval [CI] (4.2-4.4) and 4.6% (95% CI 4.5-4.7) respectively; 182 (0.2%) HIV+ individuals were co-infected with HBsAg and HCVAb. Prevalence was higher in males (HBsAg, 5.4% [5.1-5.6] vs. 3.7% [3.5-3.8]; HCVAb, 5.0% [4.8-5.2] vs. 4.4% [4.3-4.6]) and increased with age; HCVAb prevalence was significantly higher in people aged ≥65 years (17.8% [16.4-19.2]). Prevalence varied geographically.

Conclusion: HBV and HCV co-infections are common among HIV-infected individuals in Rwanda. It is important that viral hepatitis prevention and treatment activities are scaled-up to control further transmission and reduce the burden in this population. Particular efforts should be made to conduct targeted screening of males and the older population. Further assessment is required to determine rates of HBV and HCV chronicity among HIV-infected individuals and identify effective strategies to link individuals to care and treatment.

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The impact of HCV therapy in a high HIV-HCV prevalence population: A modeling study on people who inject drugs in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Birger RB, Le T, Kouyos RD, Grenfell BT, Hallett TB. PLoS One. 2017 May 11;12(5):e0177195. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177195. eCollection 2017.

Background: Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) coinfection is a major global health problem especially among people who inject drugs (PWID), with significant clinical implications. Mathematical models have been used to great effect to shape HIV care, but few have been proposed for HIV/HCV.

Methods: We constructed a deterministic compartmental ODE model that incorporated layers for HIV disease progression, HCV disease progression and PWID demography. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) and Methadone Maintenance Therapy (MMT) scale-ups were modeled as from 2016 and projected forward 10 years. HCV treatment roll-out was modeled beginning in 2026, after a variety of MMT scale-up scenarios, and projected forward 10 years.

Results: Our results indicate that scale-up of ART has a major impact on HIV though not on HCV burden. MMT scale-up has an impact on incidence of both infections. HCV treatment roll-out has a measurable impact on reductions of deaths, increasing multifold the mortality reductions afforded by just ART/MMT scale-ups.

Conclusion: HCV treatment roll-out can have major and long-lasting effects on averting PWID deaths on top of those averted by ART/MMT scale-up. Efficient intervention scale-up of HCV alongside HIV interventions is critical in Vietnam.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Integrating HIV and substance use services: a systematic review

Haldane V, Cervero-Liceras F, Chuah FL, Ong SE, Murphy G, Sigfrid L, Watt N, Balabanova D, Hogarth S, Maimaris W, Buse K, Piot P, McKee M, Perel P, Legido-Quigley H. Journal of the International AIDS Society. 2017 May 30;20(1).

Introduction: Substance use is an important risk factor for HIV, with both concentrated in certain vulnerable and marginalized populations. Although their management differs, there may be opportunities to integrate services for substance use and HIV. In this paper we systematically review evidence from studies that sought to integrate care for people living with HIV and substance use problems.

Methods: Studies were included if they evaluated service integration for substance use and HIV. We searched multiple databases from inception until October 2015. Articles were screened independently by two reviewers and assessed for risk of bias.

Results and discussion: 11 057 records were identified, with 7616 after removal of duplicates. After screening titles and abstracts, 51 met the inclusion criteria. Integration models were categorized by location (HIV, substance use and other facilities), level of integration from micro (integrated care delivered to individuals) to macro (system level integrations) and degree of integration from least (screening and counselling only) to most (care for HIV, substance use and/or other illnesses at the same facility). Most reported descriptive or cohort studies; in four randomized control trials integrated activities improved patient outcomes. There is potential for integrating services at all facility types, including mobile health services. While services offering screening only can achieve synergies, there are benefits from delivering integrated treatment for HIV and substance use, including ease of referral to other mental health and social services.

Conclusions: Our review used a wide range of databases and conference archives to increase representation of papers from low- and middle-income countries. Limitations include the overrepresentation of studies from the United States, and the descriptive nature of the majority of papers. The evidence reviewed shows that greater integration offers important benefits in both patient and service outcomes but further research and outcome reporting is needed to better understand innovative and holistic care models at the complex intersection of substance use and HIV services.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America
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Non-communicable diseases and co-morbidities – the flip side of successful ART programmes?

Editor’s notes: As the population of people living with HIV grows older and lives longer, the importance of non-communicable diseases is increasing.  Several studies this month explored various aspects of this intersection.

An encouraging study from Spain by Sorigué M et al., analysed the outcomes of patients with advanced stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a relatively common cancer both among people living with HIV and the HIV-negative population. The authors showed that, in the era of combined antiretroviral therapy, the complete response rate and ten year survival were not significantly different among people living with HIV (89% and 73%) and HIV negative people (91% and 68%).

Another broadly encouraging study from Ireland by Tinago W et al., followed up 384 people (176 living with HIV) to determine changes over three years in their bone mineral density (BMD).  BMD was somewhat lower in the people living with HIV, despite the group being younger on average.  As expected, BMD gradually fell with increasing age but the rate of bone loss was no different between people living with HIV and HIV negative people.  88% of the people living with HIV were on ART at the start of the study period.  Not having started ART among people living with HIV was associated with lower BMD and people who had started more recently showed the largest declines in BMD.  This suggests (as has previously been shown in cohorts of people living with HIV) that after an initial loss in BMD, the rate of loss stabilizes and is similar to HIV-negative people.  Interestingly, the authors did not show that overall exposure to tenofovir disproxil fumarate (TDF) was particularly associated with greater BMD loss over the course of follow up, despite several previous randomized trials confirming that TDF does cause BMD loss when it is started.

While on the subject of TDF, this month saw two important regulatory trials of tenofovir alafenamide (TAF), sponsored by the manufacturers Gilead Sciences.  630 people living with HIV on treatment with rilpivirine, emtricitabine and TDF whose viral load was supressed, were randomly allocated to remain on the same regimen or to swap the TDF for TAF.  TAF is a pro-drug, that reduces the plasma concentrations of tenofovir and is therefore expected to reduce the renal and bone toxicities associated with TDF while still delivering active drug to the cells where it is needed.  One year later, viral suppression was very similar in the two groups (94%).  There was also no significant difference seen in the side effects over this one year period, with no serious adverse events and 6% vs. 12% having some side effects in the TAF and TDF arms respectively [Orkin C and colleagues].

A related study by DeJesus E et al. with the same design was conducted among people taking efavirenz, emtricitabine and tenofovir, one of the most common first line regimens throughout the world. In this trial the efavirenz was switched to rilpivirine and the TDF to TAF.  875 people living with HIV whose viral load was supressed were randomized and after one year viral suppression was very similar in the two groups (90-92%).  There was also no significant difference seen in the side effects over this one year period, with no serious adverse events and 13% vs. 10% having some side effects in the rilpivirine -TAF and efavirenz-TDF arms respectively.

Returning to co-morbidities and non-communicable diseases, a study by Rodríguez-Arbolí E and colleagues in rural Tanzania has shown that 11.6% of people living with HIV who had not yet started ART had raised blood pressure.  A further 9.6% develop raised blood pressure during follow up, an incidence of 12 per 100 person years. The risk factors for developing hypertension were those well recognized in HIV-negative populations (age, renal disease and being overweight) and not specifically related to HIV infection, ART or immunological status.  The authors recommend integration of non-communicable disease screening and management into HIV care clinics but a larger conclusion might be to improve management of hypertension more generally, as it affects both people living with HIV and people without.

In contrast, a study by Pollack TM et al. from Viet Nam shows that smoking tobacco is associated with a higher viral load among people living with HIV presenting for ART.  As would be expected, other predictors of more advanced HIV disease such as lower CD4 counts and lower BMI and prior TB were all associated with a higher viral load at presentation.  Male sex was also significantly associated with a higher viral load.  The authors point out various other studies from Cameroon and the US that have shown similar and related interactions between smoking tobacco, viral load at presentation or viral load suppression or rebound on ART treatment.  Other studies in the US have not found this association.  One of the challenges is to separate behavioural factors that might be confounders – perhaps people who smoke are more likely to present late.  In this study there was not a clear dose response.  People who smoked more than ten cigarettes per day were actually somewhat less likely in this sample to have a higher viral load than people who smoked 1-10 cigarettes per day, but the numbers were too small to make statistically significant claims.  The authors suggest that oxidative stress and induction of the cytochrome P450 (CYP) pathway could explain the mechanism of smoking-related increased VL among HIV positive individuals.  While the study cannot prove cause and effect, there are already many reasons to promote tobacco cessation among people living with HIV and this may be an additional one.

The D:A:D study is a major prospective cohort that follows more than 49 000 people living with HIV in Europe, Australia and the USA.  Among the cohort, more than 4000 have developed chronic renal impairment.  A study by Ryom L et al. this month examined whether there was improvement, stabilisation or progression of renal impairment in the 2006 individuals who had additional measurements 2-3 years after renal impairment was first noted and explored risk factors for each.  On the one hand, they show that some ARVs (notably TDF and ritonavir-boosted atazanovir) are associated with worse renal outcomes, but on the other hand, they demonstrate that after stopping these nephrotoxic medicines, the kidneys recover or at least do not deteriorate further.  Once again, traditional risk factors (older age, high blood pressure and diabetes) are also important risk factors for the kidneys of people living with HIV.  As the population of people living with HIV gets older and lives longer, HIV care and traditional non-communicable disease management must overlap and coordinate.

HIV-infection has no prognostic impact on advanced-stage Hodgkin lymphoma treated with doxorubicin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine.

Sorigué M, García O, Tapia G, Baptista MJ, Moreno M, Mate JL, Sancho JM, FeliuE, Ribera JM, Navarro JT. AIDS. 2017 Mar 29. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001487. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective: Classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL) is a non-AIDS-defining cancer with good response to chemotherapy in the combined antiretroviral therapy (cART) era. The aim of the study was to compare the characteristics, the response with treatment and survival of advanced-stage cHL treated with adriamycin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine (ABVD) between cART-treated HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients.

Design and methods: We retrospectively analyzed advanced-stage cHL patients from a single institution, uniformly treated with ABVD. All HIV-positive patients received cART concomitantly with ABVD.

Results: A total of 69 patients were included in the study: 21 were HIV-positive and 48 were HIV-negative. HIV-positive patients had more aggressive features at cHL diagnosis, such as worse performance status, more frequent bone marrow involvement and mixed cellularity histologic subtype. There were no differences in complete response rate (89% in HIV-positive vs. 91% in HIV-negative), P = 1; disease-free survival 10-year disease-free survival 70% (41-99%) vs. 74% (57-91%), P = 0.907 and overall survival (OS) 10-year OS 73% (95% confidence interval52-94%) vs. 68% (51-85%), P = 0.904. On multivariate analysis, HIV infection did not correlate with worse OS.

Conclusion: Although HIV-positive patients with cHL had more aggressive baseline features in this series, there were no differences in response rate or survival between HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients.

Abstract access 

Predictors of longitudinal change in bone mineral density in a cohort of HIV-positive and negative patients.

Tinago W, Cotter AG, Sabin CA, Macken A, Kavanagh E, Brady JJ, McCarthy G,Compston J, Mallon PW; HIV UPBEAT Study Group.225. AIDS. 2017 Mar 13;31(5):643-652. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001372.

Objective: Although low bone mineral density (BMD) is prevalent in HIV, changes in BMD over time remain unclear. We aimed to compare rates of, and factors associated with, BMD change between HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients.

Methods: In a prospective, 3-year cohort, HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients provided annual demographic and clinical data, fasting bloods, and dual x-ray absorptiometry. Using longitudinal mixed models we compared and determined predictors of rate of change in BMD.

Results: Of 384 study participants (45.8% HIV positive), 120 contributed two and 264 contributed three BMD measurements. Those with HIV were younger [median interquartile range 39 (34-46) vs. 43 (35-50) years; P = 0.04], more often men (61 vs. 46%; P = 0.003), and less likely Caucasian (61 vs. 82%; P < 0.001).Although BMD was lower in those with HIV, BMD declined in both groups, with nonsignificant between-group difference in rate of BMD change over time. Within the HIV group, starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) within 3 months of enrolment was associated with greater BMD decline at all anatomical sites (all P < 0.001). Age more than 30 years, Caucasian ethnicity, and not being on ART during follow-up were associated with greater decline and higher parathyroid hormone associated with a smaller decline in BMD at the femoral neck. We found no association between BMD change and exposure to tenofovir disoproxil fumarate or protease inhibitors.

Conclusion: We observed no difference in rate of BMD decline regardless of HIV status and in HIV-positive patient, having started ART within the previous 3 months was the only factor associated with greater BMD decline at all three sites.

Abstract access 

Switching from tenofovir disoproxil fumarate to tenofovir alafenamide coformulated with rilpivirine and emtricitabine in virally suppressed adults with HIV-1 infection: a randomised, double-blind, multicentre, phase 3b, non-inferiority study.

Orkin C,  DeJesus E, Ramgopal M, Crofoot G, Ruane P, LaMarca A, Mills A, Vandercam B, de Wet J, Rockstroh J, Lazzarin A, Rijnders B, Podzamczer D, Thalme A, Stoeckle M, Porter D, Liu HC, Cheng A, Quirk E, SenGupta D, Cao H. Lancet HIV. 2017 Mar 1. pii: S2352-3018(17)30031-0. doi:10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30031-0. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Tenofovir alafenamide, a tenofovir prodrug, results in 90% lower tenofovir plasma concentrations than does tenofovir disproxil fumarate, thereby minimising bone and renal risks. We investigated the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of switching to a single-tablet regimen containing rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide compared with remaining on rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.

Methods: In this randomised, double-blind, multicentre, placebo-controlled, non-inferiority trial, HIV-1-infected adults were screened and enrolled at 119 hospitals in 11 countries in North America and Europe. Participants were virally suppressed (HIV-1 RNA <50 copies per ml) on rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate for at least 6 months before enrolment and had creatinine clearance of at least 50 ml/min. Participants were randomly assigned(1:1) to receive a single-tablet regimen of either rilpivirine (25 mg), emtricitabine (200 mg), and tenofovir alafenamide (25 mg) or to remain on a single-tablet regimen of rilpivirine (25 mg), emtricitabine (200 mg), and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (300 mg), with matching placebo, once daily for 96 weeks. Investigators, participants, study staff, and those assessing outcomes were masked to treatment group. All participants who received one dose of study drug and were on the tenofovir disoproxil fumarate regimen before screening were included in primary efficacy analyses. The primary endpoint was the proportion of participants with less than 50 copies per ml of plasma HIV-1 RNA at week 48 (by the US Food and Drug Administration snapshot algorithm), with a prespecified non-inferiority margin of 8%. This study was registered with, number NCT01815736.

Findings: Between Jan 26, 2015, and Aug 25, 2015, 630 participants were randomised (316 to the tenofovir alafenamide group and 314 to the tenofovir disoproxil fumarate group). At week 48, 296 (94%) of 316 participants on tenofovir alafenamide and 294 (94%) of 313 on tenofovir disoproxil fumarate had maintained less than 50 copies per ml HIV-1 RNA (difference -0·3%, 95·001% CI-4·2 to 3·7), showing non-inferiority of tenofovir alafenamide to tenofovir disoproxil fumarate. Numbers of adverse events were similar between groups. 20(6%) of 316 participants had study-drug related adverse events in the tenofovir alafenamide group compared with 37 (12%) of 314 in the tenofovir disoproxil fumarate group; none of these were serious.

Interpretation: Switching to rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide was non-inferior to continuing rilpivirine, emtricitabine, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate in maintaining viral suppression and was well tolerated at 48 weeks. These findings support guidelines recommending tenofovir alafenamide-based regimens, including coformulation with rilpivirine and emtricitabine, as initial and ongoing treatment for HIV-1 infection.

Abstract access 

Switching from efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate to tenofovir alafenamide coformulated with rilpivirine and emtricitabine in virally suppressed adults with HIV-1 infection: a randomised, double-blind, multicentre, phase 3b, non-inferiority study.

DeJesus E, Ramgopal M, Crofoot G, Ruane P, LaMarca A, Mills A, Martorell CT, de Wet J, Stellbrink HJ, Molina JM, Post FA, Valero IP, Porter D, Liu Y, Cheng A, Quirk E, SenGupta D, Cao H. Lancet HIV. 2017 Mar 1. pii: S2352-3018(17)30032-2. doi:10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30032-2. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Tenofovir alafenamide is a prodrug that reduces tenofovir plasma concentrations by 90% compared with tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, thereby decreasing bone and renal risks. The coformulation of rilpivirine, emtricitabine,and tenofovir alafenamide has recently been approved, and we aimed to investigate the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of switching to this regimen compared with remaining on coformulated efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.

Methods: In this randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, non-inferiority trial, HIV-1-infected adults were enrolled at 120 hospitals and outpatient clinics in eight countries in North America and Europe. Participants were virally suppressed (HIV-1 RNA <50 copies per mL) on efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate for at least 6 months before enrolment and had creatinine clearance of at least 50 mL/min. Participants were randomly assigned(1:1) to receive a single-tablet regimen of rilpivirine (25 mg), emtricitabine(200 mg), and tenofovir alafenamide (25 mg) or to continue a single-tablet regimen of efavirenz (600 mg), emtricitabine (200 mg), and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (300 mg), with matching placebo. Investigators, participants, study staff, and those assessing outcomes were masked to treatment group. The primary endpoint was the proportion of participants with plasma HIV-1 RNA of less than 50copies per mL at week 48 (assessed by the US Food and Drug Administration snapshot algorithm), with a prespecified non-inferiority margin of 8%. This study was registered with, number NCT02345226.

Findings: Between Jan 26, 2015, and Aug 27, 2015, 875 participants were randomly assigned and treated (438 with rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide and 437 with efavirenz, emtricitabine, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate). Viral suppression at week 48 was maintained in 394 (90%) of 438 participants assigned to the tenofovir alafenamide regimen and 402 (92%) of 437 assigned to the tenofovir disoproxil fumarate regimen (difference -2·0%, 95·001% CI -5·9 to 1·8), demonstrating non-inferiority. 56 (13%) of 438 in participants in the rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide group experienced treatment-related adverse events compared with 45 (10%) of 437 in the efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate group.

Interpretation: Switching to rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide from efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate was non-inferior in maintaining viral suppression and was well tolerated at 48 weeks. These findings support guidelines recommending tenofovir alafenamide-based regimens, including coformulation with rilpivirine and emtricitabine, as initial and ongoing treatment for HIV-1 infection.

Abstract access 

Incidence and risk factors for hypertension among HIV patients in rural Tanzania - A prospective cohort study.

Rodríguez-Arbolí E, Mwamelo K, Kalinjuma AV, Furrer H, Hatz C, Tanner M, Battegay M, Letang E; KIULARCO Study Group. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 8;12(3):e0172089. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172089.eCollection 2017.

Introduction: Scarce data are available on the epidemiology of hypertension among HIV patients in rural sub-Saharan Africa. We explored the prevalence, incidence and risk factors for incident hypertension among patients who were enrolled in a rural HIV cohort in Tanzania.

Methods: Prospective longitudinal study including HIV patients enrolled in the Kilombero and Ulanga Antiretroviral Cohort between 2013 and 2015. Non-ART naïve subjects at baseline and pregnant women during follow-up were excluded from the analysis. Incident hypertension was defined as systolic blood pressure ≥ 140 mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure ≥ 90 mmHg on two consecutive visits. Cox proportional hazards models were used to assess the association of baseline characteristics and incident hypertension.

Results: Among 955 ART-naïve, eligible subjects, 111 (11.6%) were hypertensive at recruitment. Ten women were excluded due to pregnancy. The remaining 834 individuals contributed 7967 person-months to follow-up (median 231 days, IQR 119-421) and 80 (9.6%) of them developed hypertension during a median follow-up of 144 days from time of enrolment into the cohort [incidence rate 120.0 cases/1000 person-years, 95% confidence interval (CI) 97.2-150.0]. ART was started in 630 (75.5%) patients, with a median follow-up on ART of 7 months (IQR 4-14). Cox regression models identified age [adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) 1.34 per 10 years increase, 95% CI 1.07-1.68, p = 0.010], body mass index (aHR per 5 kg/m2 1.45, 95% CI 1.07-1.99, p = 0.018) and estimated glomerular filtration rate (aHR < 60 versus ≥ 60 ml/min/1.73 m2 3.79, 95% CI 1.60-8.99, p = 0.003) as independent risk factors for hypertension development.

Conclusions: The prevalence and incidence of hypertension were high in our cohort. Traditional cardiovascular risk factors predicted incident hypertension, but no association was observed with immunological or ART status. These data support the implementation of routine hypertension screening and integrated management into HIV programmes in rural sub-Saharan Africa.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Cigarette smoking is associated with high HIV viral load among adults presenting for antiretroviral therapy in Vietnam.

Pollack TM, Duong HT, Pham TT, Do CD, Colby D. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 7;12(3):e0173534. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0173534.eCollection 2017.

High HIV viral load (VL >100 000 cp/ml) is associated with increased HIV transmission risk, faster progression to AIDS, and reduced response to some antiretroviral regimens. To better understand factors associated with high VL, we examined characteristics of patients presenting for treatment in Hanoi, Vietnam. We examined baseline data from the Viral Load Monitoring in Vietnam Study, a randomized controlled trial of routine VL monitoring in a population starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) at a clinic in Hanoi. Patients with prior treatment failure or ART resistance were excluded. Characteristics examined included demographics, clinical and laboratory data, and substance use. Logistic regression was used to calculate crude and adjusted odds ratios (aOR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI). Out of 636 patients, 62.7% were male, 72.9% were ≥30 years old, and 28.3% had a history of drug injection. Median CD4 was 132cells/mm3, and 34.9% were clinical stage IV. Active cigarette smoking was reported by 36.3% with 14.0% smoking >10 cigarettes per day. Alcohol consumption was reported by 20.1% with 6.1% having ≥5 drinks per event. Overall 53.0% had a VL >100 000 cp/ml. Male gender, low body weight, low CD4 count, prior TB, and cigarette smoking were associated with high VL. Those who smoked 1-10 cigarettes per day were more likely to have high VL (aOR = 1.99, 95% CI = 1.15-3.45), while the smaller number of patients who smoked >10 cigarettes per day had a non-significant trend toward higher VL (aOR = 1.41, 95% CI = 0.75-2.66). Alcohol consumption was not significantly associated with high VL. Tobacco use is increasingly recognized as a contributor to premature morbidity and mortality among HIV-infected patients. In our study, cigarette smoking in the last 30 days was associated with a 1.5 to 2-fold higher odds of having an HIV VL >100 000 cp/ml among patients presenting for ART. These findings provide further evidence of the negative effects of tobacco use among HIV-infected patients.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Predictors of eGFR progression, stabilisation or improvement after chronic renal impairment in HIV-positive individuals.

Ryom L, Mocroft A, Kirk O, Reiss P, Ross M, Smith C, Moranne O, Morlat P, Fux CA, Sabin C, Phillips A, Law M, Lundgren JD; D:A:D study group. AIDS. 2017 Mar 28. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001464. [Epub ahead of print]

Objectives: The objectives of this analysis were to investigate predictors of progression, stabilisation or improvement in eGFR after development of chronic renal impairment (CRI) in HIV-positive individuals.

Design: Prospective observational study.

Methods: D:A:D study participants progressing to CRI defined as confirmed, ≥ 3 months apart, eGFR ≤70  mL/min/1.73m were included in the analysis. The median of all eGFRs measured 24-36 months post-CRI was compared to the median eGFR defining CRI, and changes were grouped into: improvement (>+10 mL/min/1.73m), stabilisation (-10 to +10 mL/min/1.73m) and progression (<-10 mL/min/1.73m). Adjusted polynomial regression models assessed odds of better eGFR outcomes after CRI, assuming eGFR improvement is better than stabilisation which in turn is better than progression.

Results: Of 2006 individuals developing CRI, 21% subsequently improved eGFR, 67% stabilised and 12% progressed. Individuals remaining on TDF or boosted atazanavir (ATV/r) 24 months post-CRI had worse eGFR outcomes compared to those unexposed (TDF: 0.47 [0.35-0.63], ATV/r: 0.63 [0.48-0.82]). Individuals off TDF for 12-24 months (0.75 [0.50-1.13]) or off ATV/r for >12 months (1.17 [0.87-1.57]) had similar eGFR outcomes as those unexposed to these ARVs. Older age, hypertension, later date of CRI and diabetes were associated with worse eGFR outcomes.

Conclusion: Current TDF and ATV/r use after a diagnosis of CRI was associated with worse eGFR outcomes. In contrast, TDF and ATV/r discontinuation lead to similar longer-term eGFR outcomes as in those unexposed suggesting these drug-associated eGFR declines may be halted or reversed after their cessation.

Abstract access  

Comorbidity, HIV Treatment
Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America, Oceania
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HIV-2 – not a global pandemic, but still causing challenges for diagnosis and treatment

Editor’s notes: HIV-2 is discussed much less than HIV-1 because it has not caused a global pandemic.  Nonetheless there are around 1-2 million people thought to be living with HIV-2, predominantly in West Africa and in Portugal and her historical connections (Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and India).  A useful review by de Mendoza C and colleagues from Spain highlights key features in the epidemiology, management and future directions for HIV-2.  The diagnosis is easy to miss and should be considered whenever routine HIV-1 tests give curious serological profiles.  There are also important differences when treating people living with HIV-2. HIV-2 cannot be treated with non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors and some protease inhibitors do not work either. Viral load monitoring has not been commercialized, and so is often unreliable.  CD4 cell counts tend to drop more rapidly in HIV-1 and this has sometimes led to the suggestion that HIV-2 is a benign infection.  However, progression to an AIDS-like syndrome does occur, particularly in people who acquired HIV at a younger age.  The CD4 cell count recovery on antiretroviral therapy seem to be less effective in HIV-2 compared to HIV-1 infections. Failure and selection of drug resistance may be more frequent in HIV-2.

HIV-2 Epidemic in Spain - challenges and missing opportunities.

de Mendoza C, Cabezas T, Caballero E, Requena S, Amengual MJ, Peñaranda M, Sáez A, Tellez R, Lozano AB, Treviño A, Ramos JM, Pérez JL, Barreiro P, Soriano V; Spanish HIV-2 Network. AIDS. 2017 Mar 29. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001485. [Epub ahead of print]

HIV type 2 (HIV-2) is a neglected virus despite estimates of 1-2 million people infected worldwide. HIV-2 is less efficiently transmitted than HIV-1 by sex and from mother-to-child. Although AIDS may develop in HIV-2 carriers, it takes longer than in HIV-1-infected patients. In contrast with HIV-1 infection, there is no global pandemic caused by HIV-2, remaining the virus largely confined to West Africa. In a less extent and due to socioeconomic ties and wars, HIV-2 is prevalent in Portugal and its former colonies in Brazil, India, Mozambique and Angola. Globally, HIV-2 infections are steadily declining over time. A total of 338 cases of HIV-2 infection had been reported at the Spanish HIV-2 registry until December 2016, of whom 63% were male. Overall 72% were sub-Saharan Africans whereas 16% were native Spaniards. Dual HIV-1 and HIV-2 coinfection was found in 9% of patients. Heterosexual contact was the most likely route of HIV-2 acquisition in more than 90% of cases. Roughly one third presented with CD4 counts <200 cells/μL and/or AIDS clinical events. Plasma HIV-2 RNA was undetectable at baseline in 40% of patients. To date, one third of HIV-2 carriers have received antiretroviral therapy, using integrase inhibitors 32 individuals. New diagnoses of HIV-2 in Spain have remained stable since 2010 with an average of 15 cases yearly. Illegal immigration from Northwestern African borders accounts for over 75% of new HIV-2 diagnoses. Given the relatively large community of West Africans already living in Spain and the continuous flux of immigration from endemic regions, HIV-2 infection either alone or as coinfection with HIV-1 should be excluded once in all HIV-seroreactive persons, especially when showing atypical HIV serological profiles, immunovirological disconnect (CD4 count loss despite undetectable HIV-1 viremia) and/or high epidemiological risks (birth in or sex partners from endemic regions).

Abstract access 

Basic science, HIV
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Stigma and sex work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peer support: not a panacea for poor adherence

Use of peers to improve adherence to antiretroviral therapy: a global network meta-analysis.

Kanters S, Park JJ, Chan K, Ford N, Forrest J, Thorlund K, Nachega JB, Mills EJ. J Int AIDS Soc. 2016 Nov 30;19(1):21141. doi: 10.7448/IAS.19.1.21141. eCollection 2016.

Introduction: It is unclear whether using peers can improve adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART). To construct the World Health Organization's global guidance on adherence interventions, we conducted a systematic review and network meta-analysis to determine the effectiveness of using peers for achieving adequate adherence and viral suppression.

Methods: We searched for randomized clinical trials of peer-based interventions to promote adherence to ART in HIV populations. We searched six electronic databases from inception to July 2015 and major conference abstracts within the last three years. We examined the outcomes of adherence and viral suppression among trials done worldwide and those specific to low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) using pairwise and network meta-analyses.

Results and discussion: Twenty-two trials met the inclusion criteria. We found similar results between pairwise and network meta-analyses, and between the global and LMIC settings. Peer supporter+Telephone was superior in improving adherence than standard-of-care in both the global network (odds-ratio [OR]=4.79, 95% credible intervals [CrI]: 1.02, 23.57) and the LMIC settings (OR=4.83, 95% CrI: 1.88, 13.55). Peer support alone, however, did not lead to improvement in ART adherence in both settings. For viral suppression, we found no difference of effects among interventions due to limited trials.

Conclusions: Our analysis showed that peer support leads to modest improvement in adherence. These modest effects may be due to the fact that in many settings, particularly in LMICs, programmes already include peer supporters, adherence clubs and family disclosures for treatment support. Rather than introducing new interventions, a focus on improving the quality in the delivery of existing services may be a more practical and effective way to improve adherence to ART.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Sustained adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) is critical to ensure successful treatment outcomes and prevent drug resistance, AIDS-associated illness, death and onward transmission of HIV infection. In recent years, there has been much enthusiasm for use of peer support as a programme to improve adherence. Most high HIV prevalence settings have limited resources. Stigma influences adherence to treatment, and peer-based support may be a practical solution both in terms of being low cost and a mechanism for addressing stigma.

In this systematic review, the authors evaluated the effectiveness of peer-supporter programmes alone or in combination with other activities, namely telephone calls, device reminders or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), globally and in low and middle-income countries (LMIC). The systematic review findings were used to inform the 2015 World Health Organization HIV treatment guidelines.

The study demonstrates that peer support alone did not have any impact on adherence or on viral suppression. It did demonstrate modest improvements on adherence when combined with telephone activities. Several factors need to be considered in interpreting these findings. Firstly, adherence was assessed using a variety of methods including pill counts and the Medication Event Monitoring System (MEMS), which may have introduced heterogeneity. Secondly, few trials (particularly in LMICs) used HIV viral load as an outcome and therefore there may not have been adequate statistical power to detect an effect. Thirdly, populations included in the review were heterogeneous e.g. ART-naïve and experienced, people who inject drugs, non-adherent individuals. Notably, only one trial included children and adolescents among whom adherence is typically poorer. 

Importantly, in many settings particularly in LMICs, programmes already include treatment supporters and adherence clubs and therefore additional peer support would likely not add additional impact. The findings of this study suggest that programmes should focus on improving the quality of existing services rather than introduce new programmes. The review also highlights the need to standardise adherence measures and the need for robust research on adherence, particularly among children.         

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Improving ART adherence: what works?

Interventions to improve adherence to antiretroviral therapy: a systematic review and network meta-analysis.

Kanters S, Park JJ, Chan K, Socias ME, Ford N, Forrest JI, Thorlund K, Nachega JB, Mills EJ. Lancet HIV. 2017 Jan;4(1):e31-e40. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30206-5. Epub 2016 Nov 16.

Background: High adherence to antiretroviral therapy is crucial to the success of HIV treatment. We evaluated comparative effectiveness of adherence interventions with the aim of informing the WHO's global guidance on interventions to increase adherence.

Methods: For this systematic review and network meta-analysis, we searched for randomised controlled trials of interventions that aimed to improve adherence to antiretroviral therapy regimens in populations with HIV. We searched Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Embase, and MEDLINE for reports published up to July 16, 2015, and searched major conference abstracts from Jan 1, 2013, to July 16, 2015. We extracted data from eligible studies for study characteristics, interventions, patients' characteristics at baseline, and outcomes for the study populations of interest. We used network meta-analyses to compare adherence and viral suppression for all study settings (global network) and for studies in low-income and middle-income countries only (LMIC network).

Findings: We obtained data from 85 trials with 16 271 participants. Short message service (SMS; text message) interventions were superior to standard of care in improving adherence in both the global network (odds ratio [OR] 1.48, 95% credible interval [CrI] 1.00-2.16) and in the LMIC network (1.49, 1.04-2.09). Multiple interventions showed generally superior adherence to single interventions, indicating additive effects. For viral suppression, only cognitive behavioural therapy (1.46, 1.05-2.12) and supporter interventions (1.28, 1.01-1.71) were superior to standard of care in the global network; none of the interventions improved viral response in the LMIC network. For the global network, the time discrepancy (whether the study outcome was measured during or after intervention was withdrawn) was an effect modifier for both adherence to antiretroviral therapy (coefficient estimate -0.43, 95% CrI -0.75 to -0.11) and viral suppression (-0.48; -0.84 to -0.12), suggesting that the effects of interventions wane over time.

Interpretation: Several interventions can improve adherence and viral suppression; generally, their estimated effects were modest and waned over time.

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Editor’s notes: Maintaining adherence to self-administered medications is difficult. On average, people who are prescribed medications for chronic diseases take fewer than half the prescribed doses. Evidence suggests that in most settings adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) is better than this, but there will always be people that struggle to maintain the high levels of adherence required for durable virologic suppression. In this analysis, there was some evidence that specific activities or combinations of activities improved virologic suppression. However, the effect sizes were small and when the analysis was confined to studies in low-income and middle-income countries, there was no evidence to suggest an effect on virologic suppression. Overall the evidence to support any particular activity or combination of activities was not compelling.     

Findings from this analysis have been incorporated into most recent consolidated ART guidelines from the World Health Organization. Trying to summarize complex evidence in this way creates many challenges. Trials were conducted in different populations. Some with all people starting ART, others with people considered to have high risk of suboptimal adherence, and others with people who already had adherence problems. The trials also naturally would have differed in content and quality of the usual package of care to support adherence (the comparator for most programme). 60% of the trials were conducted exclusively in the United States, while others were conducted across different settings.

These are just some of the things that make it difficult to synthesize this evidence into guidance that can be applicable to people living with HIV worldwide. HIV programmes in countries have to decide whether or not to adopt any of these activities that are recommended by WHO on the basis of relatively weak evidence. Would we expect activities aimed at improving adherence to be generalizable across different settings? One might argue probably not. Adherence is a multifactorial, dynamic process and there is unlikely to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to supporting adherence. In the absence of better evidence for any specific activity, we should perhaps focus on improving the quality of the basic package of adherence support offered to all people receiving ART, while also developing better ways to identify when certain people might benefit from enhanced support.        

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Weekends off ART: a strategy to maintain adherence in children and adolescents?

Weekends-off efavirenz-based antiretroviral therapy in HIV-infected children, adolescents, and young adults (BREATHER): a randomised, open-label, non-inferiority, phase 2/3 trial.

The BREATHER (PENTA 16) Trial Group. Lancet HIV. 2016 Sep;3(9):e421-30. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30054-6. Epub 2016 Jun 20.

Background: For HIV-1-infected young people facing lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART), short cycle therapy with long-acting drugs offers potential for drug-free weekends, less toxicity, and better quality-of-life. We aimed to compare short cycle therapy (5 days on, 2 days off ART) versus continuous therapy (continuous ART).

Methods: In this open-label, non-inferiority trial (BREATHER), eligible participants were aged 8-24 years, were stable on first-line efavirenz with two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, and had HIV-1 RNA viral load less than 50 copies per mL for 12 months or longer. Patients were randomly assigned (1:1) to remain on continuous therapy or change to short cycle therapy according to a computer-generated randomisation list, with permuted blocks of varying size, stratified by age and African versus non-African sites; the list was prepared by the trial statistician and randomisation was done via a web service accessed by site clinician or one of the three coordinating trials units. The primary outcome was the proportion of participants with confirmed viral load 50 copies per mL or higher at any time up to the 48 week assessment, estimated with the Kaplan-Meier method. The trial was powered to exclude a non-inferiority margin of 12%. Analyses were intention to treat. The trial was registered with EudraCT, number 2009-012947-40, ISRCTN, number 97755073, and CTA, number 27505/0005/001-0001.

Findings: Between April 1, 2011, and June 28, 2013, 199 participants from 11 countries worldwide were randomly assigned, 99 to the short cycle therapy and 100 to continuous therapy, and were followed up until the last patient reached 48 weeks. 105 (53%) were men, median age was 14 years (IQR 12-18), and median CD4 cell count was 735 cells per µL (IQR 576-968). Six percent (6%) patients assigned to the short cycle therapy versus seven percent (7%) assigned to continuous therapy had confirmed viral load 50 copies per mL or higher (difference -1.2%, 90% CI -7.3 to 4.9, non-inferiority shown). 13 grade 3 or 4 events occurred in the short cycle therapy group and 14 in the continuous therapy group (p=0.89). Two ART-related adverse events (one gynaecomastia and one spontaneous abortion) occurred in the short cycle therapy group compared with 14 (p=0.02) in the continuous therapy group (five lipodystrophy, two gynaecomastia, one suicidal ideation, one dizziness, one headache and syncope, one spontaneous abortion, one neutropenia, and two raised transaminases).

Interpretation: Non-inferiority of maintaining virological suppression in children, adolescents, and young adults was shown for short cycle therapy versus continuous therapy at 48 weeks, with similar resistance and a better safety profile. This short cycle therapy strategy is a viable option for adherent HIV-infected young people who are stable on efavirenz-based ART.

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Editor’s notes: Increasing number of children born with HIV infection, who would otherwise have died in infancy, are now reaching adolescence because of the scale-up of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Adherence to treatment for chronic illnesses often drops as children approach adolescence, and unfortunately HIV is no exception.  

BREATHER is an open-label, non-inferiority trial comparing continuous daily ART (CT) with short cycle treatment (SCT) enabling two days off treatment every week. The participants were aged 8 to 24 years and had to have been virally suppressed for at least one year prior to enrolment on an ART regimen containing efavirenz. At 48 weeks, 6.1% of children in the SCT arm versus 7.3% in the CT arm had virologic rebound (defined as an HIV viral load > 50 copies/ml), demonstrating that SCT is non-inferior to CT. There was no statistical difference between arms in the proportion who developed major resistance mutations or in proportion of adverse events.

This is the first trial to demonstrate that controlled interruption appears to be safe in terms of maintaining viral suppression and lack of emergence of drug resistance mutations. Notably, the trial was conducted in geographically diverse settings (11 countries) and achieved an impressive retention rate with only one participant being lost to follow-up. In addition, the strategy was highly acceptable to participants, particularly as it provided a legitimate way of missing doses. Children are expected to take ART for 20 years longer on average than adults and strategies that enable time off ART may be an effective way to reduce treatment fatigue. In addition, reduced ART usage may provide potential cost savings. 

A concern, however, is that such a strategy may give out the detrimental message that missing doses is acceptable and may not affect the viral load. Therefore, appropriate counselling is important to ensure that people understand that there is a maximum break in treatment of two designated days per week. It is also important to note that the findings of this study are only generalisable to people who are stable on ART, who have not experienced treatment failure and who are taking efavirenz-based regimens. The trial was carried out with intensive viral load monitoring and further research is required to work out how such a strategy could be safely implemented in settings where routine viral load monitoring may not be available.

Viral suppression is the ultimate goal to improve health outcomes and reduce HIV transmission. Consistent adherence to ART is critical to ensure sustained virologic suppression. Children and adolescents face multiple challenges to adhere to treatment and a number of different approaches to address this are required- this trial now provides an innovative and promising option to offer to children.

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