Articles tagged as "Thailand"

Cryptoccal meningitis – the unacceptable consequence of leaving people behind during ART scale up

Editor’s notes: Cryptococcal meningitis is a severe disease that occurs in people with advanced immune suppression.  Its occurrence is an indicator that an HIV treatment programme is not working well, as it is rare in people whose CD4 count is above 100 cells per microlitre.  Rajasingham and colleagues have tried to estimate the current burden of disease.  This is not straightforward, as the number and proportion of people with advanced HIV disease is changing with the increasing scale up of antiretroviral therapy and earlier HIV diagnosis.  Nonetheless, severe immune suppression still occurs in those whose HIV infection remains undiagnosed or is diagnosed too late; among those who are not started on effective ARVs promptly and among those in whom ART fails and who are not managed effectively by the ART treatment programme.  The authors estimate that there could be more than 180 000 deaths from cryptococcal meningitis with the large majority (136 000) in Africa.  This makes Cryptococcus responsible for more than 15% of HIV-related deaths, second only to tuberculosis as a documented cause.  The authors emphasize the need for earlier diagnosis of HIV and better linkage to quality care programmes.  In the meantime, there are also advances in the screening, prophylaxis and treatment of Cryptococcus itself, which require investment in laboratory services and affordable medicines that can save lives until the effects of good ART improves the immune status.

Cassim and colleagues have developed a novel approach to costing different approaches to the roll out of technology for screening for cryptococcal antigen in the blood of people with advanced HIV infection.  Depending on the numbers of samples to be tested in the laboratory, a mix of single use lateral flow assays and automated enzyme immunoassays makes most sense.  The aim is to allow the more cost-effective high-volume sites to subsidize the low volume sites in order to ensure that as many people living with advanced HIV infection as possible can be screened.

Global burden of disease of HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis: an updated analysis

Rajasingham R, Smith RM, Park BJ, Jarvis JN, Govender NP, Chiller TM, Denning DW, Loyse A, Boulware DR. Lancet Infect Dis. 2017 Aug;17(8):873-881. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(17)30243-8. Epub 2017 May 5.

Background: Cryptococcus is the most common cause of meningitis in adults living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Global burden estimates are crucial to guide prevention strategies and to determine treatment needs, and we aimed to provide an updated estimate of global incidence of HIV-associated cryptococcal disease.

Methods: We used 2014 Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS estimates of adults (aged >15 years) with HIV and antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage. Estimates of CD4 less than 100 cells per μL, virological failure incidence, and loss to follow-up were from published multinational cohorts in low-income and middle-income countries. We calculated those at risk for cryptococcal infection, specifically those with CD4 less than 100 cells/μL not on ART, and those with CD4 less than 100 cells per μL on ART but lost to follow-up or with virological failure. Cryptococcal antigenaemia prevalence by country was derived from 46 studies globally. Based on cryptococcal antigenaemia prevalence in each country and region, we estimated the annual numbers of people who are developing and dying from cryptococcal meningitis.

Findings: We estimated an average global cryptococcal antigenaemia prevalence of 6·0% (95% CI 5·8-6·2) among people with a CD4 cell count of less than 100 cells per μL, with 278 000 (95% CI 195 500-340 600) people positive for cryptococcal antigen globally and 223 100 (95% CI 150 600-282 400) incident cases of cryptococcal meningitis globally in 2014. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 73% of the estimated cryptococcal meningitis cases in 2014 (162 500 cases [95% CI 113 600-193 900]). Annual global deaths from cryptococcal meningitis were estimated at 181 100 (95% CI 119 400-234 300), with 135 900 (75%; [95% CI 93 900-163 900]) deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, cryptococcal meningitis was responsible for 15% of AIDS-related deaths (95% CI 10-19).

Interpretation: Our analysis highlights the substantial ongoing burden of HIV-associated cryptococcal disease, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Cryptococcal meningitis is a metric of HIV treatment programme failure; timely HIV testing and rapid linkage to care remain an urgent priority.

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Estimating the cost-per-result of a national reflexed cryptococcal antigenaemia screening program: Forecasting the impact of potential HIV guideline changes and treatment goals

Cassim N, Coetzee LM, Schnippel K, Glencross DK. PLoS One. 2017 Aug 22;12(8):e0182154. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182154. eCollection 2017.

Introduction: During 2016, the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) introduced laboratory-based reflexed Cryptococcal antigen (CrAg) screening to detect early Cryptococcal disease in immunosuppressed HIV+ patients with a confirmed CD4 count of 100 cells/μl or less.

Objective: The aim of this study was to assess cost-per-result of a national screening program across different tiers of laboratory service, with variable daily CrAg test volumes. The impact of potential ART treatment guideline and treatment target changes on CrAg volumes, platform choice and laboratory workflow are considered.

Methods: CD4 data (with counts ≤ 100 cells/μl) from the fiscal year 2015/16 were extracted from the NHLS Corporate Date Warehouse and used to project anticipated daily CrAg testing volumes with appropriately-matched CrAg testing platforms allocated at each of 52 NHLS CD4 laboratories. A cost-per-result was calculated for four scenarios, including the existing service status quo (Scenario-I), and three other settings (as Scenarios II-IV) which were based on information from recent antiretroviral (ART) guidelines, District Health Information System (DHIS) data and UNAIDS 90/90/90 HIV/AIDS treatment targets. Scenario-II forecast CD4 testing offered only to new ART initiates recorded at DHIS. Scenario-III projected all patients notified as HIV+, but not yet on ART (recorded at DHIS) and Scenario-IV forecast CrAg screening in 90% of estimated HIV+ patients across South Africa (also DHIS). Stata was used to assess daily CrAg volumes at the 5th, 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, 90th and 95th percentiles across 52 CD4-laboratories. Daily volumes were used to determine technical effort/ operator staff costs (% full time equivalent) and cost-per-result for all scenarios.

Results: Daily volumes ranged between 3 and 64 samples for Scenario-I at the 5th and 95th percentile. Similarly, daily volumes ranges of 1-12, 2-45 and 5-100 CrAg-directed samples were noted for Scenario's II, III and IV respectively. A cut-off of 30 CrAg tests per day defined use of either LFA or EIA platform. LFA cost-per-result ranged from $8.24 to $5.44 and EIA cost-per-result between $5.58 and $4.88 across the range of test volumes. The technical effort across scenarios ranged from 3.2-27.6% depending on test volumes and platform used.

Conclusion: The study reported the impact of programmatic testing requirements on varying CrAg test volumes that subsequently influenced choice of testing platform, laboratory workflow and cost-per-result. A novel percentiles approach is described that enables an overview of the cost-per-result across a national program. This approach facilitates cross-subsidisation of more expensive lower volume sites with cost-efficient, more centralized higher volume laboratories, mitigating against the risk of costing tests at a single site.

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Understanding different levels and different models of integration

Editor’s notes: Integration between HIV services and programmes and other services and programmes sounds like common sense.  As people with HIV live longer they are more likely to develop other chronic conditions.  Some of these conditions may also be exacerbated by some anti-retroviral medicines, although modern treatment regimens have much less effect on lipid and insulin metabolism.  Low grade chronic inflammation may continue even in people whose HIV is suppressed and people whose CD4 count sunk to a low level before starting seem to be at greater risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease.  Then there are diseases that are more common among people living with HIV, such as tuberculosis and invasive cervical cancer.  And HIV programmes around the world have established some of the best clinical services for chronic care, with regular appointments, decentralized follow-up, algorithmic approaches to clinical changes and so on.  So it seems sensible to look for the synergies and build on them.

However, research on integration makes it clear that there are many different interpretations of what integration should or could mean.  In different epidemiological settings, the priorities will inevitably be very different.  Two useful systematic reviews this month by the same team, review this territory for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cervical cancer. 

Haldane et al. distinguish between the levels of integration.  Micro level integration involves direct patient care and adjusting diagnosis, treatment and support appropriately.  Meso level integration refers to changes made at the clinic or delivery system level, while macro level integration is about programme management, supply chains and systems organisation.  Despite a large literature (over 7600 papers) on the overlaps between HIV and cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, the authors found only 14 studies that allowed aspects of the integration to be assessed, and only one of these evaluated outcomes.  The others were descriptive studies which highlighted many innovative models, almost all at the meso-level.

Similarly for invasive cervical cancer, which is at least four times as common among women living with HIV as seronegative women, Sigfrid et al. found many papers but only 21 that met their inclusion criteria.  Their models of integration could all be said to be at the meso-level, with one stop shops; co-located services or more complex integrated pathways described.  Again, there were no good evaluations of the outcomes of these systematic changes to the way that services are delivered.  In most countries, all women with cervical cancer should at least be offered an HIV test and appropriate linkage to care expedited for those found to be seropositive.  Women living with HIV need regular screening for early cervical cancer and (as discussed last month) screening for human papillomavirus, the underlying cause of cervical cancer.  However, many ART clinics are now busy and crowded so that even if staff are trained, they do not have time or space or privacy to do cervical examinations.  HPV vaccination campaigns need to be carried out in schools before girls become sexually active.  This could be a good time to engage with sexuality education. However, many campaigns have tended to avoid the challenges of discussing sex with girls who are not yet sexually active, preferring to focus on the vaccine as a cancer prevention tool.  So, the lesson from both these papers is that we need to define more rigorously what we want to achieve with integration and then ensure that we evaluate whether or not our interventions achieve it.

Tuberculosis and HIV have been dancing together since the first descriptions of HIV in the 1980s.  The large majority of tuberculosis patients in many countries are now screened for HIV, with appropriate referral and increasing numbers of people living with HIV are screened regularly for the four classic symptoms of tuberculosis (weight loss, cough, night sweats and fever) and referred onwards for diagnosis.  Yet we still find that collaboration between programmes is not always easy. The number of people living with HIV who are also on tuberculosis treatment reported by the HIV programme may not be the same as the number of people on tuberculosis treatment who are also living with HIV reported by the tuberculosis programme.  Osei et al. report from the Volta Region of Ghana that more than 90% of tuberculosis patients had an HIV test recorded in the tuberculosis register, with an HIV prevalence of 18%.  As has been reported frequently elsewhere, the authors found that HIV was commoner in those with smear negative tuberculosis, and the outcome of treatment was less good.  Their recommendation for strengthening the collaboration between tuberculosis and HIV makes sense, although it has been WHO policy for many years.

The WHO guidance on collaborative TB/HIV activities has always included isoniazid preventive therapy.  However, this remains poorly implemented for reasons that are never very clear.  Despite no good evidence, many tuberculosis programme staff and clinicians worry about the risk of generating isoniazid resistant tuberculosis.  Many HIV programme staff feel that isoniazid remains in the realm of the tuberculosis programme, so that although they are happy to promote cotrimoxazole, they are much slower to prescribe isoniazid.  Many also feel that ART alone should be sufficient to prevent tuberculosis, despite randomized trials in high prevalence settings that demonstrate the additional benefits of isoniazid.  Shayo et al. make a strong economic argument for promoting isoniazid in their study in Tanzania.  They base their model on the rates of tuberculosis and mortality seen during the expansion of pilot programmes for isoniazid in Dar es Salaam.  Both tuberculosis and mortality were significantly lower in the clinics which were part of the pilot programme.  In fact, mortality was approximately tenfold lower, which seems unlikely to be simply due to isoniazid.  Some studies such as TEMPRANO have shown a mortality benefit from isoniazid, while many trials have failed to do so.  Given the non-randomized nature of the comparison, the authors do point out that their conclusions must be tentative.  Nonetheless, it is a convincing demonstration that isoniazid preventive therapy can be incorporated into a busy HIV care clinic and there is abundant evidence that this is the right thing to do.

One more tuberculosis study this month was carried out in Germany.  Karo et al. reviewed the immunology of the 139 people who developed tuberculosis among more than 10 000 people living with HIV in the German ClinSurv cohort.  The authors excluded people who already had tuberculosis at the time that HIV was diagnosed, and found that new diagnoses of tuberculosis were most common in the first couple of years after starting ART.  The authors also show that immune restoration was slower in people who developed tuberculosis.  There was still some deficit up to seven years after ART was started.  Again, their conclusion is that we should be using isoniazid to prevent tuberculosis in people living with HIV, especially people who have spent much of their lives in areas of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa where tuberculosis is much more prevalent than in Europe.  It is often said that Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a very slow growing organism.  We must work harder to ensure that our response to it is not very slow too.  Tuberculosis remains the biggest killer of people with HIV in most of the world, yet for years we have known that a simple, cheap, non-toxic treatment can prevent it. 

 

Integrating cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and diabetes with HIV services: a systematic review.

Haldane V, Legido-Quigley H, Chuah FLH, Sigfrid L, Murphy G, Ong SE, Cervero-Liceras F, Watt N, Balabanova D, Hogarth S, Maimaris W, Buse K, McKee M, Piot P, Perel P. AIDS Care. 2017 Jul 5:1-13. doi:10.1080/09540121.2017.1344350. [Epub ahead of print]

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular diseases (CVD), hypertension and diabetes together with HIV infection are among the major public health concerns worldwide. Health services for HIV and NCDs require health systems that provide for people's chronic care needs, which present an opportunity to coordinate efforts and create synergies between programs to benefit people living with HIV and/or AIDS and NCDs. This review included studies that reported service integration for HIV and/or AIDS with coronary heart diseases, chronic CVD, cerebrovascular diseases (stroke), hypertension or diabetes. We searched multiple databases from inception until October 2015. Articles were screened independently by two reviewers and assessed for risk of bias. 11 057 records were identified with 7 616 after duplicate removal. After screening titles and abstracts, 14 papers addressing 17 distinct interventions met the inclusion criteria. We categorized integration models by diseases (HIV with diabetes, HIV with hypertension and diabetes, HIV with CVD and finally HIV with hypertension and CVD and diabetes). Models also looked at integration from micro (patient focused integration) to macro (system level integrations). Most reported integration of hypertension and diabetes with HIV and AIDS services and described multidisciplinary collaboration, shared protocols, and incorporating screening activities into community campaigns. Integration took place exclusively at the meso-level, with no micro- or macro-level integrations described. Most were descriptive studies, with one cohort study reporting evaluative outcomes. Several innovative initiatives were identified and studies showed that CVD and HIV service integration is feasible. Integration should build on existing protocols and use the community as a locus for advocacy and health services, while promoting multidisciplinary teams, including greater involvement of pharmacists. There is a need for robust and well-designed studies at all levels - particularly macro-level studies, research looking at long-term outcomes of integration, and research in a more diverse range of countries.

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Integrating cervical cancer with HIV healthcare services: A systematic review.

Sigfrid L, Murphy G, Haldane V, Chuah FLH, Ong SE, Cervero-Liceras F, Watt N, Alvaro A, Otero-Garcia L, Balabanova D, Hogarth S, Maimaris W, Buse K, Mckee M, Piot P, Perel P, Legido-Quigley H. PLoS One. 2017 Jul 21;12(7):e0181156. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181156. eCollection 2017.

Background: Cervical cancer is a major public health problem. Even though readily preventable, it is the fourth leading cause of death in women globally. Women living with HIV are at increased risk of invasive cervical cancer, highlighting the need for access to screening and treatment for this population. Integration of services has been proposed as an effective way of improving access to cervical cancer screening especially in areas of high HIV prevalence as well as lower resourced settings. This paper presents the results of a systematic review of programs integrating cervical cancer and HIV services globally, including feasibility, acceptability, clinical outcomes and facilitators for service delivery.

Methods: This is part of a larger systematic review on integration of services for HIV and non-communicable diseases. To be considered for inclusion studies had to report on programs to integrate cervical cancer and HIV services at the level of service delivery. We searched multiple databases including Global Health, Medline and Embase from inception until December 2015. Articles were screened independently by two reviewers for inclusion and data were extracted and assessed for risk of bias.

Main results: 11 057 records were identified initially. 7616 articles were screened by title and abstract for inclusion. A total of 21 papers reporting interventions integrating cervical cancer care and HIV services met the criteria for inclusion. All but one study described integration of cervical cancer screening services into existing HIV services. Most programs also offered treatment of minor lesions, a 'screen-and-treat' approach, with some also offering treatment of larger lesions within the same visit. Three distinct models of integration were identified. One model described integration within the same clinic through training of existing staff. Another model described integration through co-location of services, with the third model describing programs of integration through complex coordination across the care pathway. The studies suggested that integration of cervical cancer services with HIV services using all models was feasible and acceptable to patients. However, several barriers were reported, including high loss to follow up for further treatment, limited human-resources, and logistical and chain management support. Using visual screening methods can facilitate screening and treatment of minor to larger lesions in a single 'screen-and-treat' visit. Complex integration in a single-visit was shown to reduce loss to follow up. The use of existing health infrastructure and funding together with comprehensive staff training and supervision, community engagement and digital technology were some of the many other facilitators for integration reported across models.

Conclusions: This review shows that integration of cervical cancer screening and treatment with HIV services using different models of service delivery is feasible as well as acceptable to women living with HIV. However, the descriptive nature of most papers and lack of data on the effect on long-term outcomes for HIV or cervical cancer limits the inference on the effectiveness of the integrated programs. There is a need for strengthening of health systems across the care continuum and for high quality studies evaluating the effect of integration on HIV as well as on cervical cancer outcomes.

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The burden of HIV on tuberculosis patients in the Volta region of Ghana from 2012 to 2015: implication for tuberculosis control.

Osei E, Der J, Owusu R, Kofie P, Axame WK. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 Jul 19;17(1):504. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2598-z.

Background: The impact of HIV on TB, and the implications for TB control, has been acknowledged as a public health challenge. It is imperative therefore to assess the burden of HIV on TB patients as an indicator for monitoring the control efforts of the two diseases in this part of the world. This study aimed at determining the burden of HIV infection in TB patients.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective review of TB registers in five districts of the Volta Region of Ghana. Prevalence of TB/HIV co-infection was determined. Bivariate and multivariate logistic regression were used to identify the predictors of HIV infection among TB patients and statistical significance was set at p-value <0.05.

Results: Of the 1772 TB patients, 1633 (92.2%) were tested for HIV. The overall prevalence of TB/HIV co-infection was (18.2%; 95% CI: 16.4-20.1). The prevalence was significantly higher among females (24.1%; 95%CI: 20.8-27.7), compared to males (15.1%; 95% CI: 13.1-17.4) (p < 0.001) and among children <15 years of age (27.0%; 95% CI: 18.2-38.1), compared to the elderly ≥70 years (3.5%; 95% CI: 1.6-7.4) (p < 0.001). Treatment success rate was higher among patients with only TB (90%; 95% CI: 88.1-91.5) than among TB/HIV co-infected patients (77.0%; 95% CI: 71.7-81.7) (p < 0.001). Independent predictors of HIV infection were found to be: being female (AOR: 1.79; 95% CI: 1.38-2.13; p < 0.001); smear negative pulmonary TB (AOR: 1.84; 95% CI: 1.37-2.47; p < 0.001); and patients registered in Hohoe, Kadjebi, and Kpando districts with adjusted odds ratios of 1.69 (95% CI: 1.13-2.54; p = 0.011), 2.29 (95% CI: 1.46-3.57; p < 0.001), and 2.15 (95% CI: 1.44-3.21; p < 0.001) respectively. Patients ≥70 years of age and those registered in Keta Municipal were less likely to be HIV positive with odds ratios of 0.09 (95% CI: 0.04-0.26; p < 0.001) and 0.62 (95% CI: 0.38-0.99; p = 0.047) respectively.

Conclusion: TB/HIV co-infection rate in five study districts of the Volta region is quite high, occurs more frequently in female patients than males; among smear negative pulmonary TB patients, and children <15 years of age. Findings also demonstrate that HIV co-infection affects TB treatment outcomes adversely. Strengthening the TB/HIV collaborative efforts is required in order to reduce the burden of co-infection in patients.

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Cost-effectiveness of isoniazid preventive therapy among HIV-infected patients clinically screened for latent tuberculosis infection in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: a prospective cohort study.

Shayo GA, Chitama D, Moshiro C, Aboud S, Bakari M, Mugusi F. BMC Public Health. 2017 Jul 19;18(1):35. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4597-9.

Background: One of the reasons why Isoniazid preventive therapy (IPT) for Tuberculosis (TB) is not widely used in low income countries is concerns on cost of excluding active TB. We analyzed the cost-effectiveness of IPT provision in Tanzania having ruled out active TB by a symptom-based screening tool.

Methods: Data on IPT cost-effectiveness was prospectively collected from an observational cohort study of 1283 HIV-infected patients on IPT and 1281 controls; followed up for 24 months. The time horizon for the analysis was 2 years. Number of TB cases prevented and deaths averted were used for effectiveness. A micro costing approach was used from a provider perspective. Cost was estimated on the basis of clinical records, market price or interviews with medical staff. We annualized the cost at a discount of 3%. A univariate sensitivity analysis was done. Results are presented in US$ at an average annual exchange rate for the year 2012 which was Tanzania shillings 1562.4 for 1 US $.

Results: The number of TB cases prevented was 420/100 000 persons receiving IPT. The number of deaths averted was 979/100 000 persons receiving IPT. Incremental cost due to IPT provision was US$ 170 490. The incremental cost-effective ratio was US $ 405.93 per TB case prevented and US $ 174.15 per death averted. These costs were less than 3 times the 768 US $ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita for Tanzania in the year 2014, making IPT provision after ruling out active TB by the symptom-based screening tool cost-effective. The results were robust to changes in laboratory and radiological tests but not to changes in recurrent, personnel, medication and utility costs.

Conclusion: IPT should be given to HIV-infected patients who screen negative to symptom-based TB screening questionnaire. Its cost-effectiveness supports government policy to integrate IPT to HIV/AIDS care and treatment in the country, given the availability of budget and the capacity of health facilities.

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Immunological recovery in tuberculosis/HIV co-infected patients on antiretroviral therapy: implication for tuberculosis preventive therapy.

Karo B, Krause G, Castell S, Kollan C, Hamouda O, Haas W; ClinSurv HIV Study Group. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 Jul 25;17(1):517. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2627-y.

Background: Understanding the immune response to combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) is essential for a clear approach to tuberculosis (TB) preventive therapy. We investigated the immunological recovery in cART-treated HIV-infected patients developing TB compared to those who remained free of TB.

Methods: We extracted data of HIV-infected patients from a multicenter cohort for the HIV clinical surveillance in Germany. No patients included in our study had TB at the beginning of the observation. Using a longitudinal mixed model, we assessed the differences in the mean change of biomarkers (CD4+ cell count, CD8+ cell count, CD4:CD8 ratio and viral load) since cART initiation in patients who remained free of TB vs. those developing TB. To detect the best-fit trajectories of the immunological biomarkers, we applied a multivariable fractional polynomials model.

Results: We analyzed a total of 10 671 HIV-infected patients including 139 patients who developed TB during follow-up. The highest TB incidences were observed during the first two years since cART initiation (0.32 and 0.50 per 100 person-years). In an adjusted multivariable mixed model, we found that the average change in CD4+ cell count recovery was significantly greater by 33 cells/μl in patients who remained free of TB compared with those developing TB. After the initial three months of cART, 65.6% of patients who remaining free of TB achieved CD4+ count of ≥400 cells/μl, while only 11.3% of patients developing TB reached this immunological status after the three months of cART. We found no differences in the average change of CD8+ cell count, CD4:CD8 ratio or viral load between the two-patient groups.

Conclusion: All HIV-infected patients responded to cART. However, patients developing TB showed reduced recovery in CD4+ cell count and this might partly explain the incident TB in HIV-infected patients receiving cART. These findings reinforce the importance of adjunctive TB preventive therapy for patients with reduced recovery in CD4+ cell count.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thai PrEP Open-label study illustrates better adherence in people at higher risk of HIV

Factors associated with the uptake of and adherence to HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis in people who have injected drugs: an observational, open-label extension of the Bangkok Tenofovir Study.

Martin M, Vanichseni S, Suntharasamai P, Sangkum U, Mock PA, Chaipung B, Worrajittanon D, Leethochawalit M, Chiamwongpaet S, Kittimunkong S, Gvetadze RJ, McNicholl JM, Paxton LA, Curlin ME, Holtz TH, Samandari T, Choopanya K, on behalf of the Bangkok Tenofovir Study Group. Lancet HIV. 2017 Feb;4(2):e59-e66. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30207-7. Epub 2016 Nov 18.

Background: Results of the randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled Bangkok Tenofovir Study (BTS) showed that taking tenofovir daily as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can reduce the risk of HIV infection by 49% in people who inject drugs. In an extension to the trial, participants were offered 1 year of open-label tenofovir. We aimed to examine the demographic characteristics, drug use, and risk behaviours associated with participants' uptake of and adherence to PrEP.

Methods: In this observational, open-label extension of the BTS (NCT00119106), non-pregnant, non-breastfeeding, HIV-negative BTS participants, all of whom were current or previous injecting drug users at the time of enrolment in the BTS, were offered daily oral tenofovir (300 mg) for 1 year at 17 Bangkok Metropolitan Administration drug-treatment clinics. Participant demographics, drug use, and risk behaviours were assessed at baseline and every 3 months using an audio computer-assisted self-interview. HIV testing was done monthly and serum creatinine was assessed every 3 months. We used logistic regression to examine factors associated with the decision to take daily tenofovir as PrEP, the decision to return for at least one PrEP follow-up visit, and greater than 90% adherence to PrEP.

Findings: Between Aug 1, 2013, and Aug 31, 2014, 1348 (58%) of the 2306 surviving BTS participants returned to the clinics, 33 of whom were excluded because they had HIV (n=27) or grade 2-4 creatinine results (n=6). 798 (61%) of the 1315 eligible participants chose to start open-label PrEP and were followed up for a median of 335 days (IQR 0-364). 339 (42%) participants completed 12 months of follow-up; 220 (28%) did not return for any follow-up visits. Participants who were 30 years or older (odds ratio [OR] 1.8, 95% CI 1.4-2.2; p<0.0001), injected heroin (OR 1.5, 1.1-2.1; p=0.007), or had been in prison (OR 1.7, 1.3-2.1; p<0.0001) during the randomised trial were more likely to choose PrEP than were those without these characteristics. Participants who reported injecting heroin or being in prison during the 3 months before open-label enrolment were more likely to return for at least one open-label follow-up visit than those who did not report injecting heroin (OR 3.0, 95 % CI 1.3-7.3; p=0.01) or being in prison (OR 2.3, 1.4-3.7; p=0.0007). Participants who injected midazolam or were in prison during open-label follow-up were more likely to be greater than 90% adherent than were those who did not inject midazolam (OR 2.2, 95% CI 1.2-4.3; p=0.02) or were not in prison (OR 4.7, 3.1-7.2; p<0.0001). One participant tested positive for HIV, yielding an HIV incidence of 2.1 (95% CI 0.05-11.7) per 1000 person-years. No serious adverse events related to tenofovir use were reported.

Interpretation: More than 60% of returning, eligible BTS participants started PrEP, which indicates that a substantial proportion of PWID who are knowledgeable about PrEP might be interested in taking it. Participants who had injected heroin or been in prison were more likely to choose to take PrEP, suggesting that participants based their decision to take PrEP, at least in part, on their perceived risk of incident HIV infection.

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Editor’s notes: Following the clinical trials assessing the efficacy of oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention, several of the trial teams and others have undertaken open-label extension and implementation studies. These were conducted to investigate the ‘real-world’ delivery of PrEP among key populations in various settings throughout the world. This paper presents the open-label study following the Bangkok Tenofovir Study (BTS) where oral PrEP was offered to participants, people who inject (or injected) drugs, for one year in the BTS study clinics. Unique to this study was the element of observed daily dosing at the clinics where participants were required to attend in order to access their PrEP. Results of the study are largely in line with reports from other similar studies, where people with more HIV-associated risk factors tended to adhere better and were more likely to take up and use PrEP. Interestingly, having a casual partner was not associated with better adherence, however, the number of casual partners reported by participants decreased during the study period, and there was no observed increase in other risky behaviours such as injecting drug use or sharing needles. One other additional point of note was the relatively higher adherence seen among prisoners and other incarcerated people which could point to consistent and easy access as a strong motivator to take PrEP. These results are an important contribution to the growing body of evidence around PrEP implementation which seems to suggest that people with a higher risk will be appropriately self-selecting for uptake of the programme. 

Asia
Thailand
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Peer led activities increase HIV testing uptake among MSM

Effectiveness of peer-led interventions to increase HIV testing among men who have sex with men: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Shangani S, Escudero D, Kirwa K, Harrison A, Marshall B, Operario D. AIDS Care. 2017 Feb 2:1-11. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2017.1282105. [Epub ahead of print]

HIV testing constitutes a key step along the continuum of HIV care. Men who have sex with men (MSM) have low HIV testing rates and delayed diagnosis, especially in low-resource settings. Peer-led interventions offer a strategy to increase testing rates in this population. This systematic review and meta-analysis summarizes evidence on the effectiveness of peer-led interventions to increase the uptake of HIV testing among MSM. Using a systematic review protocol that was developed a priori, we searched PubMed, PsycINFO and CINAHL for articles reporting original results of randomized or non-randomized controlled trials (RCTs), quasi-experimental interventions, and pre- and post-intervention studies. Studies were eligible if they targeted MSM and utilized peers to increase HIV testing. We included studies published in or after 1996 to focus on HIV testing during the era of combination antiretroviral therapy. Seven studies encompassing a total of 6205 participants met eligibility criteria, including two quasi-experimental studies, four non-randomized pre- and-post intervention studies, and one cluster randomized trial. Four studies were from high-income countries, two were from Asia and only one from sub-Saharan Africa. We assigned four studies a "moderate" methodological rigor rating and three a "strong" rating. Meta-analysis of the seven studies found HIV testing rates were statistically significantly higher in the peer-led intervention groups versus control groups (pooled OR 2.00, 95% CI 1.74-2.31). Among randomized trials, HIV testing rates were significantly higher in the peer-led intervention versus control groups (pooled OR: 2.48, 95% CI 1.99-3.08). Among the non-randomized pre- and post-intervention studies, the overall pooled OR for intervention versus control groups was 1.71 (95% CI 1.42-2.06), with substantial heterogeneity among studies (I2 = 70%, p < 0.02). Overall, peer-led interventions increased HIV testing among MSM but more data from high-quality studies are needed to evaluate effects of peer-led interventions on HIV testing among MSM in low- and middle-income countries.

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Editor’s notes: A key driver of the HIV epidemic is low uptake of HIV testing in many settings. This leads to a high proportion of individuals living with HIV being unaware of their status, failing to engage with care and treatment and hence being at risk of transmitting HIV to others. Recent reviews have illustrated that programmes led by members of the same peer group can be effective in promoting HIV-associated behavioural change and improving clinical outcomes. Gay men and other men who have sex with men can experience specific challenges associated with engagement with HIV care. This problem is particularly acute in resource poor regions due to very high levels of stigma.

This systematic review is the first to look specifically at the effectiveness of peer-led activities among gay men and other men who have sex with men. Seven studies were found which fulfilled the inclusion criteria of assessing the impact of peer-led activities on HIV testing uptake among gay men and other men who have sex with men. Four of these were in high income settings, and the others in Peru, Taiwan and Kenya. Each study illustrated a positive effect of peer-led activities on increasing HIV testing rates, and meta-analyses illustrated consistent effects when data were stratified by sub-groups (study methodology, study quality or setting). However, the generalizability of these studies to the entire population of gay men and other men who have sex with men is a concern recognized by the authors as the majority used gay-centric community venues to recruit participants. This is likely to exclude individuals who do not self-identify as being part of this community. Two studies, one in Taiwan and the other in Peru, used social-media as a mechanism of recruitment. This approach may lead to a wider recruitment, although not accessible to people without access to the internet.

Overall, this review emphasizes the potential of peer-led activities to overcome barriers to engage with testing and treatment experienced by gay men and other men who have sex with men and other hard to reach and high-risk sub-populations. It also illustrated the very limited current evidence available to assess such programmes.

 

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Study finds rectal gel to be safe in men, but not as acceptable for daily use

MTN-017: a rectal phase 2 extended safety and acceptability study of tenofovir reduced-glycerin 1% gel.

Cranston RD, Lama JR, Richardson BA, Carballo-Dieguez A, Kunjara Na Ayudhya RP, Liu K, Patterson KB, Leu CS, Galaska B, Jacobson CE, Parikh UM, Marzinke MA, Hendrix CW, Johnson S, Piper JM, Grossman C, Ho KS, Lucas J, Pickett J, Bekker LG, Chariyalertsak S, Chitwarakorn A, Gonzales P, Holtz TH, Liu AY, Mayer KH, Zorrilla C, Schwartz JL, Rooney J, McGowan I; MTN-017 Protocol Team. Clin Infect Dis. 2016 Dec 16. pii: ciw832. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: HIV disproportionately affects men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women (TGW). Safe and acceptable topical HIV prevention methods that target the rectum are needed.

Methods: MTN-017 was a Phase 2, three-period, randomized sequence, open-label, expanded safety and acceptability crossover study comparing rectally applied reduced-glycerin (RG) 1% tenofovir (TFV) and oral emtricitabine/TFV disoproxil fumarate (FTC/TDF). In each 8-week study period participants were randomized to RG-TFV rectal gel daily; or RG-TFV rectal gel before and after receptive anal intercourse (RAI) (or at least twice weekly in the event of no RAI); or daily oral FTC/TDF.

Results: MSM and TGW (n=195) were enrolled from 8 sites in the United States, Thailand, Peru, and South Africa with mean age of 31.1 years (range 18-64). There were no differences in Grade 2 or higher adverse event rates in participants using daily gel (Incidence Rate Ratio (IRR): 1.09, p=0.59) or RAI gel (IRR: 0.90, p=0.51) compared to FTC/TDF. High adherence (≥80% of prescribed doses as assessed by unused product return and SMS reports) was less likely in the daily gel regimen (Odds Ratio (OR): 0.35, p<0.001) and participants reported less likelihood of future daily gel use for HIV protection compared to FTC/TDF (OR: 0.38, p<0.001).

Conclusions: Rectal application of RG TFV gel was safe in MSM and TGW. Adherence and product use likelihood were similar for the intermittent gel and daily oral FTC/TDF regimens, but lower for the daily gel regimen.

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Editor’s notes: While microbicide gel to prevent HIV in women has not been consistently shown to be effective, scientific efforts to develop a rectal microbicide gel have continued in the hopes of finding a safe and effective product for HIV prevention in men. This paper presents a phase II clinical trial in which gay men and other men who have sex with men across four different countries were randomly assigned to one of three arms: oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (‘daily oral’), topical gel administered before and after receptive anal intercourse (‘RAI’), and topical gel administered daily (‘daily rectal’). The authors found that the rectal gel was safe to use, and was acceptable to participants, although the daily rectal application had lower acceptability and lower adherence than daily oral or the RAI.  This safety, adherence, and acceptability seen in this Phase II study supports further development of the gel as a rectal microbicide candidate, although consideration will need to be given to dosing regimens to maximize adherence. 

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Adolescents’ concerns: psychosocial needs of young people living with HIV in Thailand

Psychosocial needs of perinatally HIV-infected youths in Thailand: lessons learnt from instructive counseling.

Manaboriboon B, Lolekha R, Chokephaibulkit K, Leowsrisook P, Naiwatanakul T, Tarugsa J, Durier Y, Aunjit N, Punpanich Vandepitte W, Boon-Yasidhi V. AIDS Care. 2016 Dec;28(12):1615-1622. Epub 2016 Jun 26.

Identifying psychosocial needs of perinatally HIV-infected (pHIV) youth is a key step in ensuring good mental health care. We report psychosocial needs of pHIV youth identified using the "Youth Counseling Needs Survey" (YCS) and during individual counseling (IC) sessions. pHIV youth receiving care at two tertiary-care hospitals in Bangkok or at an orphanage in Lopburi province were invited to participate IC sessions. The youths' psychosocial needs were assessed using instructive IC sessions in four main areas: general health, reproductive health, mood, and psychosocial concerns. Prior to the IC session youth were asked to complete the YCS in which their concerns in the four areas were investigated. Issues identified from the YCS and the IC sessions were compared. During October 2010-July 2011, 150 (68.2%) of 220 eligible youths participated in the IC sessions and completed the YCS. Median age was 14 (range 11-18) years and 92 (61.3%) were female. Mean duration of the IC sessions was 36.5 minutes. One-hundred and thirty (86.7%) youths reported having at least one psychosocial problem discovered by either the IC session or the YCS. The most common problems identified during the IC session were poor health attitude and self-care (48.0%), lack of life skills (44.0%), lack of communication skills (40.0%), poor antiretroviral (ARV) adherence (38.7%), and low self-value (34.7%). The most common problems identified by the YCS were lack of communication skills (21.3%), poor health attitude and self-care (14.0%), and poor ARV adherence (12.7%). Youth were less likely to report psychosocial problems in the YCS than in the IC session. Common psychosocial needs among HIV-infected youth were issues about life skills, communication skills, knowledge on self-care, ARV adherence, and self-value. YCS can identify pHIV youths' psychosocial needs but might underestimate issues. Regular IC sessions are useful to detect problems and provide opportunities for counseling.

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Editor’s notes: The study reports on the psychological needs of young people who acquired HIV in the perinatal period.  The needs were highlighted during counselling sessions and in a survey conducted as part of the Happy-Teen Programme in Thailand. Young people (age 11-18) who have perinatally acquired HIV were recruited in two hospitals and from a service run by an orphanage linked to one of the hospitals. Young people took part in two individual ‘instructive counselling’ sessions, and two survey sessions for a needs-assessment questionnaire. Participants reported higher levels of needs in the counselling sessions compared to the questionnaire. Key areas of need identified included: health attitudes and self-care (e.g., diet, sleep, drug use); issues with sexual risk and difficulties communicating with sexual partners; HIV treatment adherence problems; concerns about HIV-associated stigma; and concerns about peer pressure. The study illustrates the difference in the quality of findings obtained from data collected via the questionnaire in comparison with data collected via sessions with counsellors. The counsellors were people that the young people knew for some time and trusted. The study highlights the importance of counselling with young people to improve self-esteem and health-associated behaviours.  Counsellors are also important to provide referrals for more severe mental health issues. 

Asia
Thailand
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Moving from facility to community-based models of HIV care - will it work?

Community-based interventions to improve and sustain antiretroviral therapy adherence, retention in HIV care and clinical outcomes in low- and middle-income countries for achieving the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets.

Nachega JB, Adetokunboh O, Uthman OA, Knowlton AW, Altice FL, Schechter M, Galarraga O, Geng E, Peltzer K, Chang LW, Van Cutsem G, Jaffar SS, Ford N, Mellins CA, Remien RH, Mills EJ. Curr HIV/AIDS Rep. 2016 Oct;13(5):241-55. doi: 10.1007/s11904-016-0325-9.

Little is known about the effect of community versus health facility-based interventions to improve and sustain antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence, virologic suppression, and retention in care among HIV-infected individuals in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). We systematically searched four electronic databases for all available randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and comparative cohort studies in LMICs comparing community versus health facility-based interventions. Relative risks (RRs) for pre-defined adherence, treatment engagement (linkage and retention in care), and relevant clinical outcomes were pooled using random effect models. Eleven cohort studies and eleven RCTs (N = 97 657) were included. Meta-analysis of the included RCTs comparing community- versus health facility-based interventions found comparable outcomes in terms of ART adherence (RR = 1.02, 95 % CI 0.99 to 1.04), virologic suppression (RR = 1.00, 95 % CI 0.98 to 1.03), and all-cause mortality (RR = 0.93, 95 % CI 0.73 to 1.18). The result of pooled analysis from the RCTs (RR = 1.03, 95 % CI 1.01 to 1.06) and cohort studies (RR = 1.09, 95 % CI 1.03 to 1.15) found that participants assigned to community-based interventions had statistically significantly higher rates of treatment engagement. Two studies found community-based ART delivery model either cost-saving or cost-effective. Community- versus facility-based models of ART delivery resulted in at least comparable outcomes for clinically stable HIV-infected patients on treatment in LMICs and are likely to be cost-effective.

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Editor’s notes: The remarkable global scale-up of antiretroviral therapy (ART) programmes, while much-needed and impressive, has had inevitable consequences. These include overcrowding of health facilities, longer waiting times, reduced time for counselling and care of newly-enrolled people and restricted capacity to provide support for people who do not remain engaged with care. Furthermore, the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target for 2020 to have 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90% of all diagnosed individuals receiving ART and 90% of people living with HIV on ART to be virally suppressed, will now require an additional 20 million people living with HIV to start treatment.

Community-based programmes to complement facility-based model of HIV care delivery are increasingly being recognised as an important and sustainable approach to address the growing numbers of people accessing care in high-HIV prevalence settings. This review compared outcomes of community-based versus facility-based models of ART delivery and treatment support. There was no statistical difference in optimal ART adherence, virologic suppression or all-cause mortality between participants assigned to community-based ART and facility-based ART in randomised controlled trials (RCTs). When data from RCTs and cohort studies were pooled, participants assigned to community-based ART appeared to have higher rates of retention in care at the end of the follow-up period. Notably, the few studies that did examine cost-effectiveness found community-based programmes to be cost-saving.

The findings demonstrate that community-level programmes are certainly not inferior to facility-based programmes. However, it is important to note some key limitations. Firstly, many of the studies are subject to selection bias, i.e. people at risk of poorer outcomes e.g. sicker people or people with a history of poor adherence may be excluded from receiving community-based programmes. The authors also highlight a high risk of “other forms of bias” in the cohort studies, but these are not specified. Secondly, adherence measures based on self-report may not be reliable. Thirdly, the review compared a heterogeneous set of programmes. Fourthly, as with other systematic reviews, publication bias is highly likely.   

Notwithstanding these limitations, this study suggests that community-based programmes have promise in supporting fragile and overcrowded facility-based healthcare systems in providing HIV care to a growing number of people. There may even be potential for integrating HIV care with care for other chronic conditions.

Well-designed studies are necessary, given the ambitious targets we have set ourselves, to explore the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of community-based programmes. This is particularly important in under-represented groups with disproportionately poor outcomes such as children, adolescents and pregnant women. Further, for community-based programmes to be effective, it will be critical to ensure that adequate training and mentorship and ongoing monitoring for quality assurance is in place.      

Africa, Asia, Latin America
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Improving programmes: a thematic synthesis of qualitative studies of treatment adherence programmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

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

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