Articles tagged as "Ukraine"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case for investing in the male condom

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America, Oceania
Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Comoros, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Jamaica, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Togo, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe
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Key populations need so much more than HIV-specific services – involve them at every stage of planning and programming

Editor’s notes: This month sees a welcome set of papers covering female sex workers in West Africa; gay men and other men who have sex with men in the Middle East and in East Africa; people who inject drugs in the USA and eastern Europe.

Sex work is legal in Cote d’Ivoire although soliciting and pandering are criminalized, which creates legal barriers to practicing sex work.  Legalization does not necessarily prevent widespread abuse of power. Lyons and colleagues recruited 466 female sex workers in Abidjan through a respondent driven sampling approach.  A structured interview and rapid HIV test was performed.  Around 11% of the women were found to be living with HIV and it is clear that there are large unmet needs for HIV-specific services.  Only one quarter of those living with HIV reported that they knew their status and of these, only a few were already taking ART.  However, the focus of this study was on violence, both physical and sexual, which was alarmingly common, with around 54% of women reporting physical violence and 43% sexual violence.  The violence was most often perpetrated by spouses and boyfriends as well as by paying customers.  Other sex workers, pimps or managers and uniformed officers were also responsible for violence, both physical and sexual.  16% of women said that they had been tortured.  Collecting reliable data on sensitive areas with vulnerable populations is challenging.  The sampling method may introduce biases, and the interviews may lead to reported behaviours to “please” the interviewer.  However, this study included major efforts to work with the community of sex workers and their networks, and considerable trust has been built, so the results seem credible.  The authors call for structural interventions and policy reforms that have little to do with HIV directly, but would lead to an environment where HIV and other harms were greatly reduced.  There is also a direct need to ensure that sex workers have good access to HIV and other sexual and reproductive health services.

People who inject drugs also have many needs besides HIV services.  In the USA, the number of people who inject drugs is increasing.  This has led to a rising number of deaths from opioid overdose (around 30 000 in 2014), as well as increased HIV transmission, which makes the headlines of the news, when it occurs in settings where HIV is otherwise rare.  Cost-effective HIV prevention programmes for people who inject drugs are essential to the long-term health outcomes for this population and other high-risk groups in the USA.  Bernard and colleagues used a mathematical model and economic analysis to identify the most cost-effective interventions for HIV prevention programmes for people who inject drugs in the USA.

The authors found that under many likely assumptions about potential scale up, the best buy was always to provide opioid agonist therapy, which reduces injecting frequency and results in multiple, immediate quality-of-life improvements.  Needle and syringe exchange programmes are less expensive, but in these models produced fewer benefits, making them the next most cost-effective intervention, alone or in combination. PrEP was not likely to be cost-effective in this population except in the very highest risk settings.  This is in line with the values and preference expressed by many people who use drugs around the world.  The priority should be for “standard” harm reduction approaches, which will reduce HIV transmission, but have far wider benefits on the health and well-being of drug users and their communities.

Relatively little research is carried out with key populations in the Middle East.  Heimer and colleagues also used respondent driven sampling (with the same potential biases as above) to recruit 292 men who have sex with men in Beirut.  Although one quarter of the participants had been born in Syria and moved recently to Lebanon, the sampling method does reduce the precision of this estimate.  Of 36 people living with HIV identified, 32 were on HIV treatment, which is encouraging.  If the 32 on treatment were virally suppressed, the prevalence of “infectious HIV” in the survey was around 1.4%.  As we move forward into the viral load era, notions of risk for sexual behaviour will change, and we need to think about explicit descriptions such as “condomless sex” rather than simply referring to “unprotected sex”.  As stated above, the benefits of condoms for other sexually transmitted infections as well as for HIV need to be emphasized and the full range of ARV-based prevention made available in order to minimize the epidemic of HIV among gay men and other men who have sex with men in Lebanon and beyond.

The dynamics of the HIV epidemic in Ukraine are shifting.  Increasingly sexual transmission is becoming more common, and transmission through injecting drug use reducing.  Fearnhill and colleagues’ study of phylogenetics and recent infections among 876 newly diagnosed people living with HIV in Kiev highlights these trends.  The study also demonstrates plenty of uncertainty and suggests that the stigma associated with both injecting drug use and with gay men and other men having sex with men may lead to significant under-reporting of both in traditional epidemiological surveillance.  Although phylogenetics cannot prove misclassification, it is highly suggestive when large clusters of HIV from known gay men and other men who have sex with men include no women, but do include other men, who self-report to be heterosexual.  Transmission was most common among gay men and other men who have sex with men, and from those with recent infections.  HIV strains from women often cluster with those from people who inject drugs.  In a complex and dynamic environment with overlapping risk factors for HIV infection, phylogenetics adds a useful lens through which to examine what is happening.  Yet again, the challenge is to translate more granular understanding of the epidemics into clear public health policy and practice.

What do men who have sex with men in Kenya think about participating in HIV prevention research, such as a vaccine trial?  Doshi and colleagues used a social network-based approach to conduct in-depth interviews with 70 gay men and other men who have sex with men.  Here is what some of them said:

“He [the potential study participant] keeps hearing there is a research [study] that is starting, that there is money – one thousand or two, three thousand – he will run for the money…because it is someone’s life you have to be sure of what is going on…. You run for the better option because research comes in every type and researchers are everywhere in town.”

“Ok, you know most of the research coming to Kenya starts with MSM. Those are the ones that are tested on first so if there are side effects, those will be the first victims”

“It will benefit many of us…on my side…because sometimes I’m drunk I go out and meet people and they tell me they do not use condom…or… I’m drunk, I don’t know myself and I have already come to the bed with someone. Even I don’t know what he will do to me, if he will do me with a condom or if he will do me without a condom. Now the [HIV] vaccine…will be beneficial to me and the whole community”

This is a rich paper, giving insights into the reasons that people do or do not want to participate in vaccine trials.  It raises plenty of ethical questions about the balance between self-interest, altruism, coercion and consent.  It is encouraging that on the whole most participants saw the potential benefits to the wider community and would consider volunteering their time despite the associated risks.  Their perceptions were also coloured by previous research studies and how researchers had met their responsibilities for the care and well-being of their participants.  A good advertisement for the UNAIDS-AVAC Good Participatory Practice guidance!

Physical and sexual violence affecting female sex workers in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire: prevalence, and the relationship with the work environment, HIV, and access to health services

Lyons CE, Grosso A, Drame FM, Ketende S, Diouf D, Ba I, Shannon K, Ezouatchi R, Bamba A, Kouame A, Baral S. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 May 1;75(1):9-17. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001310.

Background: Violence is a human rights violation, and an important measure in understanding HIV among female sex workers (FSW). However, limited data exist regarding correlates of violence among FSW in Côte d'Ivoire. Characterizing prevalence and determinants of violence and the relationship with structural risks for HIV can inform development and implementation of comprehensive HIV prevention and treatment programs.

Methods: FSW > 18 years were recruited through respondent driven sampling (RDS) in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. In total, 466 participants completed a socio-behavioral questionnaire and HIV testing. Prevalence estimates of violence were calculated using crude and RDS-adjusted estimates. Relationships between structural risk factors and violence were analyzed using χ2 tests and multivariable logistic regression.

Results: The prevalence of physical violence was 53.6% (250/466), and sexual violence was 43.2% (201/465) among FSW in this study. Police refusal of protection was associated with physical (adjusted Odds Ratio [aOR]: 2.8; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.7 to 4.4) and sexual violence (aOR: 3.0; 95% CI: 1.9 to 4.8). Blackmail was associated with physical (aOR: 2.5; 95% CI: 1.5 to 4.2) and sexual violence (aOR: 2.4; 95% CI: 1.5 to 4.0). Physical violence was associated with fear (aOR: 2.2; 95% CI: 1.3 to 3.1) and avoidance of seeking health services (aOR: 2.3; 95% CI: 1.5 to 3.8).

Conclusions: Violence is prevalent among FSW in Abidjan and associated with features of the work environment and access to care. These relationships highlight layers of rights violations affecting FSW, underscoring the need for structural interventions and policy reforms to improve work environments, and to address police harassment, stigma, and rights violations to reduce violence and improve access to HIV interventions.

Abstract

Estimation of the cost-effectiveness of HIV prevention portfolios for people who inject drugs in the United States: a model-based analysis

Bernard CL, Owens DK, Goldhaber-Fiebert JD, Brandeau ML. PLoS Med. 2017 May 24;14(5):e1002312 doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002312. eCollection 2017 May.

Background: The risks of HIV transmission associated with the opioid epidemic make cost-effective programs for people who inject drugs (PWID) a public health priority. Some of these programs have benefits beyond prevention of HIV-a critical consideration given that injection drug use is increasing across most United States demographic groups. To identify high-value HIV prevention program portfolios for US PWID, we consider combinations of four interventions with demonstrated efficacy: opioid agonist therapy (OAT), needle and syringe programs (NSPs), HIV testing and treatment (Test & Treat), and oral HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Methods and Findings: We adapted an empirically calibrated dynamic compartmental model and used it to assess the discounted costs (in 2015 US dollars), health outcomes (HIV infections averted, change in HIV prevalence, and discounted quality-adjusted life years [QALYs]), and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) of the four prevention programs, considered singly and in combination over a 20-y time horizon. We obtained epidemiologic, economic, and health utility parameter estimates from the literature, previously published models, and expert opinion. We estimate that expansions of OAT, NSPs, and Test & Treat implemented singly up to 50% coverage levels can be cost-effective relative to the next highest coverage level (low, medium, and high at 40%, 45%, and 50%, respectively) and that OAT, which we assume to have immediate and direct health benefits for the individual, has the potential to be the highest value investment, even under scenarios where it prevents fewer infections than other programs. Although a model-based analysis can provide only estimates of health outcomes, we project that, over 20 y, 50% coverage with OAT could avert up to 22 000 (95% CI: 5200, 46 000) infections and cost US$18 000 (95% CI: US$14 000, US$24 000) per QALY gained, 50% NSP coverage could avert up to 35 000 (95% CI: 8900, 43 000) infections and cost US$25 000 (95% CI: US$7000, US$76 000) per QALY gained, 50% Test & Treat coverage could avert up to 6700 (95% CI: 1200, 16 000) infections and cost US$27 000 (95% CI: US$15 000, US$48 000) per QALY gained, and 50% PrEP coverage could avert up to 37 000 (22 000, 58 000) infections and cost US$300 000 (95% CI: US$162 000, US$667 000) per QALY gained. When coverage expansions are allowed to include combined investment with other programs and are compared to the next best intervention, the model projects that scaling OAT coverage up to 50%, then scaling NSP coverage to 50%, then scaling Test & Treat coverage to 50% can be cost-effective, with each coverage expansion having the potential to cost less than US$50 000 per QALY gained relative to the next best portfolio. In probabilistic sensitivity analyses, 59% of portfolios prioritized the addition of OAT and 41% prioritized the addition of NSPs, while PrEP was not likely to be a priority nor a cost-effective addition. Our findings are intended to be illustrative, as data on achievable coverage are limited and, in practice, the expansion scenarios considered may exceed feasible levels. We assumed independence of interventions and constant returns to scale. Extensive sensitivity analyses allowed us to assess parameter sensitivity, but the use of a dynamic compartmental model limited the exploration of structural sensitivities.

Conclusions: We estimate that OAT, NSPs, and Test & Treat, implemented singly or in combination, have the potential to effectively and cost-effectively prevent HIV in US PWID. PrEP is not likely to be cost-effective in this population, based on the scenarios we evaluated. While local budgets or policy may constrain feasible coverage levels for the various interventions, our findings suggest that investments in combined prevention programs can substantially reduce HIV transmission and improve health outcomes among PWID.

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HIV risk, prevalence, and access to care among men who have sex with men in Lebanon

Heimer R, Barbour R, Khoury D, Crawford FW, Shebl FM, Aaraj E, Khoshnood K. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2017 Jun 29 doi: 10.1089/AID.2016.0326. [Epub ahead of print].

Objective: Little is known about HIV prevalence and risk among men who have sex with men in much of the Middle East, including Lebanon. Recent national level surveillance has suggested an increase in HIV prevalence concentrated among men in Lebanon. We undertook a biobehavioral study to provide direct evidence for the spread of HIV.

Design: MSM were recruited by respondent driven sampling, interviewed, and offered HIV testing anonymously at sites located in Beirut, Lebanon from October 2014 through February 2015. The interview questionnaire was designed to obtain information on participants' sociodemographic situation, sexual behaviors, alcohol and drug use, health, HIV testing and care, experiences of stigma and discrimination. Individuals not reporting an HIV diagnosis were offered optional, anonymous HIV testing.

Results: Among the 292 MSM recruited, we identified 36 cases of HIV (12.3%). A quarter of the MSM were born in Syria and recently arrived in Lebanon. Condom use was uncommon; 65% reported unprotected sex with other men. Group sex encounters were reported by 22% of participants. Among the 32 individuals already aware of their infection, 30 were in treatment and receiving antiretroviral therapy.

Conclusions: HIV prevalence was substantially increased over past estimates. Efforts to control future increases will have to focus on reducing specific risk behaviors and experienced stigma and abuse, especially among Syrian refugees.

Abstract

A phylogenetic analysis of HIV-1 sequences in Kiev: findings among key populations

Fearnhill E, Gourlay A, Malyuta R, Simmons R, Ferns RB, Grant P, Nastouli E, Karnets I, Murphy G, Medoeva A, Kruglov Y, Yurchenko A, Porter K; CASCADE Collaboration in EuroCoord. Clin Infec Dis 2017 May 29: doi: 10.1093/cid/cix499. [Epub ahead of print].

Background: The HIV epidemic in Ukraine has been driven by a rapid rise among people who inject drugs, but recent studies have shown an increase through sexual transmission.

Methods: Protease and RT sequences from 876 new HIV diagnoses (April 2013 - March 2015) in Kiev were linked to demographic data. We constructed phylogenetic trees for 794 subtype A1 and 64 subtype B sequences and identified factors associated with transmission clustering. Clusters were defined as ≥ 2 sequences, ≥ 80% local branch support and maximum genetic distance of all sequence pairs in the cluster ≤ 2.5%. Recent infection was determined through the LAg avidity EIA assay. Sequences were analysed for transmitted drug resistance (TDR) mutations.

Results: 30% of subtype A1 and 66% of subtype B sequences clustered. Large clusters (maximum 11 sequences) contained mixed risk groups. In univariate analysis, clustering was significantly associated with subtype B compared to A1 (OR 4.38 [95% CI 2.56-7.50]), risk group (OR 5.65 [3.27-9.75]) for men who have sex with men compared to heterosexual males, recent, compared to long-standing, infection (OR 2.72 [1.64-4.52]), reported sex work contact (OR 1.93 [1.07-3.47]) and younger age groups compared to age ≥36 (OR 1.83 [1.10-3.05] for age ≤25). Females were associated with lower odds of clustering than heterosexual males (OR 0.49 [0.31-0.77]). In multivariate analysis, risk group, subtype and age group were independently associated with clustering (p<0.001, p=0.007 and p=0.033). 18 sequences (2.1%) indicated evidence of TDR.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest high levels of transmission and bridging between risk groups.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Contextualizing willingness to participate: recommendations for engagement, recruitment & enrolment of Kenyan MSM in future HIV prevention trials

Doshi M, Avery L, Kaddu RP, Gichuhi M, Gakii G, du Plessis E, Dutta S, Khan S, Kimani J, Lorway RR. BMC Public Health. 2017 May 18;17(1):469 doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4395-4.

Background: The HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men (MSM) continues to expand globally. The addition of an efficacious, prophylactic vaccine to combination prevention offers immense hope, particularly in low- and middle- income countries which bear the greatest global impact. However, in these settings, there is a paucity of vaccine preparedness studies that specifically pertain to MSM. Our study is the first vaccine preparedness study among MSM and female sex workers (FSWs) in Kenya. In this paper, we explore willingness of Kenyan MSM to participate in HIV vaccine efficacy trials. In addition to individual and socio-cultural motivators and barriers that influence willingness to participate (WTP), we explore the associations or linkages that participants draw between their experiences with or knowledge of medical research both generally and within the context of HIV/AIDS, their perceptions of a future HIV vaccine and their willingness to participate in HIV vaccine trials.

Methods: Using a social network-based approach, we employed snowball sampling to recruit MSM into the study from Kisumu, Mombasa, and Nairobi. A field team consisting of seven community researchers conducted in-depth interviews with a total of 70 study participants. A coding scheme for transcribed and translated data was developed and the data was then analysed thematically.

Results: Most participants felt that an HIV vaccine would bring a number of benefits to self, as well as to MSM communities, including quelling personal fears related to HIV acquisition and reducing/eliminating stigma and discrimination shouldered by their community. Willingness to participate in HIV vaccine efficacy trials was highly motivated by various forms of altruism. Specific researcher responsibilities centred on safe-guarding the rights and well-being of participants were also found to govern WTP, as were reflections on the acceptability of a future preventive HIV vaccine.

Conclusion: Strategies for engagement of communities and recruitment of trial volunteers for HIV vaccine efficacy trials should not only be grounded in and informed by investigations into individual and socio-cultural factors that impact WTP, but also by explorations of participants' existing experiences with or knowledge of medical research as well as attitudes and acceptance towards a future HIV vaccine.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Integrating HIV and substance use services: a systematic review

Haldane V, Cervero-Liceras F, Chuah FL, Ong SE, Murphy G, Sigfrid L, Watt N, Balabanova D, Hogarth S, Maimaris W, Buse K, Piot P, McKee M, Perel P, Legido-Quigley H. Journal of the International AIDS Society. 2017 May 30;20(1).http://dx.doi.org/10.7448/IAS.20.1.21585.

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

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

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

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

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Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America
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Stigma and sex work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The hope and reality of injecting drug use among people living with HIV in Ukraine

Attitudes toward addiction, methadone treatment, and recovery among HIV-infected Ukrainian prisoners who inject drugs: incarceration effects and exploration of mediators.  

Polonsky M, Rozanova J, Azbel L, Bachireddy C, Izenberg J, Kiriazova T, Dvoryak S, Altice FL. AIDS Behav. 2016 Dec;20(12):2950-2960.

In this study, we use data from a survey conducted in Ukraine among 196 HIV-infected people who inject drugs, to explore attitudes toward drug addiction and methadone maintenance therapy (MMT), and intentions to change drug use during incarceration and after release from prison. Two groups were recruited: Group 1 (n = 99) was currently incarcerated and Group 2 (n = 97) had been recently released from prison. This paper's key finding is that MMT treatment and addiction recovery were predominantly viewed as mutually exclusive processes. Group comparisons showed that participants in Group 1 (pre-release) exhibited higher optimism about changing their drug use, were less likely to endorse methadone, and reported higher intention to recover from their addiction. Group 2 participants (post-release), however, reported higher rates of HIV stigma. Structural equation modeling revealed that in both groups, optimism about recovery and awareness of addiction mediated the effect of drug addiction severity on intentions to recover from their addiction.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: Despite reductions in HIV incidence and mortality globally, the epidemic in Ukraine remains volatile and continues to expand, especially among people who inject drugs.  People who inject drugs account for more than 40% of people living with HIV.  At 20%, HIV prevalence among Ukrainian people living in prisons is the highest in Europe, with drug injection of opioids being the major driver of transmission. This is due to a concentration of people who inject drugs among prisoners and other incarcerated people, especially people living with HIV. Programmes focusing on prisoners and other incrcerated people may play a central role in HIV prevention since nearly all of them transition back to the community. Opioid agonist therapies including methadone maintenance therapy have been shown to have many benefits including reducing HIV transmission by over 50% among people who inject drugs.  Despite these benefits, moral biases, stigma and ideological prejudices are barriers to opioid agonist therapies scale-up globally including in Ukraine.  Opioid agonist therapies are available free of charge through national and external Global Fund support. However, scale up of opioid agonist therapies and treatment retention in Ukraine have been low, with only about 2.7% of people who inject drugs enrolled. This has constrained HIV prevention efforts.  Adoption of opioid agonist therapies has been especially slow among criminal justice populations. This study compares attitudes towards opioid agonist therapies among currently and previously incarcerated opioid-dependent people living with HIV in Ukraine.

The study uses data from a survey of people living with HIV conducted in Ukraine to explore attitudes to methadone treatment and intentions to change drug use behaviour before and after release from prison.

This study has important implications for future management of people who inject drugs who are living with HIV.  While staff attitudes may undermine the successful opioid agonist therapies delivery in prisons, the findings of this study suggest that prisoners and other incarcerated people are important foci for programmes that should be done in parallel with staff-based activities. The findings also suggest that optimism about recovery while in prison is falsely elevated. This may contribute to individual inability to comprehend addiction as a chronic relapsing condition, which in the absence of treatment, results in 85% relapsing within 12 months of release. Future programmes should take advantage of individuals’ sobriety while in prison and cultivate their ability to recognise the cycle of addiction and incarceration. This optimism should also be channelled to focus on evidence-based programmes, e.g., methadone maintenance therapy that has been associated with reduced illicit drug relapse, HIV risk-taking and reincarceration. Considerable health marketing work also needs to be done to focus on negative attitudes and prejudices about methadone maintenance therapy at both individual and societal level. This would importantly involve rebranding methadone maintenance therapy as a medical treatment for a chronic relapsing condition.

Europe
Ukraine
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Needle-syringe programmes and treatment will dramatically reduce HIV epidemic among people who inject drugs in Russia and Ukraine

Reducing HIV infection in people who inject drugs is impossible without targeting recently-infected subjects.

Vasylyeva TI, Friedman SR, Lourenco J, Gupta S, Hatzakis A, Pybus OG, Katzourakis A, Smyrnov P, Karamitros T, Paraskevis D, Magiorkinis G. AIDS. 2016 Nov 28;30(18):2885-2890.

Objective: Although our understanding of viral transmission among people who inject drugs (PWID) has improved, we still know little about when and how many times each injector transmits HIV throughout the duration of infection. We describe HIV dynamics in PWID to evaluate which preventive strategies can be efficient.

Design: Due to the notably scarce interventions, HIV-1 spread explosively in Russia and Ukraine in 1990s. By studying this epidemic between 1995 and 2005, we characterized naturally occurring transmission dynamics of HIV among PWID.

Method: We combined publicly available HIV pol and env sequences with prevalence estimates from Russia and Ukraine under an evolutionary epidemiology framework to characterize HIV transmissibility between PWID. We then constructed compartmental models to simulate HIV spread among PWID.

Results: In the absence of interventions, each injector transmits on average to 10 others. Half of the transmissions take place within 1 month after primary infection, suggesting that the epidemic will expand even after blocking all the post-first month transmissions. Primary prevention can realistically target the first month of infection, and we show that it is very efficient to control the spread of HIV-1 in PWID. Treating acutely infected on top of primary prevention is notably effective.

Conclusion: As a large proportion of transmissions among PWID occur within 1 month after infection, reducing and delaying transmissions through scale-up of harm reduction programmes should always form the backbone of HIV control strategies in PWID. Growing PWID populations in the developing world, where primary prevention is scarce, constitutes a public health time bomb

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: This paper presents powerful findings from a mathematical model that sought to estimate how much prevalence of HIV will increase among people who inject drugs in 10-20 years’ time in the absence of HIV treatment and needle-syringe programmes. Findings suggest HIV prevalence will reach 86% in 20 years in the absence of programmes. The paper provides important new information to the growing body of evidence that estimates the impact of needle-syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapy in reducing HIV transmission among people who inject drugs, in the region. The authors focus on the impact of needle-syringe programmes and of the prevention benefits of treatment, reducing transmission among individuals recently acquiring HIV where infectivity is higher in the first month of infection. The estimates provide projections of programme impact in the realities of the current policy environment, given the prohibition of opioid substitution therapy in the Russian Federation. The model focusses on injection transmission routes only and does not consider sexual transmission among people who inject drugs. Therefore, projected estimates of HIV are likely to be underestimates. The paper is important in highlighting the urgent need for needle-syringe programmes and treatment among people who inject drugs in the region and highlighting the crisis in relation to HIV among people who inject drugs in Russia and Ukraine. Modelling estimates such as these are powerful tools to persuade policy makers of the urgent need for programmes.  Importantly the authors recognize the need for structural programmes. They highlight the need to create an enabling environment in which needle-syringe programmes can operate. This environment needs to include supportive policing practices and reducing stigma. 

Europe
Russian Federation, Ukraine
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HIV incidence halved among injecting drugs users in network outreach programme - Ukraine

HIV incidence among people who inject drugs (PWIDs) in Ukraine: results from a clustered randomised trial.

Booth RE, Davis JM, Dvoryak S, Brewster JT, Lisovska O, Strathdee SA, Latkin CA. Lancet HIV. 2016 Oct;3(10):e482-9. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30040-6. Epub 2016 Jul 29.

Background: HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs (PWID) in Ukraine is among the highest in the world. In this study, we aimed to assess whether a social network intervention was superior to HIV testing and counselling in affecting HIV incidence among PWID. Although this was not the primary aim of the study, it is associated with reducing drug and sex risk behaviours, which were primary aims.

Methods: In this clustered randomised trial, PWID who were 16 years of age or older, had used self-reported drug injection in the past 30 days, were willing to be interviewed for about 1 hour and tested for HIV, were not too impaired to comprehend and provide informed consent, and, for this paper, who tested HIV negative at baseline were recruited from the streets by project outreach workers in three cities in southern and eastern Ukraine: Odessa, Donetsk, and Nikolayev. Index or peer leaders, along with two of their network members, were randomly assigned (1:1) by the study statistician to the testing and counselling block (control group) or the testing and counselling plus a social network intervention block (intervention group). No stratification or minimisation was done. Participants in the network intervention received five sessions to train their network members in risk reduction. Those participants assigned to the control group received no further intervention after counselling. The main outcome of this study was HIV seroconversion in the intent-to-treat population as estimated with Cox regression and incorporating a gamma frailty term to account for clustering. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrial.gov, number NCT01159704.

Findings: Between July 12, 2010, and Nov 23, 2012, 2304 PWIDs were recruited, 1200 of whom were HIV negative and are included in the present study. 589 index or peer leaders were randomly assigned to the control group and 611 were assigned to the intervention group. Of the 1200 HIV-negative participants, 1085 (90%) were retained at 12 months. In 553.0 person-years in the intervention group, 102 participants had seroconversion (incidence density 18.45 per 100 person-years; 95% CI 14.87-22.03); in 497.1 person-years in the control group 158 participants seroconverted (31.78 per 100 person-years; 26.83-36.74). This corresponded to a reduced hazard in the intervention group (hazard ratio 0.53, 95% CI 0.38-0.76, p=0.0003). No study-related adverse events were reported.

Interpretation: These data provide strong support for integrating peer education into comprehensive HIV prevention programmes for PWID and suggest the value in developing and testing peer-led interventions to improve access and adherence to pre-exposure prophylaxis and antiretroviral therapy.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: People who inject drugs are at high risk of HIV infection, and, in many settings, are unlikely to have appropriate access to HIV prevention programmes. This study is a secondary, subgroup analysis of a randomised control of a social network programme for people who inject drugs in Ukraine (the primary outcome was HIV risk taking behaviour). The investigators recruited 256 index users, who subsequently recruited fellow members of their injection network to the study. Half (n=128) of the index participants were randomized to a two-week training programme in risk reduction education. These “peer leaders” were trained with the intention that they would disseminate these skills within their injection networks. The HIV incidence was alarmingly high. After 12 months, for the sub-group of participants who were initially HIV-negative, the incidence of seroconversion was 31.9/100 person-years in the control networks and 18.4/100 person-years in the programme networks, representing a 47% reduction in incidence associated with the programme. This study is notable for its randomized design, low attrition, close collaboration with local non-governmental organizations, a study protocol adaptation process which engaged drugs users and dealers, and a biological outcome measure. Further research can consider the economic costs for each averted HIV infection, whether the programme effects varied by other factors, and assessment of the extent to which the risk reduction skills were shared beyond study participants. The very high incidence, even among those receiving the intervention, emphasize the need for much greater investment in harm reduction approaches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekend breaks on efavirenz-based ART non-inferior in adolescents

BREATHER (PENTA 16) short-cycle therapy (SCT) (5 days on/2 days off) in young people with chronic human immunodeficiency virus infection: an open, randomised, parallel-group Phase II/III trial.

Butler K, Inshaw J, Ford D, Bernays S, Scott K, Kenny J, Klein N, Turkova A, Harper L, Nastouli E, Paparini S, Choudhury R, Rhodes T, Babiker A, Gibb D. Health Technol Assess. 2016 Jun;20(49):1-108. doi: 10.3310/hta20490.

Background: For human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected adolescents facing lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART), short-cycle therapy (SCT) with long-acting agents offers the potential for drug-free weekends, less toxicity, better adherence and cost savings.

Objectives: To determine whether or not efavirenz (EFV)-based ART in short cycles of 5 days on and 2 days off is as efficacious (in maintaining virological suppression) as continuous EFV-based ART (continuous therapy; CT). Secondary objectives included the occurrence of new clinical HIV events or death, changes in immunological status, emergence of HIV drug resistance, drug toxicity and changes in therapy.

Design: Open, randomised, non-inferiority trial.

Setting: Europe, Thailand, Uganda, Argentina and the USA.

Participants: Young people (aged 8-24 years) on EFV plus two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors and with a HIV-1 ribonucleic acid level [viral load (VL)] of < 50 copies/ml for > 12 months.

Interventions: Young people were randomised to continue daily ART (CT) or change to SCT (5 days on, 2 days off ART).

Main outcome measures: Follow-up was for a minimum of 48 weeks (0, 4 and 12 weeks and then 12-weekly visits). The primary outcome was the difference between arms in the proportion with VL > 50 copies/ml (confirmed) by 48 weeks, estimated using the Kaplan-Meier method (12% non-inferiority margin) adjusted for region and age.

Results: In total, 199 young people (11 countries) were randomised (n = 99 SCT group, n = 100 CT group) and followed for a median of 86 weeks. Overall, 53% were male; the median age was 14 years (21% ≥ 18 years); 13% were from the UK, 56% were black, 19% were Asian and 21% were Caucasian; and the median CD4% and CD4 count were 34% and 735 cells/mm3, respectively. By week 48, only one participant (CT) was lost to follow-up. The SCT arm had a 27% decreased drug exposure as measured by the adherence questionnaire and a MEMSCap Medication Event Monitoring System (MEMSCap Inc., Durham, NC, USA) substudy (median cap openings per week: SCT group, n = 5; CT group, n = 7). By 48 weeks, six participants in the SCT group and seven in the CT group had a confirmed VL > 50 copies/ml [difference -1.2%, 90% confidence interval (CI) -7.3% to 4.9%] and two in the SCT group and four in the CT group had a confirmed VL > 400 copies/ml (difference -2.1%, 90% CI -6.2% to 1.9%). All six participants in the SCT group with a VL > 50 copies/ml resumed daily ART, of whom five were resuppressed, three were on the same regimen and two with a switch; two others on SCT resumed daily ART for other reasons. Overall, three participants in the SCT group and nine in the CT group (p = 0.1) changed ART regimen, five because of toxicity, four for simplification reasons, two because of compliance issues and one because of VL failure. Seven young people (SCT group, n = 2; CT group, n = 5) had major non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor mutations at VL failure, of whom two (n = 1 SCT group, n = 1 CT group) had the M184V mutation. Two young people had new Centers for Disease Control B events (SCT group, n = 1; CT group, n = 1). There were no significant differences between SCT and CT in grade 3/4 adverse events (13 vs. 14) or in serious adverse events (7 vs. 6); there were fewer ART-related adverse events in the SCT arm (2 vs. 14; p = 0.02). At week 48 there was no evidence that SCT led to increased inflammation using an extensive panel of markers. Young people expressed a strong preference for SCT in a qualitative substudy and in pre- and post-trial questionnaires. In total, 98% of the young people are taking part in a 2-year follow-up extension of the trial.

Conclusions: Non-inferiority of VL suppression in young people on EFV-based first-line ART with a VL of < 50 copies/ml was demonstrated for SCT compared with CT, with similar resistance, safety and inflammatory marker profiles. The SCT group had fewer ART-related adverse events. Further evaluation of the immunological and virological impact of SCT is ongoing. A limitation of the trial is that the results cannot be generalised to settings where VL monitoring is either not available or infrequent, nor to use of low-dose EFV. Two-year extended follow-up of the trial is ongoing to confirm the durability of the SCT strategy. Further trials of SCT in settings with infrequent VL monitoring and with other antiretroviral drugs such as tenofovir alafenamide, which has a long intracellular half-life, and/or dolutegravir, which has a higher barrier to resistance, are planned.

Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN97755073; EUDRACT 2009-012947-40; and CTA 27505/0005/001-0001.

Funding: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme (projects 08/53/25 and 11/136/108), the European Commission through EuroCoord (FP7/2007/2015), the Economic and Social Research Council, the PENTA Foundation, the Medical Research Council and INSERM SC10-US19, France, and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 20, No. 49. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Adherence to ART has been shown to deteriorate in adolescence, with missed doses occurring particularly at weekends. Pharmacokinetic properties of some ART drugs, such as efavirenz, allow for a break in pill taking without a break in effective treatment. Non-inferiority trials evaluating five days on, two days off in adults have shown continuous ART to be non-inferior with low rates of virologic rebound.  This formed the rationale for this global, randomised Phase II/III trial in young people.

In the BREATHER trial, non-inferiority of viral suppression in adolescents on efavirenz-based first-line ART was shown for short-cycle treatment compared with continuous treatment. Overall 93% of adolescents remained virally suppressed. Findings from the two-year long-term follow-up phase will confirm if short-cycle treatment is effective and safe in this population.  Further studies are required to confirm the applicability of this strategy in real-life settings where viral load monitoring is likely to be less frequent than in a trial setting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access

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

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

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

Europe, Latin America
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