Articles tagged as "Zimbabwe"

How do we know which activities make a difference to HIV prevention?

Editor’s notes: In order to be fairly certain that an intervention is responsible for changes in HIV or HIV-related behaviours, the gold standard is randomization. This allows for fair comparisons between groups, since factors that might alter the outcomes will be more or less equally balanced between the study groups.  This is true whether such confounding factors are expected, but also importantly, even those factors that are unknown, unexpected and unmeasured will also be balanced between the arms. 

A second key determinant of high quality research is to use an approach that maximizes full engagement and follow-up of participants in the study.  One such approach that is widely recognized is to use Good Participatory Practice.  

Rhodes and colleagues study condom promotion and HIV testing among the Hispanic/Latino community of gay men and other men who have sex with men in North Carolina, USA.  Although gay men and other men who have sex with men represent approximately 4% of the adult male population in the United States of America, they account for more than 80% of new HIV infections among men.  Around one quarter of gay men and other men who have sex with men are Hispanic or Latino.  The authors therefore wanted to use research to make a difference to the HIV burden of the Hispanic/Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men community in North Carolina, USA.  They found that despite the impact of HIV on Hispanic/ Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men, they were only able to identify one evidence-based behavioural HIV prevention programme focussed on this population.

The authors used an extensive community based participatory research partnership, whose members represented the Hispanic/ Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men community, AIDS service organizations, Hispanic/Latino-serving community organizations, and universities to develop, implement, and evaluate a Spanish-language, small group intervention designed to increase condom use and HIV testing among Hispanic/Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men (HOLA en Grupos).

304 participants were randomly allocated to the HOLA en Grupos intervention, or to a general health education comparison intervention having the same number of sessions (4) and duration (16 hours in total) that focussed on prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers; diabetes; high cholesterol; cardiovascular disease; and alcohol misuse. These topics for the control group were identified on the basis of identified needs and priorities of Hispanic/Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men.

HOLA en Grupos is grounded on social cognitive theory, empowerment education, and traditional Hispanic/Latino cultural values and includes four interactive modules of four hours each delivered in groups.  Participants in both intervention and control arms received reimbursement for their time, certificates of completion and meals and a celebration at the completion of the course.  In other words this was an intensive intervention that might be hard to replicate in most settings, but it follows very high standards both for developing and conducting the research and also for determining the impact of the intervention.

The intervention was associated with a large effect on both condom usage (four-fold higher in the intervention arm than the control) and HIV test uptake (an astonishing 14-fold higher, reflecting the relatively low testing rate in the control group).

A major limitation in many HIV prevention studies, including this one, is that the outcome is based on reported behaviour.  The challenge is that the real outcome of interest, which is new HIV infections, is relatively rare in almost all communities so that studies have to be huge and expensive, and the large majority of participants in both intervention and control arms do not in fact acquire HIV.  This is in contrast to most studies of treatment, where there are clearly defined biological, standardized measures which many or all participants are likely to reach.  Nonetheless, there are many examples of studies that find changes in reported behaviour that are not associated with biological markers of such change (such as incidence of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections, or pregnancy). 

There are also many observational or ecological studies that report changes in new HIV infections but that cannot truly say why the number of infections fell and whether the interventions used in the study were responsible for the changes.  For example Nwokolo and colleagues report in a short research letter on the dramatic decline in new HIV diagnoses in the large London clinic where they work.  New infections in that clinic, and in fact in other large clinics in London, have dropped by a remarkable 40% from 2015 to 2016, as originally reported in the popular science press before any scientific publication or presentation. The authors of the research letter are suitably cautious about how to account for the impressive decline.  Various systems have been improved over the past few years in this clinic to make it easier to have an HIV test and start treatment immediately.  However, most of the clinic team (and many other commentators) assume that it is also due to the rapid rise in the use of PrEP.  Although it is still not available through the UK National Health Service, the clinic has been at the forefront of encouraging gay men and other men who have sex with men who might benefit from PrEP to purchase it from on-line pharmacies.  The clinic then provides the appropriate monitoring and follow up to ensure that their clients get the best possible PrEP service given the current constraints.  Whatever the cause, we should be celebrating the rapid fall in new HIV infections across London, which is home to a substantial proportion of the new HIV infections in the UK.

The challenges of demonstrating evidence of effectiveness for HIV prevention is also felt among black women in the USA.  Although they have the highest burden of HIV among women in the USA, the incidence rates are such that a traditional randomized trial design would need to be huge, and consequently hugely expensive.  Adimora and colleagues consider whether an alternative trial design might be to use data from high HIV incidence settings and then to develop proxies of protection, such as the concentration of a PrEP medicine to infer whether black women are protected.  An alternative that has been proposed for men who have sex with men would be to look for other markers of high risk, such as sexually transmitted infections, reported partners, age, and substance use and estimate the likely risk of HIV acquisition in the absence of PrEP from these parameters.  Then the observed incidence could be compared to this modelled counterfactual, much as was done in the open label extension of the Partners PrEP study in Kenyan and Ugandan sero-different couples.  However, translating risk factors for infection across populations, and even continents when there is such heterogeneity in risk of infection is not at all straightforward.  So there is still plenty to think about and no clear answers yet!

A useful addition to the tool box for designing studies and assessing the effectiveness of interventions, would be better tools for measuring recent infection.  There are several assays all with differing characteristics but increasingly these differences and how they interact with different clades of HIV are becoming clear.  Key determinants for each assay are the mean duration of recent infection (MDRI) estimate (which does seem to vary by clade) and the false recency rate (FRR) which needs to be less than 2% to be considered useful.  Hargrove and colleagues used three different assays to test samples from 101 women who seroconverted during the ZVITAMBO trial.  The MDRI measured using standard cut-off points, were considerably shorter than those published for the general population.  The authors point out that changes in antibody properties among women who have recently given birth or other unspecified physiological states, mean that incidence assays may give different results from those published and expected.  Yet more caution when comparing incidence estimates between studies.  As an endpoint in a comparison between two groups in the same population, the assays are still attractive. Although, given typical MDRIs of around six to nine months, these assays will still need to be embedded in very large samples to give reliable estimates of incidence and statistically significant differences between groups.

This month saw the production of a useful supplement on many aspects of how data from different sources, including incidence assays are used to inform the sophisticated models on which so much HIV planning, programming and financing is based.  An example is Mahiane and colleagues’ paper on the development of a new tool to fit existing programme data into the spectrum suite of models in order to estimate incidence.

Finally in this section, for those who are keen on laboratory studies, Richardson-Harman and colleagues describe the current state of ex-vivo challenge models for assessing potential candidates as microbicides.  In these models, biopsies of rectal, cervical or vaginal tissue, taken during other procedures, or from volunteers, are kept alive in the laboratory.  The tissues can then be challenged with HIV in the presence or absence of potential microbicide products.  The current model works best for rectal tissues, in which infection occurs promptly and consistently, so that the effect of a microbicide can clearly be seen by a reduction in the production of HIV p24 antigen.  However, for cervical and vaginal tissues, the infection (in the absence of any microbicide) was less consistent, slower and lasted longer making it less easy to determine statistical differences between those tissues with microbicide and those without.  Further work of this sort may help to streamline the choice of microbicide or PrEP products that can most sensibly be taken out of the laboratory and into the (almost) real world of clinical trials.

Small-group randomized controlled trial to increase condom use and HIV testing among Hispanic/Latino gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.

Rhodes SD, Alonzo J, Mann L, Song EY, Tanner AE, Arellano JE, Rodriguez-Celedon R, Garcia M, Freeman A, Reboussin BA, Painter TM. Am J Public Health. 2017 Jun;107(6):969-976. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.303814. Epub 2017 Apr 20.

Objectives: To evaluate the HOLA en Grupos intervention, a Spanish-language small-group behavioral HIV prevention intervention designed to increase condom use and HIV testing among Hispanic/Latino gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.

Methods: In 2012 to 2015, we recruited and randomized 304 Hispanic/Latino men who have sex with men, aged 18 to 55 years in North Carolina, to the 4-session HOLA en Grupos intervention or an attention-equivalent general health education comparison intervention. Participants completed structured assessments at baseline and 6-month follow-up. Follow-up retention was 100%.

Results: At follow-up, relative to comparison participants, HOLA en Grupos participants reported increased consistent condom use during the past 3 months (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 4.1; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.2, 7.9; P < .001) and HIV testing during the past 6 months (AOR = 13.8; 95% CI = 7.6, 25.3; P < .001). HOLA en Grupos participants also reported increased knowledge of HIV (P < .001) and sexually transmitted infections (P < .001); condom use skills (P < .001), self-efficacy (P < .001), expectancies (P < .001), and intentions (P < .001); sexual communication skills (P < .01); and decreased fatalism (P < .001).

Conclusions: The HOLA en Grupos intervention is efficacious for reducing HIV risk behaviors among Hispanic/Latino men who have sex with men.

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Not just PrEP: other reasons for London's HIV decline.

Nwokolo N, Whitlock G, McOwan A. Lancet HIV. 2017 Apr;4(4):e153. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30044-9.

The reduction in HIV diagnoses in London in 2016 is attributed to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). We believe that the causes of the 42% decline seen at our clinic are likely to be multifactorial. 56 Dean Street diagnoses one in four of London's HIV cases, 50% of whom have incident infection (ie, within 4 months of infection). Because of this, and following the results of the START study, we actively recommend treatment at, or close to, diagnosis, reducing the risk of transmission in people who would otherwise be highly infectious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Improvements in Spectrum's fit to program data tool.

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

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

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

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

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

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Analytical advances in the ex vivo challenge efficacy assay.

Richardson-Harman N, Parody R, Anton P, McGowan I, Doncel G, Thurman AR, Herrera C, Kordy K, Fox J, Tanner K, Swartz G, Dezzutti CS. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2017 Apr;33(4):395-403. doi: 10.1089/AID.2016.0073. Epub 2016 Dec 16.

The ex vivo challenge assay is being increasingly used as an efficacy endpoint during early human clinical trials of HIV prevention treatments. There is no standard methodology for the ex vivo challenge assay, although the use of different data collection methods and analytical parameters may impact results and reduce the comparability of findings between trials. In this analysis, we describe the impact of data imputation methods, kit type, testing schedule and tissue type on variability, statistical power, and ex vivo HIV growth kinetics. Data were p24 antigen (pg/ml) measurements collected from clinical trials of candidate microbicides where rectal (n = 502), cervical (n = 88), and vaginal (n = 110) tissues were challenged with HIV-1BaL ex vivo. Imputation of missing data using a nonlinear mixed effect model was found to provide an improved fit compared to imputation using half the limit of detection. The rectal virus growth period was found to be earlier and of a relatively shorter duration than the growth period for cervical and vaginal tissue types. On average, only four rectal tissue challenge assays in each treatment and control group would be needed to find a one log difference in p24 to be significant (alpha = 0.05), but a larger sample size was predicted to be needed for either cervical (n = 21) or vaginal (n = 10) tissue comparisons. Overall, the results indicated that improvements could be made in the design and analysis of the ex vivo challenge assay to provide a more standardized and powerful assay to compare efficacy of microbicide products.

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Stigma and sex work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adolescents and PMTCT services: where are the gaps?

PMTCT service uptake among adolescents and adult women attending antenatal care in selected health facilities in Zimbabwe.

Musarandega R, Machekano R, Chideme M, Muchuchuti C, Mushavi A, Mahomva A, Guay L. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 Feb 20. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001327. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Age-disaggregated analyses of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) program data to assess the uptake of HIV services by pregnant adolescent women are limited but are critical to understanding the unique needs of this vulnerable, high risk population.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective analysis of patient-level PMTCT data collected from 2011 to 2013 in 36 health facilities in 5 districts of Zimbabwe using an electronic database. We compared uptake proportions for PMTCT services between adolescent (< 19 years) and adult (> 19 years) women. Multivariable binomial regression analysis was used to estimate the association of the women's age group with each PMTCT service indicator.

Results: The study analysed data from 22 215 women aged 12 to 50 years (22.5% adolescents). Adolescents were more likely to present to ANC before 14 weeks gestational age compared to older women (adjusted relative risk (aRR)=1.34; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.22-1.47) with equally low rates of completion of four ANC visits. Adolescents were less likely to present with known HIV status (aRR=0.34; 95% CI: 0.29-0.41) but equally likely to be HIV tested in ANC. HIV prevalence was 5.5% in adolescents versus 20.1% in adults. While > 84% of both HIV-positive groups received ARVs for PMTCT, 44% of eligible adolescents were initiated on ART versus 51.3% of eligible adults, though not statistically significant.

Conclusions: Pregnant adolescents must be a priority for primary HIV prevention services and expanded HIV treatment services among pregnant women to achieve an AIDS-free generation in Zimbabwe and similar high HIV burden countries.

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Editor’s notes: Young women continue to be a key population at risk of acquiring HIV, and contribute approximately one-third of all new infections in sub-Saharan Africa. Young women face multiple legal, economic and social vulnerabilities that place them not only at higher risk of acquiring HIV but may also have an impact on their ability to access antenatal care (ANC) services and programmes to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) if they get pregnant. This in turn has implications for the goal of eliminating paediatric HIV infection.

This retrospective study compared the uptake of PMTCT services between adolescents (people aged 19 years and below) and older women accessing ANC in 36 public sector services across Zimbabwe. The study was conducted between 2011 and 2013, when PMTCT guidelines recommended Option A. Option A called for life-long antiretroviral therapy (ART) for women who were ART-eligible based on immunological or clinical criteria; or, for people ineligible, zidovudine monotherapy through pregnancy followed by single dose nevirapine at the onset of labour. It is no longer formally recommended by World Health Organization (WHO), although it is still used in some countries.      

Nearly a quarter of all women were adolescents and over 80% were on their first pregnancy or primigravid. Adolescent women were 34% more likely to attend their first ANC visit by 14 weeks of gestational age compared to adult women. But among both groups, only about 10% attended their first ANC visit in the first trimester and less than 40% attended the four antenatal visits recommended by WHO. Notably, knowledge of HIV status prior to the first ANC attendance was 66% lower in adolescent women, even after adjusting for parity and facility type, with only 3.1% aware of their HIV status. In addition, the proportion of women who were known HIV-positive and taking ART was also lower, although this may be due partly to fewer adolescents being eligible for ART. The uptake of HIV testing (over 95%) and uptake of zidovudine prophylaxis was high among all women. However, there was a suggestion that adolescents were less likely than older women to start ART if they were eligible, although this was not statistically significant. Indeed, several studies in the region have demonstrated lower levels of ART initiation among pregnant adolescents compared to older women.  

Older women would have been more likely to have undergone HIV testing in previous pregnancies. However, even after adjusting for parity, this study demonstrates that adolescents are less likely to have previously accessed HIV testing. Common barriers to testing highlighted by other studies include lack of information, unavailability of HIV testing services, unfriendly HIV testing environments in health facilities and the need for parental consent. Lack of knowledge of HIV status prior to pregnancy is also a missed opportunity for family planning, and initiation of ART prior to pregnancy. The substantial difference in HIV prevalence among adolescents compared to older women highlights the critical need for implementing prevention programmes such as pre-exposure prophylaxis among young women in high HIV prevalence settings. While adolescents are less likely to be tested for HIV in the general population than adults, this study illustrates that when HIV testing is offered in appropriate, supportive environments, uptake is high.

Overall, the uptake of HIV testing and of prophylaxis were high, demonstrating the potential for eliminating infections in children. A major limitation is that this analysis was limited to women who had sought antenatal care. Promoting early ANC attendance is important to allow early ART initiation, to reduce the risk of intrauterine HIV transmission. Following a positive HIV test result, particular attention is necessary to ensure linkage to care and support for sustained adherence to ART.

Africa
Zimbabwe
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Is stool testing the answer to the problem of childhood TB diagnosis?

Stool Xpert® MTB/RIF test for the diagnosis of childhood pulmonary tuberculosis at primary clinics in Zimbabwe.

Chipinduro M, Mateveke K, Makamure B, Ferrand RA, Gomo E. Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 2017 Feb 1;21(2):161-166. doi: 10.5588/ijtld.16.0357.

Objective: To evaluate the diagnostic performance of Xpert® MTB/RIF on stool samples from children with clinical suspicion of pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB) at primary care clinics.

Design: A cross-sectional diagnostic evaluation enrolling 5-16 year olds from whom one induced sputum (IS) sample was tested for microbiological TB confirmation. Results of a single stool sample tested using Xpert® were compared against microbiologically confirmed TB, defined as a positive result on sputum microscopy and/or culture and/or IS Xpert®.

Results: Of 222 children enrolled, 218 had complete microbiological results. The median age was 10.6 years (interquartile range 8-13). TB was microbiologically confirmed in 19/218 (8.7%) children. Of these, respectively 5 (26%), 9 (47%) and 15 (79%) were smear-, culture- and IS Xpert®-positive. Stool Xpert® was positive in 13/19 (68%) microbiologically confirmed cases and 4/199 (2%) microbiologically negative cases. Stool Xpert® detected 76.9% (10/13) of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infected and 50% (3/6) of non-HIV-infected children with microbiologically confirmed TB (P = 0.241).

Conclusion: Stool Xpert® is a potential alternative screening test for children with suspected TB if sputum is unavailable. Strategies to optimise the diagnostic yield of stool Xpert® assay need further study.

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Xpert® MTB/RIF on Stool is Useful for the Rapid Diagnosis of Tuberculosis in Young Children with Severe Pulmonary Disease

Walters E, van der Zalm MM, Palmer M, Bosch C, Demers AM, Draper H, Goussard P, Schaaf HS, Friedrich SO, Whitelaw A, Warren R, Gie RP, Hesseling AC. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2017 Jan 31. doi: 10.1097/INF.0000000000001563. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Tuberculosis (TB) continues to result in high morbidity and mortality in children from resource-limited settings. Diagnostic challenges, including resource-intense sputum collection methods and insensitive diagnostic tests, contribute to diagnostic delay and poor outcomes in children. We evaluated the diagnostic utility of stool Xpert® MTB/RIF (Xpert) compared with bacteriologic confirmation (combination of Xpert® and culture of respiratory samples).

Methods: In a hospital-based study in Cape Town, South Africa, we enrolled children younger than 13 years of age with suspected pulmonary TB from April 2012- August 2015. Standard clinical investigations included tuberculin skin test, chest radiograph and HIV testing. Respiratory samples for smear microscopy, Xpert® and liquid culture included gastric aspirates, induced sputum, nasopharyngeal aspirates and expectorated sputum. One stool sample per child was collected and tested using Xpert®.

Results: Of 379 children enrolled (median age, 15.9 months, 13.7% HIV-infected), 73 (19.3%) had bacteriologically confirmed TB. The sensitivity and specificity of stool Xpert® vs. overall bacteriologic confirmation were 31.9% (95% CI 21.84-44.50%) and 99.7% (95% CI 98.2-100%) respectively. 23/51 (45.1%) children with bacteriologically confirmed TB with severe disease were stool Xpert® positive. Cavities on chest radiograph were associated with Xpert® stool positivity regardless of age and other relevant factors (OR 7.05; 95% CI 2.16-22.98; p=0.001).

Conclusions: Stool Xpert® can rapidly confirm TB in children who present with radiologic findings suggestive of severe TB. In resource-limited settings where children frequently present with advanced disease, Xpert® on stool samples could improve access to rapid diagnostic confirmation and appropriate treatment.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: It has been known for a long time that Mycobacterium tuberculosis can be detected in stool specimens in some people with pulmonary TB disease. This is because sputum is often swallowed and M. tuberculosis bacilli can survive transit through the gastrointestinal tract. With the challenges of detecting TB in children, and the introduction of molecular diagnostic tools, there has been renewed interest in using stool specimens to improve TB diagnosis.

These two studies from southern Africa evaluated the diagnostic yield and accuracy of Xpert® MTB/RIF testing on stool specimens in children with symptoms compatible with intrathoracic TB. The study populations were different. The children in the South African study were younger than in the Zimbabwean study (median age 16 months vs. 10 years). In South Africa, only one in seven children was HIV positive whereas half the children were HIV positive in the Zimbabwean study. The South African study was conducted at hospital level whereas the Zimbabwean study was at primary health care clinics.

Despite these differences, the main findings were similar. Stool Xpert® was positive in six percent in South Africa and eight percent in Zimbabwe. Sensitivity of stool Xpert® compared to a single culture from induced sputum was 50% in South Africa and 67% in Zimbabwe. A single Xpert® test on stool was no better than a single Xpert® test on induced sputum. There was some evidence from both studies that sensitivity was higher in HIV positive children. However, in South Africa, sensitivity compared to any bacteriological confirmation was substantially lower (32%), as the reference standard included Xpert® and culture tests on multiple specimens. Sensitivity compared to the clinical decision to treat for TB was even lower (14%). This may have reflected the fact that all children in the South African study had chest X-rays and there were several children with intrathoracic lymph node disease.

What does this tell us about the role of Xpert® testing on stool for TB diagnosis in children? The evidence does not seem to provide strong support for scaling up stool Xpert® testing within standard diagnostic algorithms. As the South African study demonstrated, many of the children with positive Xpert® on stool were older children with more severe pulmonary disease. These are the children that may be more likely to produce sputum, and are the ones where we would want to make every effort to get respiratory specimens. This is especially the case in HIV-positive children, among whom there may be many possible diagnoses. Added to all this is the fact that processing and testing stool in the laboratory is not simple, meaning it might be difficult to scale up within decentralised laboratory systems.

It is encouraging that research groups are now addressing the challenge of TB diagnosis in children. It would seem that testing stool specimens for now does not really address the fundamental challenge in children, that they usually have paucibacillary disease often with little or no involvement of the lung parenchyma. The search must go on for better diagnostic tests for TB in children. 

Comorbidity, HIV Treatment
Africa
South Africa, Zimbabwe
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Psychological distress and HIV after financial meltdown in Zimbabwe

Prevalence and associations of psychological distress, HIV Infection and HIV care service utilization in East Zimbabwe.

Tlhajoane M, Eaton JW, Takaruza A, Rhead R, Maswera R, Schur N, Sherr L, Nyamukapa C, Gregson S. AIDS Behav. 2017 Feb 13. doi: 10.1007/s10461-017-1705-x. [Epub ahead of print]

The correlation between mental health and sexual risk behaviours for HIV infection remains largely unknown in low and middle income settings. The present study determined the prevalence of psychological distress (PD) in a sub-Saharan African population with a generalized HIV epidemic, and investigated associations with HIV acquisition risk and uptake of HIV services using data from a cross-sectional survey of 13,252 adults. PD was measured using the Shona Symptom Questionnaire. Logistic regression was used to measure associations between PD and hypothesized covariates. The prevalence of PD was 4.5% (95% CI 3.9-5.1%) among men, and 12.9% (95% CI 12.2-13.6%) among women. PD was associated with sexual risk behaviours for HIV infection and HIV-infected individuals were more likely to suffer from PD. Amongst those initiated on anti-retroviral therapy, individuals with PD were less likely to adhere to treatment (91 vs. 96%; age- and site-type-adjusted odds ratio = 0.38; 95% CI 0.15, 0.99). Integrated HIV and mental health services may enhance HIV care and treatment outcomes in high HIV-prevalence populations in sub-Saharan Africa.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: Psychological distress can lead to increased use of alcohol and drugs, sexual risk behaviour, and hence increased risk of HIV acquisition. In rural Manicaland, the fifth survey round of an open population cohort measured psychological distress for the first time in 2009-2011, following the Zimbabwe hyperinflation crisis of 2008-2009.

Psychological distress was highly prevalent, especially among women, as was HIV infection. Overall, HIV prevalence was 12.7% in men and 18.3% in women. Psychological distress and HIV were also clearly associated. Among people with psychological distress HIV prevalence was 18.8% for men and 27.2% for women, compared to 12.4% and 17.1% for men and women respectively without psychological distress.

People living with HIV (identified by anonymous testing) who had psychological distress were more likely to have had an HIV test than people without psychological distress, although this could be reversed to mean that people with HIV who knew their status were more likely to have psychological distress than people who did not. If diagnosed and on antiretroviral therapy, people with psychological distress also had poorer adherence, supporting findings of other studies.

A main challenge to interpreting these results is a lack of information on poverty and how it may have impacted both psychological distress and risk of HIV acquisition. Only one survey round used the Shona Symptom Questionnaire so the study is essentially a cross-sectional survey. Women with psychological distress were more likely to have transactional sex, engage in sex work and not use condoms, but it is not clear that these behaviours were consequences of psychological distress. Instead, both the behaviours and the distress could have been caused by poverty constraints and lack of options. The only economic variables measured were time of year (as a proxy for food availability) and employment status (employed/unemployed). Being employed was associated with lower risk of psychological distress for women, but had no effect for men.

Africa
Zimbabwe
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Mixed methods in biomedical intervention trials yield rich data – the VOICE-D qualitative study

How presentation of drug detection results changed reports of product adherence in South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Musara P, Montgomery ET, Mgodi NM, Woeber K, Akello CA, Hartmann M, Cheng H, Levy L, Katz A, Grossman CI, Chirenje ZM, van der Straten A, Mensch B. AIDS Behav. 2017 Jan 21. doi: 10.1007/s10461-017-1685-x. [Epub ahead of print]

Accurate estimates of study product use are critical to understanding and addressing adherence challenges in HIV prevention trials. The VOICE trial exposed a significant gap between self-reported adherence and drug detection. The VOICE-D qualitative study was designed to better understand non-adherence during VOICE, and was conducted in 2 stages: before (stage 1) and after (stage 2) drug detection results were provided to participants. Transcripts from 44 women who participated in both stages were analysed to understand the effect of presenting drug detection data on narratives of product use. Thirty-six women reported high adherence in stage 1, yet admitted non-use in stage 2, three reported high adherence in both stages (contrary to their drug detection results) and five had consistent responses across both stages and drug results. Presenting objective measures of use may facilitate more accurate product use reporting and should be evaluated in future prevention trials.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: The VOICE trial looked at the effectiveness of PrEP and vaginal microbicides in women in three African countries. One of the findings of the study was low product adherence among some women, based on retrospective drug level testing. In this paper, the authors compare data on product adherence from before and after participants were given plasma drug detection results. The findings are revealing, not least because many of women interviewed explained why they had claimed to be adhering to the drug, when they were not. Women gave many reasons for not being open about taking their medicines/use of the microbicide. It is interesting that a few women continued to say that they were good adherers, even when presented with drug plasma data, which suggested otherwise. This, the authors note, requires further investigation. 

The findings provide valuable evidence of the shortcomings of collecting self-reported adherence data. The use of biomedical markers to reveal drug plasma levels is important. However, the qualitative research, which documented the discussion around those findings, is both fascinating and extremely useful. Perhaps in future there will be an even greater willingness to fund good qualitative research as a key component of trials?

Africa
South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe
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Xpert® for active TB case finding in high prevalence communities

Effect of new tuberculosis diagnostic technologies on community-based intensified case finding: a multicentre randomised controlled trial.

Calligaro GL, Zijenah LS, Peter JG, Theron G, Buser V, McNerney R, Bara W, Bandason T, Govender U, Tomasicchio M, Smith L, Mayosi BM, Dheda K. Lancet Infect Dis. 2017 Jan 4. pii: S1473-3099(16)30384-X. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(16)30384-X. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Inadequate case detection results in high levels of undiagnosed tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa. Data for the effect of new diagnostic tools when used for community-based intensified case finding are not available, so we investigated whether the use of sputum Xpert®-MTB/RIF and the Determine™ TB LAM urine test in two African communities could be effective.

Methods: In a pragmatic, randomised, parallel-group trial with individual randomisation stratified by country, we compared sputum Xpert®-MTB/RIF, and if HIV-infected, the Determine™ TB LAM urine test (novel diagnostic group), with laboratory-based sputum smear microscopy (routine diagnostic group) for intensified case finding in communities with high tuberculosis and HIV prevalence in Cape Town, South Africa, and Harare, Zimbabwe. Participants were randomly assigned (1:1) to these groups with computer-generated allocation lists, using culture as the reference standard. In Cape Town, participants were randomised and tested at an Xpert®-equipped mobile van, while in Harare, participants were driven to a local clinic where the same diagnostic tests were done. The primary endpoint was the proportion of culture-positive tuberculosis cases initiating tuberculosis treatment in each study group at 60 days. This trial is registered at ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT01990274.

Findings: Between Oct 18, 2013, and March 31, 2015, 2261 individuals were screened and 875 (39%) of these met the criteria for diagnostic testing. 439 participants were randomly assigned to the novel group and 436 to the routine group. 74 (9%) of 875 participants had confirmed tuberculosis. If late culture-based treatment initiation was excluded, more patients with culture-positive tuberculosis were initiated on treatment in the novel group at 60 days (36 [86%] of 42 in the novel group vs 18 [56%] of 32 in the routine group). Thus the difference in the proportion initiating treatment between groups was 29% (95% CI 9-50, p=0.0047) and 53% more patients initiated therapy in the novel diagnostic group than in the routine diagnostic group. One culture-positive patient was treated based only on a positive LAM test.

Interpretation: Compared with traditional tools, Xpert®-MTB/RIF for community-based intensified case finding in HIV and tuberculosis-endemic settings increased the proportion of patients initiating treatment. By contrast, urine LAM testing was not found to be useful for intensive case finding in this setting.

Abstract access   

Editor’s notes: Undiagnosed tuberculosis (TB) is the main source of ongoing transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in the community.  Community-based intensified TB case finding strategies in high prevalence settings aim to reduce the prevalence of undiagnosed tuberculosis (TB) and thereby to reduce TB transmission. This is the first randomised trial to date comparing a point of contact diagnostic tool, Xpert® MTB/RIF, with a traditional tool, smear microscopy, for community-based intensive case-finding in sub-Saharan Africa.

The key finding was that a community-based intensified strategy using Xpert® MTB/RIF reduced time-to-treatment and increased the proportion of culture-positive people started on treatment in the first 60 days (when culture-based treatment initiation was not included).  Additional findings included a reduction in the number of people with TB treated empirically and a 50% increase in 60-day detection rate compared with smear microscopy. However, there was no difference by study arm in the proportion of culture-positive people who were retained on TB treatment at six months, and this was suboptimal (69% versus 71% for routine versus novel). The study also demonstrated that it was feasible to undertake community-based screening by minimally trained health-care workers using Xpert® in a mobile van with a generator or on site within a community-based clinic. 

It is interesting to note that there were major differences between study sites. In multivariable analysis, study site was the strongest risk factor for a shorter time-to-treatment initiation among culture-positive cases (Harare versus Cape Town - adjusted hazard ratio 7.18, 95% confidence interval 3.69 – 13.96) with screening method (novel versus routine diagnostics) found to have an adjusted hazard ratio of 2.32 (95% confidence interval 1.35 – 3.97). This finding likely reflects differences in the clinical management of Xpert®-negative and smear-negative people with presumed TB between study sites. In Harare, almost all people with a negative test result (in either arm) were referred for chest radiography, and probably because of this, a much larger proportion of study participants were started on anti-tuberculosis treatment in Harare compared to Cape Town (49% versus 9%). There was also a major difference in retention on treatment at six months among culture-positive people (81% in Harare versus 59% in Cape Town). These results highlight the importance of context, including heterogeneity in patient characteristics and differences in quality of health-care, access and practices between settings, in interpreting study findings associated with TB case-finding strategies.

Whether implementation of community-based intensive case finding using Xpert® in high-prevalence areas actually translates into reduced community TB transmission or improved clinical outcomes remains to be determined. 

Africa
South Africa, Zimbabwe
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Peer support: not a panacea for poor adherence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

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

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

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

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

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Lies in clinical trials – the truth about data accuracy

Misreporting of product adherence in the MTN-003/VOICE trial for HIV prevention in Africa: participants' explanations for dishonesty.

Montgomery ET, Mensch B, Musara P, Hartmann M, Woeber K, Etima J, van der Straten. AIDS Behav. 2016 Nov 17. [Epub ahead of print]

Consistent over-reporting of product use limits researchers' ability to accurately measure adherence and estimate product efficacy in HIV prevention trials. While lying is a universal characteristic of the human condition, growing evidence of a stark discrepancy between self-reported product use and biologic or pharmacokinetic evidence demands examination of the reasons research participants frequently misrepresent product use in order to mitigate this challenge in future research. This study (VOICE-D) was an ancillary post-trial study of the vaginal and oral interventions to control the epidemic (VOICE) phase IIb trial (MTN 003). It was conducted in three African countries to elicit candid accounts from former VOICE trial participants about why actual product use was lower than reported. In total 171 participants were enrolled between December 2012 and March 2014 in South Africa (n = 47), Uganda (n = 59) and Zimbabwe (n = 65). Data suggested that participants understood the importance of daily product use and honest reporting, yet acknowledged that research participants typically lie. Participants cited multiple reasons for misreporting adherence, including human nature, self-presentation with study staff, fear of repercussions (study termination resulting in loss of benefits and experience of HIV-related stigma), a permissive environment in which it was easy to get away with misreporting, and avoiding inconvenient additional counseling. Some participants also reported mistrust of the staff and reciprocal dishonesty about the study products. Many suggested real-time blood-monitoring during trials would encourage greater fidelity to product use and honesty in reporting. Participants at all sites understood the importance of daily product use and honesty, while also acknowledging widespread misreporting of product use. Narratives of dishonesty may suggest a wider social context of hiding products from partners and distrust about research, influenced by rumors circulating in clinic waiting-rooms and surrounding communities. Prevailing power hierarchies between staff and participants may exacerbate misreporting. Participants recognized and suggested that objective, real-time feedback is needed to encourage honest reporting.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: The authors of this insightful paper set out the reasons women gave in a trial of vaginal and oral programmes for inaccurately reporting their behaviour during the trial.  The authors could conduct this study because biologic/pharmacokinetic data were available which showed evidence of product use. These data were shared with individual women. None of the reasons women gave for not telling the truth is surprising. They lied to avoid additional questioning from research staff.  They feared telling the truth would result in being removed from the trial. They feared beingreprimanded. Overall, not telling the truth about product use helped them save face and time. The findings do highlight the power difference between researchers and researched, something that is hard to avoid in many areas of research. This difference was exacerbated in some circumstances by the (reported) harsh behaviour of staff towards women. The ease with which women could manipulate pill counts or product use checks, by discarding unused product is also not surprising.  The perception by some women that the researchers had lied, because of changes in the trial part way through, is important to note. This highlights the importance of clear information when a trial is explained as it begins. It also points to the importance of continuous explanations and checking participant understanding. It cannot be assumed that there is a shared understanding between researcher and researched. This is something that is easily overlooked as a trial progresses and routine visits are established. The authors highlight the value of objective measures on product use.  They also observe that some participants suggested objective, real-time feedback, during trials.  However, the authors also note that for many women lying about aspects of their lives to partners and family, was a way of managing their lives. It could be that ‘real time feedback’ would act as a deterrent to participation for some in such circumstances.  No system of data collection is perfect.  It is, however, very useful to have a timely reminder that no interview data, however collected, can be assumed to be wholly accurate.    

Africa
South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe
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School-based HIV prevention programmes appear ineffective

School-based interventions for preventing HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy in adolescents.

Mason-Jones AJ, Sinclair D, Mathews C, Kagee A, Hillman A, Lombard C. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Nov 8;11:CD006417.

Background: School-based sexual and reproductive health programmes are widely accepted as an approach to reducing high-risk sexual behaviour among adolescents. Many studies and systematic reviews have concentrated on measuring effects on knowledge or self-reported behaviour rather than biological outcomes, such as pregnancy or prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Objectives: To evaluate the effects of school-based sexual and reproductive health programmes on sexually transmitted infections (such as HIV, herpes simplex virus, and syphilis), and pregnancy among adolescents.

Search methods: We searched MEDLINE, Embase, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) for published peer-reviewed journal articles; and ClinicalTrials.gov and the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform for prospective trials; AIDS Education and Global Information System (AEGIS) and National Library of Medicine (NLM) gateway for conference presentations; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNAIDS, the WHO and the National Health Service (NHS) centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD) websites from 1990 to 7 April 2016. We hand searched the reference lists of all relevant papers.

Selection criteria: We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs), both individually randomized and cluster-randomized, that evaluated school-based programmes aimed at improving the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion, evaluated risk of bias, and extracted data. When appropriate, we obtained summary measures of treatment effect through a random-effects meta-analysis and we reported them using risk ratios (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We assessed the certainty of the evidence using the GRADE approach.

Main results: We included eight cluster-RCTs that enrolled 55,157 participants. Five trials were conducted in sub-Saharan Africa (Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Kenya), one in Latin America (Chile), and two in Europe (England and Scotland). Sexual and reproductive health educational programmes. Six trials evaluated school-based educational interventions. In these trials, the educational programmes evaluated had no demonstrable effect on the prevalence of HIV (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.80 to 1.32, three trials; 14 163 participants; low certainty evidence), or other STIs (herpes simplex virus prevalence: RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.94 to 1.15; three trials, 17 445 participants; moderate certainty evidence; syphilis prevalence: RR 0.81, 95% CI 0.47 to 1.39; one trial, 6977 participants; low certainty evidence). There was also no apparent effect on the number of young women who were pregnant at the end of the trial (RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.16; three trials, 8280 participants; moderate certainty evidence). Material or monetary incentive-based programmes to promote school attendance. Two trials evaluated incentive-based programmes to promote school attendance. In these two trials, the incentives used had no demonstrable effect on HIV prevalence (RR 1.23, 95% CI 0.51 to 2.96; two trials, 3805 participants; low certainty evidence). Compared to controls, the prevalence of herpes simplex virus infection was lower in young women receiving a monthly cash incentive to stay in school (RR 0.30, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.85), but not in young people given free school uniforms (data not pooled, two trials, 7229 participants; very low certainty evidence). One trial evaluated the effects on syphilis and the prevalence was too low to detect or exclude effects confidently (RR 0.41, 95% CI 0.05 to 3.27; one trial, 1291 participants; very low certainty evidence). However, the number of young women who were pregnant at the end of the trial was lower among those who received incentives (RR 0.76, 95% CI 0.58 to 0.99; two trials, 4200 participants; low certainty evidence). Combined educational and incentive-based programmes. The single trial that evaluated free school uniforms also included a trial arm in which participants received both uniforms and a programme of sexual and reproductive education. In this trial arm herpes simplex virus infection was reduced (RR 0.82, 95% CI 0.68 to 0.99; one trial, 5899 participants; low certainty evidence), predominantly in young women, but no effect was detected for HIV or pregnancy (low certainty evidence).

Authors' conclusions: There is a continued need to provide health services to adolescents that include contraceptive choices and condoms and that involve them in the design of services. Schools may be a good place in which to provide these services. There is little evidence that educational curriculum-based programmes alone are effective in improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes for adolescents. Incentive-based interventions that focus on keeping young people in secondary school may reduce adolescent pregnancy but further trials are needed to confirm this.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: School-based HIV prevention programmes are widespread worldwide. These programmes use educational institutions as a venue to reach a population that is entering sexual maturity. Several systematic reviews have found beneficial effects of these programmes on HIV-associated knowledge and behaviours, though a subsequent effect of reduced HIV incidence remains unconfirmed. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, the authors included eight randomized controlled trials from sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and Latin America. Whether using a curriculum- or incentive-based programme, the trials did not provide evidence of an effect of school-based programmes on reducing HIV infection. Nor was there compelling evidence of an effect of these programmes on reducing sexually transmitted infection or pregnancy. This paper highlights the difficulty of translating knowledge and reported behaviors into reductions in HIV infection and other biological outcomes. Further thought is necessary to deliver effective sexual and reproductive health programmes in schools – possibly including incentives, which show some promise but need further evidence on effectiveness. 

Africa, Europe, Latin America
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