Articles tagged as "Europe"

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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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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Community-based HIV testing for MSM: available at an acceptable cost in Europe

Economic evaluation of HIV testing for men who have sex with men in community-based organizations - results from six European cities.

Perelman J, Rosado R, Amri O, Morel S, Rojas Castro D, Chanos S, Cigan B, Lobnik M, Fuertes R, Pichon F, Slaaen Kaye P, Agusti C, Fernandez-Lopez L, Lorente N, Casabona J. AIDS Care. 2016 Dec 27:1-5. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2016.1271392. [Epub ahead of print]

The non-decreasing incidence of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) has motivated the emergence of Community Based Voluntary Counselling and Testing (CBVCT) services specifically addressed to MSM. The CBVCT services are characterized by facilitated access and linkage to care, a staff largely constituted by voluntary peers, and private not-for-profit structures outside the formal health system institutions. Encouraging results have been measured about their effectiveness, but these favourable results may have been obtained at high costs, questioning the opportunity to expand the experience. We performed an economic evaluation of HIV testing for MSM at CBVCT services, and compared them across six European cities. We collected retrospective data for six CBVCT services from six cities (Copenhagen, Paris, Lyon, Athens, Lisbon, and Ljubljana), for the year 2014, on the number of HIV tests and HIV reactive tests, and on all expenditures to perform the testing activities. The total costs of CBVCTs varied from 54 390€ per year (Ljubljana) to 245 803€ per year (Athens). The cost per HIV test varied from to 41€ (Athens) to 113€ (Ljubljana). The cost per HIV reactive test varied from 1966€ (Athens) to 9065€ (Ljubljana). Our results show that the benefits of CBVCT services are obtained at an acceptable cost, in comparison with the literature (values, mostly from the USA, range from 1600$ to 16 985$ per HIV reactive test in clinical and non-clinical settings). This result was transversal to several European cities, highlighting that there is a common CBVCT model, the cost of which is comparable regardless of the epidemiological context and prices. The CBVCT services represent an effective and "worth it" experience, to be continued and expanded in future public health strategies towards HIV.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: Although HIV incidence among some key populations in Europe has declined in recent years, new cases among gay men and other men who have sex with men have steadily increased over the last decade. Among those new cases, over a third are reported late, leading to worse health outcomes for the person, as well as an increased risk of onward transmission. As a result, community-based voluntary counselling and testing has been rolled out in European cities to encouraging results in terms of effectiveness.

In that context, the authors of this paper have carried out an economic evaluation of community-based voluntary counselling and testing programmes in six cities across Europe (Athens, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Lyon, Paris and Ljubljana). They collected total annual costs of running the programmes. They found that the cost per HIV test ranged from €41 in Athens to €113 in Ljubljana and the cost per reactive HIV test ranged from €1966 to €9065 in the same two cities. The authors found that these costs are acceptable compared to those found in the literature.

Oddly, one of the more interesting results found in the article, but not discussed within the text, is the cost per reactive HIV test link to care. This varied in absolute terms (€2297- €20 215) likely due to different linkages to care rates, from 100% in Copenhagen to under 40% in Paris. Given the ultimate aims of testing (which ought to be to improve health outcomes and reduce onward transmission) this is a more important figure than the cost per test. Further research therefore should explore the unit costs further down the treatment cascade resulting from these programmes. These would be, for example, cost per person on treatment and cost per person with a suppressed viral load. 

Europe
Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Slovenia
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Improving ART adherence: what works?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract access  

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

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

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

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Dolutegravir in the real world – more intolerance than first thought?

Intolerance of dolutegravir-containing combination antiretroviral therapy regimens in real-life clinical practice.

de Boer MG, van den Berk GE, van Holten N, Oryszcyn JE, Dorama W, Moha DA, Brinkman K. AIDS. 2016 Nov 28;30(18):2831-2834.

Objective: Dolutegravir (DGV) is one of the preferred antiretroviral agents in first-line combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). Though considered to be a well tolerated drug, we aimed to determine the actual rate, timing and detailed motivation of stopping DGV in a real-life clinical setting.

Design: A cohort study including all patients who started DGV in two HIV treatment centers in The Netherlands.

Methods: All cART-naive and cART-experienced patients who had started DGV were identified from the institutional HIV databases. Clinical data, including motivation and timing of discontinuation of DGV, were extracted from the patient files. Factors that potentially influenced discontinuation of DGV were compared between patients who stopped or continued DGV by multivariate and Kaplan-Meier analyses.

Results: In total, 556 patients were included, of whom 102 (18.4%) were cART-naive at initiation of DGV. Median follow-up time was 225 days. Overall, in 85 patients (15.3%), DGV was stopped. In 76 patients (13.7%), this was due to intolerability. Insomnia and sleep disturbance (5.6%), gastrointestinal complaints (4.3%) and neuropsychiatric symptoms such as anxiety, psychosis and depression (4.3%) were the predominant reasons for switching DGV. In regimens that included abacavir, DGV was switched more frequently (adjusted relative risk 1.92, 95% confidence interval 1.09-3.38, P log-rank 0.01). No virologic failures were observed.

Conclusion: A relatively high rate of preliminary discontinuation of DGV due to intolerability was detected in our patient population. In particular, DGV was stopped more frequently if the regimen included abacavir. Multiple factors may explain these unexpected postmarketing observations, which warrant further investigation.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: The integrase inhibitor dolutegravir has been billed as a very important milestone in the treatment of HIV. Randomized controlled trials reported that not only was it a highly effective antiviral agent, but it also had a high barrier to resistance. Trial data also suggested an excellent safety profile. Trial participants experienced fewer side effects with dolutegravir use compared to many other drugs. For these reasons, dolutegravir is recommended as one of the preferred options for first-line treatment in European and United States treatment guidelines. In addition, it is increasingly becoming a key component in global efforts to expand access to HIV-positive people in low-income countries.

However, with increased use of dolutegravir beyond clinical trials, evidence is growing to suggest that the incidence of side effects is greater than trial data would predict. This study describes the two-year experience of a cohort spanning two medical centres in the Netherlands. It explores the rate and cause of discontinuation of dolutegravir-containing regimes in both antiretroviral therapy naïve and experienced individuals. Of 556 receiving a dolutegravir-containing regimen, just over 15% stopped its use over two years. Adverse effects were cited as the cause in a sizeable 13%. These rates of discontinuation are over five times higher than was reported from clinical trials. The predominant side effects were sleep disturbance and insomnia. Other reactions included gastrointestinal disturbances, anxiety, depression and general malaise. In terms of factors associated with increased risk of discontinuation, only the concomitant use of abacavir was identified.

These results do not detract from the importance of dolutegravir as an antiretroviral agent. Indeed, it is reassuring that in this cohort no virologic failure occurred as result of its discontinuation. The results instead highlight the need for caution concerning recommendations for dolutegravir as a universal first line agent until further data are accrued from real-world experience.

Europe
Netherlands
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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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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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Improving programmes: a thematic synthesis of qualitative studies of treatment adherence programmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

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

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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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