Articles tagged as "Latin America"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

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

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High mortality persists among people presenting with advanced HIV disease

Mortality in the first 3 months on antiretroviral therapy among HIV-positive adults in low- and middle-income countries: a meta-analysis.

Brennan AT, Long L, Useem J, Garrison L, Fox MP. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2016 Sep 1;73(1):1-10. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001112.

Previous meta-analyses reported mortality estimates of 12-month post-antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation; however, 40%-60% of deaths occur in the first 3 months on ART, a more sensitive measure of averted deaths through early ART initiation. To determine whether early mortality is dropping as treatment thresholds have increased, we reviewed studies of 3 months on ART initiation in low- to middle-income countries. Studies of 3-month mortality from January 2003 to April 2016 were searched in 5 databases. Articles were included that reported 3-month mortality from a low- to middle-income country; nontrial setting and participants were ≥15. We assessed overall mortality and stratified by year using random effects models. Among 58 included studies, although not significant, pooled estimates show a decline in mortality when comparing studies whose enrollment of patients ended before 2010 (7.0%; 95% CI: 6.0 to 8.0) with the studies during or after 2010 (4.0%; 95% CI: 3.0 to 5.0). To continue to reduce early HIV-related mortality at the population level, intensified efforts to increase demand for ART through active testing and facilitated referral should be a priority. Continued financial investments by multinational partners and the implementation of creative interventions to mitigate multidimensional complex barriers of accessing care and treatment for HIV are needed.

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Editor’s notes: Early mortality among people initiating antiretroviral therapy (ART) remains high, presumed to be because many people living with HIV present when already very sick with advanced HIV disease. This systematic review included 43 studies from Africa and 13 from Asia. Its main aim was to see whether the evolution of guidelines recommending ART initiation at progressively higher CD4 counts over this period had reduced early mortality (defined as death within three months of ART start) and, by implication, the proportion of people starting ART who had advanced disease. To investigate this, the authors compared studies where enrolment ended before 2010 with studies that had started later.

Overall early mortality was six percent.  Because of the large numbers lost to follow up this will be an underestimate. The authors attempted to compensate for this, and calculated an adjusted overall figure of more than 10%. There was a fall in early mortality from seven percent to four percent (unadjusted) between the early and late periods but although the trend was consistent the difference was not significant.

In only four of the 58 studies was the median CD4 count at ART initiation above 200x106/l. It seems likely that even when policies to initiate ART at high CD4 counts are adopted, additional efforts will be necessary to promote initiation of ART and retention in care for people who feel well.  This is in order to reduce the number of people starting ART with advanced disease and consequently at very high risk of early death.   

Africa, Asia, Latin America
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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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Poor virologic outcomes persist among children on ART

Suboptimal viral suppression rates among HIV-infected children in low- and middle-income countries: a meta-analysis.

Boerma RS, Boender TS, Bussink AP, Calis JC, Bertagnolio S, Rinke de Wit TF, Boele van Hensbroek M, Sigaloff KC. Clin Infect Dis. 2016 Sep 22. pii: ciw645. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: The 90-90-90 goals aim to achieve viral suppression in 90% of all HIV-infected people on antiretroviral treatment (ART), which is especially challenging in children. Global estimates of viral suppression among children in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) are lacking. This study summarizes viral suppression rates in children on first-line ART in LMIC since the year 2000.

Methods: We searched for randomized controlled trials and observational studies and analyzed viral suppression rates among children started on ART during three time periods, based on major World Health Organization (WHO) guideline changes: early (2000-2005), intermediate (2006-2009), and current (2010 and later), using random effects meta-analysis.

Results: Seventy-two studies, reporting on 51,347 children and adolescents (<18 years), were included. After 12 months on first-line ART, viral suppression was achieved by 64.7% (95%CI 57.5-71.8) in the early, 74.2% (95%CI 70.2-78.2) in the intermediate, and 72.7% (95% 62.6-82.8) in the current time period. Rates were similar after 6 and 24 months of ART. Using an intention-to-treat analysis, 42.7% (95%CI 33.7-51.7) in the early, 45.7% (95%CI 33.2-58.3) in the intermediate, and 62.5% (95%CI 53.3-72.6) in the current period were suppressed. Long-term follow-up data were scarce.

Conclusion: Viral suppression rates among children on ART in LMIC were low and were considerably poorer than those previously found in adults in LMIC and children in high-income countries. Little progress has been made in improving viral suppression rates over the past years. Without increased efforts to improve pediatric HIV treatment, the 90-90-90 targets for children in LMIC will not be reached.

Abstract access  

Editor’s notes: The authors have undertaken one of the largest meta-analyses to date of viral suppression rates among children and adolescents on first-line ART in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). The same research group had previously conducted a meta-analysis among adults in LMIC using the same methodology. In this study, they found that viral suppression rates in children in LMIC are well below those previously found in adults in LMIC. The authors had planned to analyse viral suppression rates up to five years after initiation of first-line ART but found very few data on virologic outcomes after more than two years of follow-up. 

The paucity of data on long-term outcomes in children highlights that children have been left behind compared to adults with respect to effective ART delivery. Systems to improve retention in care and adherence to treatment for children are urgently needed. 

HIV Treatment
Africa, Asia, Latin America
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The limits of HIV disclosure for women in 27 countries

The association between HIV disclosure status and perceived barriers to care faced by women living with HIV in Latin America, China, central/eastern Europe, and western Europe/Canada.

Loutfy M, Johnson M, Walmsley S, Samarina A, Vasquez P, Hao-Lan H, Madihlaba T, Martinez-Tristani M, van Wyk J. AIDS Patient Care STDS. 2016 Sep;30(9):435-44. doi: 10.1089/apc.2016.0049. Epub 2016 Aug 23.

Generally, women are less likely than men to disclose their HIV status. This analysis examined the relationship between HIV disclosure and (1) perceived barriers to care and (2) quality of life (QoL) for women with HIV. The ELLA (EpidemioLogical study to investigate the popuLation and disease characteristics, barriers to care, and quAlity of life for women living with HIV) study enrolled HIV-positive women aged ≥18 years. Women completed the 12-item Barriers to Care Scale (BACS) questionnaire. QoL was assessed using the Health Status Assessment. BACS and QoL were stratified by dichotomized HIV disclosure status (to anyone outside the healthcare system). Multilevel logistic regression analysis was used to identify factors associated with disclosure. Of 1945 patients enrolled from Latin America, China, central/eastern Europe, and western Europe/Canada between July 2012 and September 2013, 1929 were included in the analysis (disclosed, n = 1724; nondisclosed, n = 205). Overall, 55% of patients lived with a husband/partner, 53% were employed, and 88% were receiving antiretroviral therapy. Patients who were with a serodiscordant partner were more likely to disclose (p = 0.0003). China had a disproportionately higher percentage of participants who did not disclose at all (nearly 30% vs. <15% for other regions). Mean BACS severity scores for medical/psychological service barriers and most personal resource barriers were significantly lower for the disclosed group compared with the nondisclosed group (p ≤ 0.02 for all). Compared with the disclosed group, the nondisclosed group reported statistically significantly higher (p ≤ 0.03) BACS item severity scores for 8 of the 12 potential barriers to care. The disclosed group reported better QoL. Overall, HIV nondisclosure was associated with more severe barriers to accessing healthcare by women with HIV.

Abstract Full-text [free] access

Editor’s notes: This study drew women participants from Latin America, China, central and eastern Europe and from western Europe and Canada.  China was the only Asian country included and no African countries were included. This is important background information since the first sentence of the abstract ‘women are less likely than men to disclose HIV status’ is less likely to be true for, for example, parts of Africa. The study did not include men. So, no comparison can therefore be made with men’s disclosure behaviour. Nevertheless, the paper draws on data from 27 countries. Most women in the study did have access to ‘efficacious, well-tolerated’ antiretroviral therapy. A number of women, most notably in China, did not disclose their HIV status outside the health care system. Many women disclosed their status to a limited extent (only to some family and close friends). Non-disclosure affected access to health care as well as more general support. This pattern of non- or limited disclosure and barriers to access to care is replicated in many other places. The findings in this paper point to the importance globally of tackling stigma and providing a supportive health care and social setting for people living with HIV, so they can benefit fully from the treatment and care that is available.

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Access improved to HIV testing through peer administered oral fluid HIV tests in key populations in Brazil

Point-of-care HIV tests done by peers, Brazil.

Pascom AR, Dutra de Barros CH, Lobo TD, Pasini EN, Comparini RA, Caldas de Mesquita F. Bull World Health Organ. 2016 Aug 1; 94(8): 626–630.

Problem: Early diagnosis of infections with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is needed - especially among key populations such as sex workers, transgender people, men who have sex with men and people who use drugs.

Approach: The Brazilian Ministry of Health developed a strategy called Viva Melhor Sabendo ("live better knowing") to increase HIV testing among key populations. In partnership with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), a peer point-of-care testing intervention, using an oral fluid rapid test, was introduced at social venues for key populations at different times of the day.

Local setting: Key populations in Brazil can have 40 times higher HIV prevalence than the general population (14.8% versus 0.4%).

Relevant changes: Legislation was reinterpreted, so that oral fluid rapid tests could be administered by any person trained in rapid testing by the health ministry. Between January 2014 and March 2015, 29 723 oral fluid tests were administered; 791 (2.7%) were positive. Among the key populations, transgender people had the greatest proportion of positive results (10.7%; 172/1612), followed by men who declared themselves as commercial sex workers (8.7%; 165/1889) and men who have sex with men (4.8%; 292/6055).

Lessons learnt: The strategy improved access to HIV testing. Testing done by peers at times and locations suitable for key populations increased acceptance of testing. Working with relevant NGOs is a useful approach when reaching out to these key populations.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Brazil was a pioneer in provision of universal access to ART, adopting universal treatment for all people living with HIV in 2013. The HIV epidemic in Brazil is largely concentrated in key populations, where early treatment is less likely to be initiated than in the general population. In this report, the authors describe the results of a new strategy to allow trained peers from 53 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to conduct rapid HIV screening tests using oral fluid tests, and refer clients with positive results for treatment. Key features were the full ownership of the testing implementation by the NGOs, extension of testing to social venues, and the matching of testers and clients by demographic characteristics. About half of the clients (53%) were first-time testers, providing clear evidence of the success of this new strategy. Future work should describe how individual NGOs revised their strategy over time, which NGOs were more successful in reaching key populations, and which NGOs were more successful in referring clients with positive results for test confirmation and treatment.

Latin America
Brazil
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Challenges in assessing quality in HIV outpatient care

Structure and quality of outpatient care for people living with an HIV infection.

Engelhard EA, Smit C, Nieuwkerk PT, Reiss P, Kroon FP, Brinkman K, Geerlings SE. AIDS Care. 2016 Aug;28(8):1062-72. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2016.1153590. Epub 2016 Mar 13.

Policy-makers and clinicians are faced with a gap of evidence to guide policy on standards for HIV outpatient care. Ongoing debates include which settings of care improve health outcomes, and how many HIV-infected patients a health-care provider should treat to gain and maintain expertise. In this article, we evaluate the studies that link health-care facility and care provider characteristics (i.e., structural factors) to health outcomes in HIV-infected patients. We searched the electronic databases MEDLINE, PUBMED, and EMBASE from inception until 1 January 2015. We included a total of 28 observational studies that were conducted after the introduction of combination antiretroviral therapy in 1996. Three aspects of the available research linking the structure to quality of HIV outpatient care were evaluated: (1) assessed structural characteristics (i.e., health-care facility and care provider characteristics); (2) measures of quality of HIV outpatient care; and (3) reported associations between structural characteristics and quality of care. Rather than scarcity of data, it is the diversity in methodology in the identified studies and the inconsistency of their results that led us to the conclusion that the scientific evidence is too weak to guide policy in HIV outpatient care. We provide recommendations on how to address this heterogeneity in future studies and offer specific suggestions for further reading that could be of interest for clinicians and researchers.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: The availability of antiretroviral therapy has resulted in remarkable decreases in HIV-associated mortality.  Complexity in the management of HIV infection has however grown along with these advances in treatment. Health-care providers are confronted with challenges associated with antiretroviral therapy including toxicities; drug-drug interactions and drug resistance; and comorbidities and aging among the population living with HIV. In order to achieve optimal health outcomes, care for people living with HIV should be provided at health-care facilities and by care providers with sufficient expertise. A variety of different delivery models have been attempted to achieve this. There are a growing number of studies assessing care delivery models and programmes in outpatient HIV care.  In this article the authors provide an overview of the scientific literature linking health-care facility and care provider characteristics to the quality of HIV outpatient care.

The authors conducted a systematic review of articles that reported an original observational research study with an adult population living with HIV, were conducted after 1996, and that did not focus exclusively on interventions.

The authors acknowledge the limitations of their research. These included a disproportionate number of studies based in the USA and sub-Saharan Africa (thus limited generalisability); diversity in the definition of structural variables; a wide scope of measures of quality of care used in studies; and limited inclusion of peoples’ healthcare experiences. The authors summarise two main implications of their research.  First, they note that their findings suggest that health-care provider experience improves outcomes among people living with HIV although they are unable to make recommendations regarding facility volume requirements for outpatient care. Second, they advocate for the need for research to extend to regions outside the USA and sub-Saharan Africa.  They also note the need for researchers to align their methods of measuring quality including by going beyond HIV-associated morbidity in the evaluation of health outcomes.  Peoples’ preferences and retention in care should also play an important role in the evaluation of the quality of care.

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Antiretroviral therapy dramatically reduces transmission of HIV to sexual partners

Antiretroviral therapy for the prevention of HIV-1 transmission.

Cohen MS, Chen YQ, McCauley M, Gamble T, Hosseinipour MC, Kumarasamy N, Hakim JG, Kumwenda J, Grinsztejn B, Pilotto JH, Godbole SV, Chariyalertsak S, Santos BR, Mayer KH, Hoffman IF, Eshleman SH, Piwowar-Manning E, Cottle L, Zhang XC, Makhema J, Mills LA, Panchia R, Faesen S, Eron J, Gallant J, Havlir D, Swindells S, Elharrar V, Burns D, Taha TE, Nielsen-Saines K, Celentano DD, Essex M, Hudelson SE, Redd AD, Fleming TR. N Engl J Med. 2016 Jul 18. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: An interim analysis of data from the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 052 trial showed that antiretroviral therapy (ART) prevented more than 96% of genetically linked infections caused by human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) in serodiscordant couples. ART was then offered to all patients with HIV-1 infection (index participants). The study included more than 5 years of follow-up to assess the durability of such therapy for the prevention of HIV-1 transmission.

Methods: We randomly assigned 1763 index participants to receive either early or delayed ART. In the early-ART group, 886 participants started therapy at enrollment (CD4+ count, 350 to 550 cells per cubic millimeter). In the delayed-ART group, 877 participants started therapy after two consecutive CD4+ counts fell below 250 cells per cubic millimeter or if an illness indicative of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (i.e., an AIDS-defining illness) developed. The primary study end point was the diagnosis of genetically linked HIV-1 infection in the previously HIV-1-negative partner in an intention-to-treat analysis.

Results: Index participants were followed for 10,031 person-years; partners were followed for 8509 person-years. Among partners, 78 HIV-1 infections were observed during the trial (annual incidence, 0.9%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.7 to 1.1). Viral-linkage status was determined for 72 (92%) of the partner infections. Of these infections, 46 were linked (3 in the early-ART group and 43 in the delayed-ART group; incidence, 0.5%; 95% CI, 0.4 to 0.7) and 26 were unlinked (14 in the early-ART group and 12 in the delayed-ART group; incidence, 0.3%; 95% CI, 0.2 to 0.4). Early ART was associated with a 93% lower risk of linked partner infection than was delayed ART (hazard ratio, 0.07; 95% CI, 0.02 to 0.22). No linked infections were observed when HIV-1 infection was stably suppressed by ART in the index participant.

Conclusions: The early initiation of ART led to a sustained decrease in genetically linked HIV-1 infections in sexual partners. (Funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; HPTN 052 ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00074581.).

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: The HPTN 052 trial has been a landmark study in establishing antiretroviral therapy as a strategy for preventing onward transmission of HIV. It was a study of more than 800 couples. More than half of the couples were in African countries. In each couple, one sexual partner was HIV positive and the other HIV negative.  The participants living with HIV were randomised either to receive immediate antiretroviral therapy or to delay until their CD4 count fell to 350, an approved approach at that time. The HIV negative partners were then monitored for acquisition of HIV.  When new HIV infections occurred, the virus was studied for genetic similarity to the virus of the known positive partner. The interim analysis was published in 2011.  It illustrated the programme to be so effective that the randomisation was ended and all the participants living with HIV were offered antiretroviral therapy. 

This article presents data after five years of follow-up, and if anything the results are even more remarkable. In more than 10 000 person-years of follow up, there were only eight transmissions of genetically linked virus from participants receiving antiretroviral therapy. Of these transmissions, four occurred early in treatment when the viral load would not be expected to be suppressed.  The other four occurred after treatment failure. In this enormous study, there were therefore no linked transmissions from participants who were stable on treatment without detectable viraemia. The study provides powerful support for the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target.  The widest possible effective use of antiretroviral therapy will not only improve the health of people treated but could have a dramatic effect on new HIV infections.

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

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

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

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

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

Design: Open, randomised, non-inferiority trial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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