Articles tagged as "Key populations"

Most HIV transmission occurs within households or within communities, even among highly mobile fishing communities around Lake Victoria

Editor’s notes: It is well recognized that the fishing communities around Lake Victoria have high HIV prevalence.  Fishermen move around to find the best yield and women who buy and sell fish often meet the boats at different fishing villages and may also trade sex for the best fish to maximize their business. It is therefore, perhaps, surprising that Kiwuwa-Muyingo and colleagues’ study of the phylogenetics of HIV in five distinct fishing communities in Uganda shows that 83% of the transmission events occur in the context of either household or the local community.  Transmission between the communities was less common than expected.  On the other hand, many isolates of HIV could not be linked to another isolate in the study, suggesting that they had been imported into the region, or that their transmission cluster had not been sampled.  A major challenge for molecular epidemiology studies is that limited coverage of the sampling means that unique isolates might have become linked isolates if the sampling had included more of the population.  The authors of this study estimate that they included approximately 44% of all HIV positive individuals in this study cohort, which is similar or better than many phylogenetic studies, but still leaves a lot of room for misclassification biases. A strength of the study was that the authors also included HIV isolates from individuals who had been HIV-negative and followed up over an 18-month period.  Among the 34 transmission clusters, 11 included at least one incident case.  Although the numbers become too small to be confident, they found that in 36% (4) of these 11 clusters, transmission was likely from one incident case to another incident case.  This is an important observation as it highlights the ongoing spread of HIV from recent infection. Transmission of this sort is harder to prevent through the scale up of treatment as it would require people to be tested very regularly, to start treatment before their partner was infected too.  Another interesting observation, again based on limited numbers, is that HIV subtype C was more likely to be involved in transmission clusters than subtype A, which in turn was more commonly in clusters than subtype D.  Subtype C is not so common and presumably imported into these communities, whereas subtypes A and D are the most common subtypes.  We are still in the early days of phylogenetics among African isolates of HIV and many studies have significant limitations, so interpretation needs to be cautious.  Nonetheless, these techniques will increasingly shed light on the complex and sometimes unexpected interactions between individuals, communities, occupations, migration and HIV subtypes.  These insights should help us to focus our HIV prevention and treatment efforts to maximize their impact in the future. 

HIV-1 transmission networks in high risk fishing communities on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda: A phylogenetic and epidemiological approach.

Kiwuwa-Muyingo S, Nazziwa J, Ssemwanga D, Ilmonen P, Njai H, Ndembi N, Parry C, Kitandwe PK, Gershim A, Mpendo J, Neilsen L, Seeley J, Seppälä H, Lyagoba F, Kamali A, Kaleebu P. PLoS One. 2017 Oct 12;12(10):e0185818. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0185818. eCollection 2017.

Background: Fishing communities around Lake Victoria in sub-Saharan Africa have been characterised as a population at high risk of HIV-infection.

Methods: Using data from a cohort of HIV-positive individuals aged 13-49 years, enrolled from 5 fishing communities on Lake Victoria between 2009-2011, we sought to identify factors contributing to the epidemic and to understand the underlying structure of HIV transmission networks. Clinical and socio-demographic data were combined with HIV-1 phylogenetic analyses. HIV-1 gag-p24 and env-gp-41 sub-genomic fragments were amplified and sequenced from 283 HIV-1-infected participants. Phylogenetic clusters with ≥2 highly related sequences were defined as transmission clusters. Logistic regression models were used to determine factors associated with clustering.

Results: Altogether, 24% (n = 67/283) of HIV positive individuals with sequences fell within 34 phylogenetically distinct clusters in at least one gene region (either gag or env). Of these, 83% occurred either within households or within community; 8/34 (24%) occurred within household partnerships, and 20/34 (59%) within community. 7/12 couples (58%) within households clustered together. Individuals in clusters with potential recent transmission (11/34) were more likely to be younger 71% (15/21) versus 46% (21/46) in un-clustered individuals and had recently become resident in the community 67% (14/21) vs 48% (22/46). Four of 11 (36%) potential transmission clusters included incident-incident transmissions. Independently, clustering was less likely in HIV subtype D (adjusted Odds Ratio, aOR = 0.51 [95% CI 0.26-1.00]) than A and more likely in those living with an HIV-infected individual in the household (aOR = 6.30 [95% CI 3.40-11.68]).

Conclusions: A large proportion of HIV sexual transmissions occur within house-holds and within communities even in this key mobile population. The findings suggest localized HIV transmissions and hence a potential benefit for the test and treat approach even at a community level, coupled with intensified HIV counselling to identify early infections.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

Africa
Uganda
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Efforts to understand commercial and transactional sex – involve the community and use both quantitative and qualitative methods

Editor’s notes: As the overall number of new HIV infections falls, it is likely that an increasingly large proportion of infections will occur in key populations and among those left behind by HIV services.  In order to plan, deliver, monitor and evaluate services for specific populations, we need to develop the best estimates possible of the number of people in each population.  Sharifi and colleagues provide an excellent introduction to some of the methods that have been tried to estimate population size of key populations.  Each of the three methods that the authors used to estimate the number of female sex-workers living in urban areas of Iran has strengths and weaknesses.  Used together the methods may allow some triangulation of estimates.  The authors found that the ‘wisdom of the crowds’, in which sex-workers are asked to provide their own best estimates tended to give the highest figures.  The possibility is that where sex work is highly stigmatized and criminalized (as it is in Iran) women may tend to subconsciously exaggerate the numbers in order to normalize their position in society.  Multiplier methods which use “capture-recapture” approaches gave the lowest estimates, which may be due to the same sample of women being seen in both the two approaches used to estimate numbers.  For instance, if some women are more reluctant to be identified, they may be missed both in the distribution of “tags” or gifts and then again in the “re-capture” survey.  The total estimate is then calculated by multiplying the inverse of the proportion of how many women in the survey had received the “tags”.  So, this may produce an underestimate if the same women are missed in both rounds of the research.  Finally, the network methods are used during national surveys and ask respondents to identify how many of their network are sex workers.  Supposedly this avoids the stigma of identifying oneself as a sex worker to the interviewer.  The authors best estimate is that there are more than 200 000 female sex workers in urban settings in Iran, which is considerably higher than the previous estimates.  However, the paper’s key strength is the discussion of the different approaches and how we can improve our understanding of this valuable metric.

The Iranian researchers used a standard definition of sex work, based on having exchanged sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) for money, goods, or favours with at least one male partner in the past 12 months.  However, it is clear that this definition overlaps with many sexual relationships that neither partner would classify as sex work.  Raganathan and colleagues present a fascinating qualitative study of transactional sex and sexual agency among young women in rural South Africa.  Of course, it is not surprising that sex is embedded within a complex framework of romantic relationships that are modified by the degree to which young women values herself and her own agency.  Financial independence is a key to safer relationships, but gifts and money also enhance the status of young women and indicate commitment from their male partner.  It is one thing to count and label sexual transactions, but it is another to understand them and work with young people to enhance their ability to avoid HIV infection.

 

Population size estimation of female sex workers in Iran: synthesis of methods and results

Sharifi H, Karamouzian M, Baneshi MR, Shokoohi M, Haghdoost A, McFarland W, Mirzazadeh A. PLoS One. 2017 Aug 10;12(8):e0182755. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182755. eCollection 2017.

Introduction: Estimating the number of key populations at risk of HIV is essential for planning, monitoring, and evaluating prevention, care, and treatment programmes. We conducted this study to estimate the number of female sex workers (FSW) in major cities of Iran.

Methods: We used three population size estimation methods (i.e., wisdom of the crowds, multiplier method, and network scale-up) to calculate the number of FSW in 13 cities in Iran. The wisdom of the crowds and multiplier methods were integrated into a nationwide bio-behavioural surveillance survey in 2015, and the network scale-up method was included in a national survey of the general population in 2014. The median of the three methods was used to calculate the proportion of the adult female population who practice sex work in the 13 cities. These figures were then extrapolated to provide a national population size estimation of FSW across urban areas.

Results: The population size of FSW was 91 500 (95% Uncertainty Intervals [UIs] 61 400-117 700), corresponding to 1.43% (95% UIs 0.96-1.84) of the adult (i.e., 15-49 years-old) female population living in these 13 cities. The projected numbers of FSW for all 31 provincial capital cities were 130 800 (95% UIs 87 800-168 200) and 228 700 (95% UIs 153 500-294 300) for all urban settings in Iran.

Conclusions: Using methods of comparable rigor, our study provided a data-driven national estimate of the population size of FSW in urban areas of Iran. Our findings provide vital information for enhancing HIV programme planning and lay a foundation for assessing the impact of harm reduction efforts within this marginalized population.

Abstract Full-text [free] access

Young women's perceptions of transactional sex and sexual agency: a qualitative study in the context of rural South Africa

Ranganathan M, MacPhail C, Pettifor A, Kahn K, Khoza N, Twine R, Watts C, Heise L.BMC Public Health. 2017 Aug 22;17(1):666. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4636-6

Background: Evidence shows that HIV prevalence among young women in sub-Saharan Africa increases almost five-fold between ages 15 and 24, with almost a quarter of young women infected by their early-to mid-20s. Transactional sex or material exchange for sex is a relationship dynamic that has been shown to have an association with HIV infection.

Methods: Using five focus group discussions and 19 in-depth interviews with young women enrolled in the HPTN 068 conditional cash transfer trial (2011-2015), this qualitative study explores young women's perceptions of transactional sex within the structural and cultural context of rural South Africa. The analysis also considers the degree to which young women perceive themselves as active agents in such relationships and whether they recognise a link between transactional sex and HIV risk.

Results: Young women believe that securing their own financial resources will ultimately improve their bargaining position in their sexual relationships, and open doors to a more financially independent future. Findings suggest there is a nuanced relationship between sex, love and gifts: money has symbolic meaning, and money transfers, when framed as gifts, indicates a young woman's value and commitment from the man. This illustrates the complexity of transactional sex; the way it is positioned in the HIV literature ignores that "exchanges" serve as fulcrums around which romantic relationships are organised. Finally, young women express agency in their choice of partner, but their agency weakens once they are in a relationship characterised by exchange, which may undermine their ability to translate perceived agency into STI and HIV risk reduction efforts.

Conclusions: This research underscores the need to recognise that transactional sex is embedded in adolescent romantic relationships, but that certain aspects make young women particularly vulnerable to HIV. This is especially true in situations of restricted choice and circumscribed employment opportunities. HIV prevention educational programmes could be coupled with income generation trainings, in order to leverage youth resilience and protective skills within the confines of difficult economic and social circumstances. This would provide young women with the knowledge and means to more successfully navigate safer sexual relationships.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Africa, Asia
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Some key considerations for surveys of key populations

Editor’s notes: A key challenge for epidemiological research involving key populations is to find a representative sample.  Whereas national surveys such as demographic health surveys (DHS) and PHIA can use the total population to create a sampling frame from which to draw individuals at random, researchers interested in key populations have to use a range of methods, all of which have limitations as well as strengths.  Internet and app-based surveys may accrue large numbers, but may have significant biases in terms of who chooses to answer such questionnaires.  Venue-based sampling allows data to be collected from people who happen to be at the venue at the same time as the researchers.  Respondent driven sampling has become increasingly popular as a method to reach individuals that might otherwise be hard to include in studies.  Increasingly sophisticated statistical methods have been developed to adjust estimates, and in particular their precision, according to characteristics of respondents found in the sample.

This month we have three respondent driven studies that highlight different methodological aspects as well as shedding light on key populations in Africa and Asia.  Hladik et al. conducted a major survey of female sex workers in Kampala, Uganda.  Unfortunately, it has taken some time for this study to be published, as the original questionnaires were completed in 2008/9 and it is plausible that many aspects of sex work have been changing over the past decade.  Nonetheless, the authors succeeded in enrolling almost 1000 female sex workers from the capital city using a respondent driven sampling approach.  The authors paid close attention to methods that could maximize the validity of the data they collected as well as ensuring that participants were protected.  Formative research laid out acceptable incentives to participate, as well as approaches to discuss sensitive or taboo areas and to ensure that all the women understood what was being asked in particular questions.  Finger scanners were used to generate unique identification numbers, so that women could be tracked during the study, and these files were subsequently deleted.  This approach was widely accepted, as it has been in many programmes offering services that benefit from a linked identifier.  However, any approach that creates identifiers for populations that are often discriminated or legislated against needs to be examined critically to ensure that any risks to participants are well understood, particularly for research that is not going to bring any direct benefits to the individual participants.  Although the study’s findings are not particularly surprising, they remind us that sex workers in Kampala need to remain a vital part of the HIV response.  Not only are they affected by a high prevalence of 33%, rising to 44% among those over 25 years old, but they are also subject to horribly high rates of violence including both rape and beating in up to one third of the women in the one month prior to the interview.  The study highlights particular factors that might help identify women in most need of HIV and other services.  Women with less education, who rely entirely on sex work for their income and who have never tested for HIV are all more likely to be HIV positive.

In nearby Malawi, Wirtz et al. point out that many respondent driven samples of key populations, such as that from Hladik et al., are only able to collect data from one particular city or region, and that this can lead to misinterpretation if the results are generalized to whole countries.  The authors conducted a large study of gay men and men who have sex with men in seven different communities across Malawi.  They found considerable heterogeneity leading to an overall estimate that the risk of HIV was approximately twice as high in gay men and men who have sex with men as in the general population of men of the same age.  The study managed to enrol a total of almost 2500 men through respondent driven sampling in the different districts.  However, this was at the expense of having to collect data over a considerable time period, with the study team moving from district to district.  As the authors acknowledge, the risk is that data collected in the most recent time period may not be equivalent to data collected four years previously.  The authors did find that the highest rates of HIV among gay men and men who have sex with men were not always where they have been presumed to be.  In particular tourist areas and some rural areas had higher rates than some of the cities that are usually the focus of key populations programmes.  Once again, the finding that so few gay men and men who have sex with men knew their status and were linked to treatment may not be surprising but is still shocking.  Only 1% of men found to be positive reported that they were aware of their status.  The authors point out the tension between public health and policy in a country where homosexuality is criminalized.  If HIV is to be prevented, this tension will need to be resolved.

The third respondent driven sampling study also highlights heterogeneity.  Verdery et al. used additional statistical methods to study the network characteristics of people who use drugs in two cities in the Philippines (Cebu and Mandaue).  The “small world” phenomenon explains how in more closed settings everyone knows everyone else, and among people who use drugs, many people form part of overlapping networks of needle sharing that allow for rapid propagation of infection.  Developing such methods could allow respondent driven samples to yield greater insights in to the epidemiology of HIV in key populations.  However, issues of representation both of the sample interviewed and of the broader geographic population of interest will remain important.  Quantitative research is certainly essential to understand the population sizes of key populations, and their prevalence, incidence and risk factors of HIV infection.  However, research into policy formation; social science research to understand the larger context of HIV and implementation science to determine how better to offer services that engage individuals in HIV testing and care remain a high priority. 

Burden and characteristics of HIV infection among female sex workers in Kampala, Uganda - a respondent-driven sampling survey

Hladik W, Baughman AL, Serwadda D, Tappero JW, Kwezi R, Nakato ND, Barker J. BMC Public Health. 2017 Jun 10;17(1):565. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4428-z.

Background: Sex workers in Uganda are at significant risk for HIV infection. We characterized the HIV epidemic among Kampala female sex workers (FSW).

Methods: We used respondent-driven sampling to sample FSW aged 15+ years who reported having sold sex to men in the preceding 30 days; collected data through audio-computer assisted self-interviews, and tested blood, vaginal and rectal swabs for HIV, syphilis, neisseria gonorrhea, chlamydia trachomatis, and trichomonas vaginalis.

Results: A total of 942 FSW were enrolled from June 2008 through April 2009. The overall estimated HIV prevalence was 33% (95% confidence intervals [CI] 30%-37%) and among FSW 25 years or older was 44%. HIV infection is associated with low levels of schooling, having no other work, never having tested for HIV, self-reported genital ulcers or sores, and testing positive for neisseria gonorrhea or any sexually transmitted infections (STI). Two thirds (65%) of commercial sex acts reportedly were protected by condoms; one in five (19%) FSW reported having had anal sex. Gender-based violence was frequent; 34% reported having been raped and 24% reported having been beaten by clients in the preceding 30 days.

Conclusions: One in three FSW in Kampala is HIV-infected, suggesting a severe HIV epidemic in this population. Intensified interventions are warranted to increase condom use, HIV testing, STI screening, as well as antiretroviral treatment and pre-exposure prophylaxis along with measures to overcome gender-based violence.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

 

Geographical disparities in HIV prevalence and care among men who have sex with men in Malawi: results from a multisite cross-sectional survey.

Wirtz AL, Trapence G, Kamba D, Gama V, Chalera R, Jumbe V, Kumwenda R, Mangochi M, Helleringer S, Beyrer C, Baral S. Lancet HIV. 2017 Jun;4(6):e260-e269. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30042-5. Epub 2017 Feb 28.

Background: Epidemiological assessment of geographical heterogeneity of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) is necessary to inform HIV prevention and care strategies in the more generalised HIV epidemics across sub-Saharan Africa, including Malawi. We aimed to measure the HIV prevalence, risks, and access to HIV care among MSM across multiple localities to better inform HIV programming for MSM in Malawi.

Methods: Between Aug 1, 2011, and Sept 13, 2014, we recruited MSM into cross-sectional research via respondent-driven sampling (RDS) in seven districts of Malawi. RDS and site weights were used to estimate national HIV prevalence and engagement in care and in multilevel regression models to identify correlates of prevalent HIV infection. The comparative prevalence ratio of HIV among MSM relative to adult men was calculated by use of direct age-stratification.

Findings: 2453 MSM were enrolled with a population HIV prevalence of 18·2% (95% CI 15·5-21·2), as low as 4·1% (2·2-7·6) in Mzuzu and as high as 24·5% (19·5-30·3) in Mulanje. The comparative HIV prevalence ratio was 2·52 when comparing MSM with the adult male population. Age-stratified HIV prevalence showed early onset of infection with 11·8% (95% CI 7·3-18·4) of MSM aged 18-19 years HIV infected. Factors positively associated with HIV infection included being aged 21-30 years and reporting female or transgender identity. Among HIV infected MSM, less than 1% reported ever being diagnosed with HIV infection (0·9%, 95% CI 0·4-2·5) and initiated antiretroviral treatment (0·2%, 0·2-0·3).

Interpretation: HIV disproportionately affects MSM in Malawi with disparities sustained across the HIV care continuum. These issues are geographically heterogeneous and begin among young MSM, supporting geographically focused and age-specific approaches to confidential HIV testing with linkage to HIV services. 

Abstract access 

 

Social network clustering and the spread of HIV/AIDS among persons who inject drugs in two cities in the Philippines

Verdery AM, Siripong N, Pence BW. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2017 Sep 1;76(1):26-32. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001485. Epub 2017 Jun 22.

Introduction: The Philippines has seen rapid increases in HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs. We study two neighboring cities where a linked HIV epidemic differed in timing of onset and levels of prevalence. In Cebu, prevalence rose rapidly from under 1% to 54% between 2009 and 2011 and remained high through 2013. In nearby Mandaue, HIV remained below 4% through 2011 then rose rapidly to 38% by 2013.

Objectives: We hypothesize that infection prevalence differences in these cities may owe to aspects of social network structure, specifically levels of network clustering. Building on prior research, we hypothesize that higher levels of network clustering are associated with greater epidemic potential.

Methods: Data were collected with respondent-driven sampling among males who inject drugs in Cebu and Mandaue in 2013. We first examine sample composition using estimators for population means. We then apply new estimators of network clustering in respondent-driven sampling data to examine associations with HIV prevalence.

Results: Samples in both cities were comparable in terms of composition by age, education, and injection locations. Dyadic needle sharing levels were also similar between the two cities, but network clustering in the needle sharing network differed dramatically. We found higher clustering in Cebu than Mandaue, consistent with expectations that higher clustering is associated with faster epidemic spread.

Conclusion: This paper is the first to apply estimators of network clustering to empirical respondent-driven samples, and it offers suggestive evidence that researchers should pay greater attention to network structure's role in HIV transmission dynamics.

Abstract access

Africa, Asia
Malawi, Philippines, Uganda
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Key populations need so much more than HIV-specific services – involve them at every stage of planning and programming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Africa, Asia, Northern America
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We still lack good data on many specific populations that are most severely affected by HIV

Editor’s notes: Transgender women are often under-represented in HIV research.  Yet they face many challenges in day to day life with discrimination at many levels.  Employment opportunities are few and many transgender women make a living through sex work.  It is well recognized that they are at specific and increased risks of HIV. Yet many intervention trials group them with gay men and other men who have sex with men, often meaning that the results cannot be disaggregated into more meaningful categories.  The number of transgender women in particular studies is also often too small to make strong conclusions from the data they provide to the study.  So it is encouraging to see Grinsztejn and colleagues establishing a major study specifically in the community of transgender women in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The authors recruited 345 transgender women through a respondent driven sampling process.  This non-random approach is necessitated by the nature of the population, as it would not be possible to make a complete sampling frame from census or other documentation.  However, statistical approaches to make best estimates of population measures are available and the authors found that almost one third of the women were living with HIV and that 29% had not previously been tested for HIV.  The high frequency of other sexually transmitted infections highlights the need for better engagement and services not just for HIV but for their wider sexual and reproductive health and rights needs.

Another population that is under-researched is people with disabilities.  “There is a tribe of Ugandans . . . whose issues and needs have not been given their due and appropriate attention in the fight. By all indications, persons with disabilities have been forgotten, consciously and unconsciously. They represent the forgotten tribe” (Mwesigwa Martin Babu, 2005). Abimanyi-Ochom and colleagues used data collected during the 2011 Ugandan demographic and health survey, which included questions about disabilities for the first time.  While HIV knowledge is similar in those with and without disabilities, people living with disabilities reported indicators of increased risk of acquiring HIV.  Findings included slightly earlier sexual debut and a higher frequency of reported sexually transmitted infections.  Other studies have demonstrated that people living with disabilities may have lower self-esteem and self-efficacy and that abuse, including sexual abuse is more common among this group than among their peers.

The findings are reinforced by a study from Cameroon.  De Beaudrap and colleagues used the same questionnaire that had been used in the Uganda DHS (the Washington short set of questions on disability) to identify people living with disability in a random sample of the population in Yaounde.  The prevalence of HIV was almost twice as high among those with disability than among controls matched by age, sex and residential area.  In line with the discussion in the Ugandan paper, the authors in Cameroon found that women with disability were more likely to receive money for sex and to be victims of sexual violence.  Both of these characteristics were, not surprisingly, associated with still higher rates of HIV infection.  Both papers call for more and better data and we also need to develop and test interventions to reduce the burden of HIV among those living with disabilities.

Unveiling of HIV dynamics among transgender women: a respondent-driven sampling study in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Grinsztejn B, Jalil EM, Monteiro L, Velasque L, Moreira RI, Garcia AC, Castro CV, Krüger A, Luz PM, Liu AY, McFarland W, Buchbinder S, Veloso VG, Wilson EC; Transcender Study Team. Lancet HIV. 2017 Apr;4(4):e169-e176. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30015-2. Epub 2017 Feb 8.

Background: The burden of HIV in transgender women (transwomen) in Brazil remains unknown. We aimed to estimate HIV prevalence among transwomen in Rio de Janeiro and to identify predictors of newly diagnosed HIV infections.

Methods: We recruited transwomen from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by respondent-driven sampling. Eligibility criteria were self-identification as transwomen, being 18 years of age or older, living in Rio de Janeiro or its metropolitan area, and having a valid peer recruitment coupon. We recruited 12 seed participants from social movements and formative focus groups who then used peer recruitment coupons to refer subsequent peers to the study. We categorised participants as HIV negative, known HIV infected, or newly diagnosed as HIV infected. We assessed predictors of newly diagnosed HIV infections by comparing newly diagnosed with HIV-negative participants. We derived population estimates with the Respondent-Driven Sampling II estimator.

Findings: Between Aug 1, 2015, and Jan 29, 2016, we enrolled 345 eligible transwomen. 29·1% (95% CI 23·2-35·4) of participants had no previous HIV testing (adjusted from 60 participants), 31·2% (18·8-43·6) had HIV infections (adjusted from 141 participants), and 7·0% (0·0-15·9) were newly diagnosed as HIV infected (adjusted from 40 participants). We diagnosed syphilis in 28·9% (18·0-39·8) of participants, rectal chlamydia in 14·6% (5·4-23·8), and gonorrhoea in 13·5% (3·2-23·8). Newly diagnosed HIV infections were associated with black race (odds ratio 22·8 [95% CI 2·9-178·9]; p=0·003), travesti (34·1 [5·8-200·2]; p=0·0001) or transsexual woman (41·3 [6·3-271·2]; p=0·0001) gender identity, history of sex work (30·7 [3·5-267·3]; p=0·002), and history of sniffing cocaine (4·4 [1·4-14·1]; p=0·01).

Interpretation: Our results suggest that transwomen bear the largest burden of HIV among any population at risk in Brazil. The high proportion of HIV diagnosis among young participants points to the need for tailored long-term health-care and prevention services to curb the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life of transwomen in Brazil.

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HIV/AIDS knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of persons with and without disabilities from the Uganda demographic and health survey 2011: differential access to HIV/AIDS information and services.

Abimanyi-Ochom J, Mannan H, Groce NE, McVeigh J  PLoS One. 2017 Apr 13;12(4):e0174877. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0174877. eCollection 2017.

Uganda is among the first to use the Washington Group Short Set of Questions on Disability to identify persons with disabilities in its Demographic and Health Survey. In this paper, we review the HIV knowledge, attitudes and behaviour component of the 2011 Ugandan demographic and health survey, analysing a series of questions comparing those with and without disabilities in relation to HIV/AIDS knowledge, attitudes and practices. We found comparable levels of knowledge on HIV/AIDS for those with and those without disabilities in relation to HIV transmission during delivery (93.89%, 93.26%) and through breastfeeding (89.91%, 90.63%), which may reflect increased attention to reaching the community of persons with disabilities. However, several gaps in the knowledge base of persons with disabilities stood out, including misconceptions of risk of HIV infection through mosquito bites and caring for a relative with HIV in own household (34.39%, 29.86%; p<0.001; 91.53%, 89.00%; p = 0.001, respectively). The issue is not just access to appropriate information but also equitable access to HIV/AIDS services and support. Here we found that persons with multiple disabilities were less likely than individuals without disabilities to return to receive results from their most recent HIV test (0.60[0.41-0.87], p<0.05). HIV testing means little if people do not return for follow-up to know their HIV status and, if necessary, to be connected to available services and supports. Additional findings of note were that persons with disabilities reported having a first sexual encounter at a slightly younger age than peers without disabilities; and persons with disabilities also reported having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) within the last 12 months at significantly higher rates than peers without disabilities (1.38[1.18-1.63], p<0.01), despite reporting comparable knowledge of the need for safer sex practices. This analysis is among the first to use HIV/AIDS-related questions from Demographic Health Surveys to provide information about persons with disabilities in Uganda in comparison to those without disabilities. These findings present a more complex and nuanced understanding of persons with disabilities and HIV/AIDS. If persons with disabilities are becoming sexually active earlier, are more likely to have an STD within the preceding 12 month period and are less likely to receive HIV test results, it is important to understand why. Recommendations are also made for the inclusion of disability measures in Uganda's AIDS Indicator Survey to provide cyclical and systematic data on disability and HIV/AIDS, including HIV prevalence amongst persons with disabilities.

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Prevalence of HIV infection among people with disabilities: a population-based observational study in Yaoundé, Cameroon (HandiVIH).

De Beaudrap P, Beninguisse G, Pasquier E, Tchoumkeu A, Touko A, Essomba F, Brus A, Aderemi TJ, Hanass-Hancock J, Eide AH, Mac-Seing M, Mont D. Lancet HIV. 2017 Apr;4(4):e161-e168. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30209-0. Epub 2017 Jan 24.

Background: In resource-limited settings, people with disabilities have been left behind in the response to HIV. In the HandiVIH study, we estimate and compare HIV prevalence and associated risk factors between people with and without disabilities.

Methods: In this cross-sectional, population-based, observational study, we used two-phase random sampling to recruit adults with disabilities and a control group matched for age, sex, and residential location from households of the general population. We used the Washington Group Short Set of Questions on Disability to identify people with disabilities. We administered an HIV test and a life-course history interview to participants. The primary outcome was the prevalence of HIV among participants with and without disabilities.

Findings: Between Oct 2, 2014, and Nov 30, 2015, we recruited 807 people with disabilities and 807 participants without disabilities from Yaoundé, Cameroon. 28 of 716 people in the control population had a positive HIV test result (crude prevalence 3·9%, 95% CI 2·9-5·3) compared with 50 of 739 people with disabilities (6·8%, 5·0-8·6; conditional odds ratio [OR] 1·7; p=0·04). Women with disabilities were more often involved in paid sexual relationships than were women without disabilities (2·5% vs 0·5%, p=0·05). People with disabilities were also at increased risk of sexual violence than were women without disabilities (11·0% vs 7·5%, OR 1·5; p=0·01). Sexual violence and sex work were strongly associated with increased risk of HIV infection among participants with disabilities but not among controls (OR 3·0, 95% CI 1·6-5·6 for sexual violence and 12·3, 4·4-34·6 for sex work). Analyses were done in men and women.

Interpretation: The higher prevalence of HIV infection in people with disabilities than people without disabilities reflects a higher exposure to HIV infection as well as the presence of disability-associated HIV infection. The susceptibility of people with disabilities to HIV infection seems to be shaped by social and environmental factors. Research is needed to inform firm recommendations on how to protect this vulnerable population.

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Africa, Latin America
Brazil, Cameroon, Uganda
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Stigma and sex work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asia
Thailand
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HIV testing for all

HIV self-testing in Peru: questionable availability, high acceptability but potential low linkage to care among men who have sex with men and transgender women.

Bustamante MJ, Konda KA, Joseph Davey D, Leon SR, Calvo GM, Salvatierra J, Brown B, Caceres CF, Klausner JD. Int J STD AIDS. 2017 Feb;28(2):133-137. doi: 10.1177/0956462416630674. Epub 2016 Jul 10.

HIV status awareness is key to prevention, linkage-to-care and treatment. Our study evaluated the accessibility and potential willingness of HIV self-testing among men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women in Peru. We surveyed four pharmacy chains in Peru to ascertain the commercial availability of the oral HIV self-test. The pharmacies surveyed confirmed that HIV self-test kits were available; however, those available were not intended for individual use, but for clinician use. We interviewed 147 MSM and 45 transgender women; nearly all (82%) reported willingness to perform the oral HIV self-test. However, only 55% of participants would definitely seek a confirmatory test in a clinic after an HIV-positive test result. Further, price may be a barrier, as HIV self-test kits were available for 18 USD, and MSM and transgender women were only willing to pay an average of 5 USD. HIV self-testing may facilitate increased access to HIV testing among some MSM/transgender women in Peru. However, price may prevent use, and poor uptake of confirmatory testing may limit linkage to HIV treatment and care.

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Editor’s notes: One of the key ways to reduce stigma around HIV is to increase uptake of HIV testing, making it more acceptable and widely available. The authors of this paper sought to understand the barriers to the use of oral self-testing HIV kits. Evidence illustrates that awareness of HIV status leads to safer sexual and injecting risk behaviours and reduced HIV prevalence. Gay men and other men who have sex with men and transgender women are often marginalized populations. They can experience increased prevalence of HIV and have poorer access to HIV testing and treatment. This descriptive study provides important information illustrating that the use of oral self-testing HIV kits are acceptable to gay men and other men who have sex with men and transgender women. On average, respondents said they would undergo testing four times a year. While test kits were available at pharmacies, the higher price prohibits frequent use. Following diagnosis with a self-test, two thirds of transgender women and 71% of gay men and other men who have sex with men said they would follow up with a confirmatory test. Strategies are necessary to encourage everyone to access services to receive confirmatory testing, counselling and referral to treatment and care as necessary. Prices of HIV self-testing kits need to be lowered to increase accessibility.

Latin America
Peru
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Peer led activities increase HIV testing uptake among MSM

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Transwomen: high time to act

Unveiling of HIV dynamics among transgender women: a respondent-driven sampling study in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Grinsztejn B, Jalil EM, Monteiro L, Velasque L, Moreira RI, Garcia AC, Castro CV, Kruger A, Luz PM, Liu AY, McFarland W, Buchbinder S, Veloso VG, Wilson EC , for the Transcender Study Team. Lancet HIV. 2017 Feb 7. pii: S2352-3018(17)30015-2. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30015-2. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: The burden of HIV in transgender women (transwomen) in Brazil remains unknown. We aimed to estimate HIV prevalence among transwomen in Rio de Janeiro and to identify predictors of newly diagnosed HIV infections.

Methods: We recruited transwomen from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by respondent-driven sampling. Eligibility criteria were self-identification as transwomen, being 18 years of age or older, living in Rio de Janeiro or its metropolitan area, and having a valid peer recruitment coupon. We recruited 12 seed participants from social movements and formative focus groups who then used peer recruitment coupons to refer subsequent peers to the study. We categorised participants as HIV negative, known HIV infected, or newly diagnosed as HIV infected. We assessed predictors of newly diagnosed HIV infections by comparing newly diagnosed with HIV-negative participants. We derived population estimates with the Respondent-Driven Sampling II estimator.

Findings: Between Aug 1, 2015, and Jan 29, 2016, we enrolled 345 eligible transwomen. 29.1% (95% CI 23.2-35.4) of participants had no previous HIV testing (adjusted from 60 participants), 31.2% (18.8-43.6) had HIV infections (adjusted from 141 participants), and 7.0% (0.0-15.9) were newly diagnosed as HIV infected (adjusted from 40 participants). We diagnosed syphilis in 28.9% (18.0-39.8) of participants, rectal chlamydia in 14.6% (5.4-23.8), and gonorrhoea in 13.5% (3.2-23.8). Newly diagnosed HIV infections were associated with black race (odds ratio 22.8 [95% CI 2.9-178.9]; p=0.003), travesti (34.1 [5.8-200.2]; p=0.0001) or transsexual woman (41.3 [6.3-271.2]; p=0.0001) gender identity, history of sex work (30.7 [3.5-267.3]; p=0.002), and history of sniffing cocaine (4.4 [1.4-14.1]; p=0.01).

Interpretation: Our results suggest that transwomen bear the largest burden of HIV among any population at risk in Brazil. The high proportion of HIV diagnosis among young participants points to the need for tailored long-term health-care and prevention services to curb the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life of transwomen in Brazil.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: This is a must-read paper for anyone interested in good participatory practices (GPP) in research and/or gender identity and HIV risk, and/or respondent driven sampling (RDS) research techniques. The researchers engaged the transwomen community from the outset in the very apt naming of the project – Transcender – and the study design – appropriate language and participant-sensitive procedures. Three community members were part of the study implementation team and the analyses were refined and written with trans community input. Although eligibility criteria included self-identification as transwomen, study participants included 131 travesti (transvestites), 107 transsexual women, 96 women, and 11 people with other gender identities. Transwomen who self-identified as women had the lowest odds of newly diagnosed HIV infection. This underscores the importance of exploring whether and how greater internal or external gender identity acceptance might confer a protective effect for HIV acquisition, perhaps through ability to use medical services through to transition, which might reduce the risk of violence. The RDS-weighted characteristics of the study participants are striking: 97% had ever experienced discrimination, 49% had ever been subjected to physical violence, and 42% had ever been raped. As for the RDS methodology itself, recruitment began with 12 seeds generating 3.6 (range two to seven) recruitment waves over a period of 26 weeks, with one seed generating 23% of the study sample. Although confidence intervals are wide, detected associations are of high magnitude and significant. With respect to homophily (the tendency to recruit others like oneself), it was moderate for HIV status and race and strong for history of sex work. Further, what are the immediate implications of the findings? Among the 29% of participants who were newly diagnosed as having HIV, nearly half reported no previous HIV testing and 44% reported a negative HIV test in the previous year. Offering pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to the latter transwomen could have prevented them from acquiring HIV. In addition to addressing the social exclusion and marginalization that creates the structural context of HIV risk for transwomen, it is critical to achieving the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target that we move effectively to remove barriers to health care access. These include fighting stigma and discrimination, tackling transphobia, penalizing and preventing physical and sexual violence, and offering immediate antiretroviral therapy to people living with HIV and to offer immediate PrEP to people found to be HIV-negative.   

 

Latin America
Brazil
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