Profound effect of ART on mortality through reduction of opportunistic infections

Incidence of opportunistic infections and the impact of antiretroviral therapy among HIV-infected adults in low and middle income countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis. 

Low A, Gavriilidis G, Larke N, Lajoie MR, Drouin O, Stover J, Muhe L, Easterbrook P. Clin Infect Dis. 2016 Mar 6. pii: ciw125. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: To understand regional burdens and inform delivery of health services, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate the effect of antiretroviral therapy (ART) on incidence of key opportunistic infections (OIs) in HIV-infected adults in low and middle-income countries (LMIC).

Methods: Eligible studies describing the cumulative incidence of OIs and proportion on ART from 1990 to November 2013 were identified using multiple databases. Summary incident risks for the ART-naive period, and during and after the first year of ART, were calculated using random effects meta-analyses. Summary estimates from ART subgroups were compared using meta-regression. The number of OI cases and associated costs averted if ART was initiated at CD4 ≥200 cells/µl was estimated using UNAIDS country estimates and global average OI treatment cost per case.

Results: We identified 7965 citations, and included 126 studies describing 491 608 HIV-infected persons. In ART-naive patients, summary risk was highest (>5%) for oral candidiasis, tuberculosis, herpes zoster, and bacterial pneumonia. The reduction in incidence was greatest for all OIs during the first 12 months of ART (range 57-91%) except for tuberculosis, and was largest for oral candidiasis, PCP and toxoplasmosis. Earlier ART was estimated to have averted 857 828 cases in 2013 (95% confidence interval [CI], 828 032-874 853), with cost savings of $46.7 million (95% CI, 43.8-49.4).

Conclusions: There was a major reduction in risk for most OIs with ART use in LMICs, with the greatest effect seen in the first year of treatment. ART has resulted in substantial cost savings from OIs averted.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Editor’s notes: Opportunistic infections (OIs) remain the major cause of HIV-associated mortality. OIs account for substantially higher mortality in low and middle income countries (LMICs) compared to high income countries (HICs).

This paper describes the results of a systematic review and meta-analysis including about 500 000 people on ART in LMICs across three regions (sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America). These large numbers enabled the investigators to look at the effect of ART on the incidence of key OIs during and after the first year of treatment.

Not surprisingly they found that the effect of ART reduced the risk of all OIs during the first year after ART initiation, although the reduction was less for tuberculosis. The authors attribute this to the occurrence of tuberculosis across a wide range of CD4 cell counts, a smaller effect of early immune restoration and the contribution of TB as a manifestation of immune reconstitution syndrome during the first months after ART initiation. Beyond one year after ART initiation, the reduction in tuberculosis was greater.

They conclude that the effect of ART on the incidence of most HIV-associated OIs is the key reason for the global decline in HIV-associated mortality. However, a significant proportion of HIV-positive persons still continue to present with advanced disease. Besides timely ART initiation, additional measures such as CTX prophylaxis, screening for TB and cryptococcal disease, and the use of isoniazid and fluconazole prophylaxis should be considered for late presenters. 

Africa, Asia, Latin America
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