More data needed from routine programme data on antiretroviral therapy cascade outcomes among female sex workers

Antiretroviral therapy uptake, attrition, adherence and outcomes among HIV-infected female sex workers: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Mountain E, Mishra S, Vickerman P, Pickles M, Gilks C, Boily MC. PLoS One. 2014 Sep 29;9(9):e105645. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0105645. eCollection 2014.

Purpose: We aimed to characterize the antiretroviral therapy (ART) cascade among female sex workers (FSWs) globally.

Methods: We systematically searched PubMed, Embase and MEDLINE in March 2014 to identify studies reporting on ART uptake, attrition, adherence, and outcomes (viral suppression or CD4 count improvements) among HIV-infected FSWs globally. When possible, available estimates were pooled using random effects meta-analyses (with heterogeneity assessed using Cochran's Q test and I2 statistic).

Results: 39 studies, reporting on 21 different FSW study populations in Asia, Africa, North America, South America, and Central America and the Caribbean, were included. Current ART use among HIV-infected FSWs was 38% (95% CI: 29%-48%, I2 = 96%, 15 studies), and estimates were similar between high-, and low- and middle-income countries. Ever ART use among HIV-infected FSWs was greater in high-income countries (80%; 95% CI: 48%-94%, I2 = 70%, 2 studies) compared to low- and middle-income countries (36%; 95% CI: 7%-81%, I2 = 99%, 3 studies). Loss to follow-up after ART initiation was 6% (95% CI: 3%-11%, I2 = 0%, 3 studies) and death after ART initiation was 6% (95% CI: 3%-11%, I2 = 0%, 3 studies). The fraction adherent to ≥95% of prescribed pills was 76% (95% CI: 68%-83%, I2 = 36%, 4 studies), and 57% (95% CI: 46%-68%, I2 = 82%, 4 studies) of FSWs on ART were virally suppressed. Median gains in CD4 count after 6 to 36 months on ART, ranged between 103 and 241 cells/mm3 (4 studies).

Conclusions: Despite global increases in ART coverage, there is a concerning lack of published data on HIV treatment for FSWs. Available data suggest that FSWs can achieve levels of ART uptake, retention, adherence, and treatment response comparable to that seen among women in the general population, but these data are from only a few research settings. More routine programme data on HIV treatment among FSWs across settings should be collected and disseminated.

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Editor’s notes: Female sex workers remain a key population for HIV prevention, treatment and care. This is the first paper to systematically review and quantify the HIV treatment cascade among sex workers globally. The review highlights the scarcity of published data on HIV treatment among sex workers. For example, data were identified from only five countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe) and a lack of data from routine (non research) settings. Further, most studies presented data on current antiretroviral therapy (ART) or CD4 count at initiation rather than follow-up data on attrition, adherence or viral suppression. The results suggest that research cohorts have been largely successful at enrolling and retaining female sex workers on ART, but there may be an issue with adherence. Adherence, in the few studies where it was measured (usually by self-report or pill counts) was high, and similar to estimates from the general population. But just over half of the participants initiating ART achieved viral suppression in the four studies which looked at this. This indicates scope for improvements in adherence (and adherence measurement) in these populations. This is possibly due to individual-level and structural-level barriers that sex workers face when receiving HIV treatment and care

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