Improving access to HIV testing—still the most important step to improve the lives of people living with HIV?

Editor’s notes: The target for HIV testing is very clear and well understood as the first 90 in the UNAIDS treatment targets. However, estimating the proportion of people living with HIV who know their status is not completely straightforward.  UNAIDS uses various data sources and a well described algorithm to make its annual estimates.  For some countries, population based surveys allow a random sample of the population to be interviewed and tested for HIV.  Nonetheless, such surveys only occur periodically and so data may be out of date.  People who were HIV-negative a few years ago may now be HIV positive and people who know that they were tested a few years ago and think that they know their status may in fact have acquired HIV in the meantime.  Staveteig and colleagues have used the most recent demographic and health surveys from 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to estimate the first 90 and to analyse the demographic characteristics associated with knowing one’s HIV status.  The authors discuss some of the challenges in the assumptions needed for this estimation process.  However, the surveys had excellent participation and a high rate of acceptance of HIV testing, so that out of more than 14 000 people living with HIV across the countries, the authors are able to state that 54% know their status.  The proportion in different countries ranges from 26% in Sierra Leone to 84% in Rwanda.  Their analysis does not present very surprising associations.  We have come to expect that men, young people and those with less than primary education are found to be less likely to know their status.  However, the study provides a direct estimate from survey data and as such helps to triangulate with other estimates from the region.

In general, the West and Central African region lags behind the East and Southern African region when it comes to access to HIV testing, linkage to treatment and viral suppression.  A catch-up plan has been developed and endorsed at high level political meetings in most countries in the region. The study by Inghels and colleagues from Côte d’Ivoire is therefore important.  They demonstrate that among 273 people recently diagnosed with HIV at the blood donors’ centre, almost half could have been diagnosed up to five years earlier if health care staff had followed guidelines to propose testing for indicator clinical conditions such as extreme weight loss, repeated fevers or shingles.  Approximately a quarter of people recently diagnosed with HIV had recognized risk factors for HIV (apart from their clinical presentation), but only approximately one-sixth, a small minority, of people had mentioned it to their heathcare professional.  If we are to catch up and ensure that 90% of people living with HIV have known their status by 2020, we need to maximize efforts to use a full range of differentiated HIV testing approaches.  Health care staff must offer HIV tests routinely to people with clinical indicator conditions. Staff at all levels of the health system must also promote an environment in which people with risk behaviours for HIV infection feel comfortable to be able to raise it and discuss it.

Reaching the 'first 90': gaps in coverage of HIV testing among people living with HIV in 16 African countries.

Staveteig S, Croft TN, Kampa KT, Head SK. PLoS One. 2017 Oct 12;12(10):e0186316. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186316. eCollection 2017.

Background: UNAIDS has recently proposed a set of three ambitious targets that, if achieved, are predicted to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The targets, known as 90-90-90, call for 90% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) to know their status, 90% of PLHIV to receive antiretroviral therapy, and 90% of those on antiretroviral therapy to achieve viral suppression by the year 2020. We examine the first of these targets, focusing on sub-Saharan Africa, the region of the world most affected by HIV, to measure the proportion of PLHIV estimated to know their HIV status, and to identify background and behavioral characteristics significantly associated with gaps in ever testing among PLHIV.

Methods and findings: We analyze cross-sectional population-based data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and AIDS Indicator Surveys (AIS) fielded since 2010 in 16 sub-Saharan African countries where voluntary serological testing was recently conducted: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Survey response rates averaged 95.0% (range 89.3-99.5%), while consent to serotesting averaged 94.9% (range 88.7-99.6%). This study, which includes more than 14 000 respondents living with HIV, finds that 69% of PLHIV in the average study country have ever been tested for HIV (range 34-95%). Based on timing of the last test and on ART coverage, we estimate that 54% of PLHIV in the average country are aware of their status (range 26-84%). Adjusted logistic regression finds that men (median adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 0.38), adults with less than primary education (median AOR = 0.31), and adolescents (median AOR = 0.32) are consistently less likely to have ever been tested for HIV than women, adults with secondary and above education, and adults age 30-39, respectively. In most countries unadjusted logistic regression also finds significant gaps in testing among the poorest groups and those reporting never having had sex.

Conclusion: The fact that an average of 54% of PLHIV in these 16 countries are estimated to know their status reflects encouraging progress. However, not only is this average far short of the 90% target set by UNAIDS for 2020, but it also implies that in the average study country nearly one-half of PLHIV are unable to access lifesaving care and treatment because they are unaware that they are HIV-positive. Several gaps in HIV testing coverage exist, particularly among adolescents, the least educated, and men. While the need to target demographic groups at greatest risk of HIV continues, additional interventions focused on reaching men and on reaching socially vulnerable populations such as adolescents, the poorest, and the least educated are essential.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Missed opportunities for HIV testing among newly diagnosed HIV-infected adults in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

Inghels M, Niangoran S, Minga A, Yoboue JM, Dohoun L, Yao A, Eholié S, Anglaret X, Danel C. PLoS One. 2017 Oct 4;12(10):e0185117. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185117. eCollection 2017

Background: HIV testing is crucial for starting ART earlier in HIV-infected people. We describe Missed Opportunities (MO) for HIV testing among adults newly diagnosed with HIV in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

Methods: Between April 2nd 2013 and April 1st 2014, a cross-sectional study was conducted among all adults newly diagnosed (< 1year) for HIV at the Blood Donors Medical Center of Abidjan with face to face questionnaire. An MO for HIV testing was defined as a medical consultation for a clinical indicator (e.g. symptoms, hospitalization, and pregnancy) or a non-clinical indicator (e.g. high-risk sexual behavior, HIV-infected partner) potentially related to an HIV infection but did not lead to HIV test proposal by a health care professional.

Results: Of the 341 patients who attended the center during this period, 273 (157 women and 116 men) were included in this analysis. 130 (47.6%) reported at least one medical consultation for an indicator relevant for a test proposal between 1 month and five years prior to their diagnosis. Among them, 92 (77.3%) experienced at least one MO for testing. The 273 included patients reported a total of 216 indicators; 146 (67.6%) were reported without test proposal and thus were MO. Hospitalization, extreme loss of weight, chronic or repeat fever and herpes zoster were the indicators with the largest number of MO. While 66 (24.2%) patients experienced non-clinical indicators relevant to risk of HIV infection, only 11 (4.0%) mentioned it to a health professional.

Conclusion: MO for HIV testing are frequent, even in situations for which testing is clearly recommended. Better train healthcare professionals and creating new opportunities of testing inside and, outside of medical settings are crucial to improve HIV control.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Africa
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