Re-focusing the response in Niger – a greater need for sex worker programmes?

Reorienting the HIV response in Niger toward sex work interventions: from better evidence to targeted and expanded practice. 

Fraser N, Kerr CC, Harouna Z, Alhousseini Z, Cheikh N, Gray R, Shattock A, Wilson DP, Haacker M, Shubber Z, Masaki E, Karamoko D, Görgens M. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2015 Mar 1;68 Suppl 2:S213-20. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000000456.

Background: Niger's low-burden, sex-work-driven HIV epidemic is situated in a context of high economic and demographic growth. Resource availability of HIV/AIDS has been decreasing recently. In 2007-2012, only 1% of HIV expenditure was for sex work interventions, but an estimated 37% of HIV incidence was directly linked to sex work in 2012. The Government of Niger requested assistance to determine an efficient allocation of its HIV resources and to strengthen HIV programming for sex workers. 

Methods: Optima, an integrated epidemiologic and optimization tool, was applied using local HIV epidemic, demographic, programmatic, expenditure, and cost data. A mathematical optimization algorithm was used to determine the best resource allocation for minimizing HIV incidence and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) over 10 years. 

Results: Efficient allocation of the available HIV resources, to minimize incidence and DALYs, would increase expenditure for sex work interventions from 1% to 4%-5%, almost double expenditure for antiretroviral treatment and for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and reduce expenditure for HIV programs focusing on the general population. Such an investment could prevent an additional 12% of new infections despite a budget of less than half of the 2012 reference year. Most averted infections would arise from increased funding for sex work interventions. 

Conclusions: This allocative efficiency analysis makes the case for increased investment in sex work interventions to minimize future HIV incidence and DALYs. Optimal HIV resource allocation combined with improved program implementation could have even greater HIV impact. Technical assistance is being provided to make the money invested in sex work programs work better and help Niger to achieve a cost-effective and sustainable HIV response.

Abstract access [1]  [1]

Editor’s notes: Niger has a low-level HIV epidemic concentrated in key populations such as female sex workers, with prevalence levels of 17% in 2011. Only around 23% of female sex workers report using a condom at every sexual act, making them a highly vulnerable group. Additionally there are barriers to using the health centres such as service costs, and the geographic distance.

This article summarizes the HIV epidemic and response situation in Niger with a focus on female sex workers, including modelled trends using Optima. It then presents new evidence on different resource allocation scenarios and the projected impact on the HIV epidemic. Optima, a deterministic mathematical model for HIV optimization and prioritization, was applied to local epidemiologic, demographic, programmatic, expenditure, and cost data. 

The optimization function uses an algorithm to find the best allocation of resources to meet the objective of either minimizing HIV incidence or disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) until 2024. Contrary to the current approach of allocating 31% of spending to the general population and less than 1% to female sex workers, the Optima function advocates increased spending on antiretroviral therapy from 27% to 48%. Optima supports a focussed approach to reduce HIV incidence in female sex workers including mapping populations and a “programme intelligence” approach akin to that implemented in India and Nigeria.   

Africa [8], Asia [9]
Democratic Republic of the Congo [10], India [11], Niger [12], Nigeria [13], Togo [14]
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