People living with HIV at higher risk of developing disabilities in sub-Saharan Africa

The relationship between HIV and prevalence of disabilities in sub-Saharan Africa: systematic review.

Banks LM, Zuurmond M, Ferrand R, Kuper H. Trop Med Int Health. 2015 Apr;20(4):411-29. doi: 10.1111/tmi.12449. Epub 2015 Jan 14.

Objective: To systematically review evidence on the prevalence and risk of disabilities among children and adults living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.

Methods: Articles were identified from 1980 to June 2013 through searching seven electronic databases. Epidemiological studies conducted in sub-Saharan Africa that explored the association between HIV status and general disability or specific impairments, with or without an HIV-uninfected comparison group, were eligible for inclusion.

Results: Of 12 867 records initially identified, 61 papers were deemed eligible for inclusion. The prevalence of disability was high across age groups, impairment types and study locations. Furthermore, 73% of studies using an HIV- comparator found significantly lower levels of functioning in people living with HIV (PLHIV). By disability type, the results were as follows: (i) for studies measuring physical impairments (n = 14), median prevalence of limitations in mobility and motor function among PLHIV was 25.0% (95% CI: 21.8-28.2%). Five of eight comparator studies found significantly reduced functioning among PLHIV; for arthritis, two of three studies which used an HIV- comparison group found significantly increased prevalence among PLHIV; (ii) for sensory impairment studies (n = 17), median prevalence of visual impairment was 11.2% (95%CI: 9.5-13.1%) and hearing impairment was 24.1% (95%CI: 19.2-29.0%) in PLHIV. Significantly increased prevalence among PLHIV was found in one of four (vision) and three of three studies (hearing) with comparators; (iii) for cognitive impairment in adults (n = 30), median prevalence for dementia was 25.3% (95% CI: 22.0-28.6%) and 40.9% (95% CI: 37.7-44.1%) for general cognitive impairment. Across all types of cognitive impairment, twelve of fourteen studies found a significant detrimental effect of HIV infection; (iv) for developmental delay in children with HIV (n = 20), median prevalence of motor delay was 67.7% (95% CI: 62.2-73.2%). All nine studies that included a comparator found a significant difference between PLHIV and controls; for cognitive development and global delay, a significant detrimental effect of HIV was found in five of six and one of two studies, respectively. In the nine cohort studies comparing vertically infected and uninfected children, eight showed a significant gap in development over time in children with HIV. Finally, fifteen of thirty-one (48%) studies found a statistically significant dose-response relationship between indicators of disease progression (CD4 or WHO stage) and disability.

Conclusions: HIV is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa and the evidence suggests that it is linked to disabilities, affecting a range of body structures and functions. More research is needed to better understand the implications of HIV-related disability for individuals, their families as well as those working in the fields of disability and HIV so that appropriate interventions can be developed.

Abstract [1] Full-text [free] access [2]

Editor’s notes: As ART is scaled-up, and people living with HIV live longer, an increasing number of people will face challenges of HIV-associated disability. Disability may be partly a direct effect of living with HIV, but may also be an indirect effect, for example due to side effects of treatment. There has been relatively little research on this topic, particularly in low and middle-income countries and this is the first systematic review of the prevalence of disability among people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. The review found a high prevalence of all categories of disability. The majority of studies had an HIV-negative comparison group among whom levels of disability were lower than among people living with HIV. Developmental delay was the impairment most strongly linked to HIV, with prevalence as high as 78% in children living with HIV. To minimize the chance that the observed association was due to reverse causality, the review excluded studies which clearly focused on disability as a risk factor for HIV, although it is likely that some studies still included individuals in whom disability preceded HIV infection. There was also relatively little data on ART status and duration in many studies, which may impact on the association of HIV and disability.  Despite these limitations, this study highlights the need to focus on prevention and management of HIV-associated disability in sub-Saharan Africa and development of effective, low-cost evidence-informed activities.

Africa [8]
Angola [9], Botswana [10], Cameroon [11], Ethiopia [12], Guinea-Bissau [13], Kenya [14], Malawi [15], Nigeria [16], Republic of the Congo [17], Rwanda [18], South Africa [19], Uganda [20], United Republic of Tanzania [21], Zaire [22], Zambia [23]
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