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1.  Bacterial Vaginosis Associated with Increased Risk of Female-to-Male HIV-1 Transmission: A Prospective Cohort Analysis among African Couples 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(6):e1001251.
In a prospective study, Craig Cohen and colleagues investigate the association between bacterial vaginosis and the risk of female-to-male HIV-1 transmission.
Background
Bacterial vaginosis (BV), a disruption of the normal vaginal flora, has been associated with a 60% increased risk of HIV-1 acquisition in women and higher concentration of HIV-1 RNA in the genital tract of HIV-1–infected women. However, whether BV, which is present in up to half of African HIV-1–infected women, is associated with an increase in HIV-1 transmission to male partners has not been assessed in previous studies.
Methods and Findings
We assessed the association between BV on female-to-male HIV-1 transmission risk in a prospective study of 2,236 HIV-1–seropositive women and their HIV-1 uninfected male partners from seven African countries from a randomized placebo-controlled trial that enrolled heterosexual African adults who were seropositive for both HIV-1 and herpes simplex virus (HSV)-2, and their HIV-1–seronegative partners. Participants were followed for up to 24 months; every three months, vaginal swabs were obtained from female partners for Gram stain and male partners were tested for HIV-1. BV and normal vaginal flora were defined as a Nugent score of 7–10 and 0–3, respectively. To reduce misclassification, HIV-1 sequence analysis of viruses from seroconverters and their partners was performed to determine linkage of HIV-1 transmissions. Overall, 50 incident HIV-1 infections occurred in men in which the HIV-1–infected female partner had an evaluable vaginal Gram stain. HIV-1 incidence in men whose HIV-1–infected female partners had BV was 2.91 versus 0.76 per 100 person-years in men whose female partners had normal vaginal flora (hazard ratio 3.62, 95% CI 1.74–7.52). After controlling for sociodemographic factors, sexual behavior, male circumcision, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and plasma HIV-1 RNA levels in female partners, BV was associated with a greater than 3-fold increased risk of female-to-male HIV-1 transmission (adjusted hazard ratio 3.17, 95% CI 1.37–7.33).
Conclusions
This study identified an association between BV and increased risk of HIV-1 transmission to male partners. Several limitations may affect the generalizability of our results including: all participants underwent couples HIV counseling and testing and enrolled in an HIV-1 prevention trial, and index participants had a baseline CD4 count ≥250 cells/mm3 and were HSV-2 seropositive. Given the high prevalence of BV and the association of BV with increased risk of both female HIV-1 acquisition and transmission found in our study, if this association proves to be causal, BV could be responsible for a substantial proportion of new HIV-1 infections in Africa. Normalization of vaginal flora in HIV-1–infected women could mitigate female-to-male HIV-1 transmission.
Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.com NCT00194519
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Since the first reported case of AIDS in 1981, the number of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has risen steadily. By the end of 2010, 34 million people were living with HIV/AIDS. At the beginning of the epidemic more men than women were infected with HIV. Now, however, 50% of all adults infected with HIV are women and in sub-Saharan Africa, where two-thirds of HIV-positive people live, women account for 59% of people living with HIV. Moreover, among 15–24 year-olds, women are eight times more likely than men to be HIV-positive. This pattern of infection has developed because most people in sub-Saharan Africa contract HIV through unprotected heterosexual sex. The risk of HIV transmission for both men and women in Africa and elsewhere can be reduced by abstaining from sex, by only having one or a few partners, by always using condoms, and by male circumcision. In addition, several studies suggest that antiretroviral therapy (ART) greatly reduces HIV transmission.
Why Was This Study Done?
Unfortunately, in sub-Saharan Africa, only about a fifth of HIV-positive people are currently receiving ART, which means that there is an urgent need to find other effective ways to reduce HIV transmission in this region. In this prospective cohort study (a type of study that follows a group of people for some time to see which personal characteristics are associated with disease development), the researchers investigate whether bacterial vaginosis—a condition in which harmful bacteria disrupt the normal vaginal flora—increases the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission among African couples. Bacterial vaginosis, which is extremely common in sub-Saharan Africa, has been associated with an increased risk of HIV acquisition in women and induces viral replication and shedding in the vagina in HIV-positive women, which may mean that HIV-positive women with bacterial vaginosis are more likely to transmit HIV to their male partners than women without this condition. If this is the case, then interventions that reduce the incidence of bacterial vaginosis might be valuable HIV prevention strategies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed data collected from 2,236 heterosexual African couples enrolled in a clinical trial (the Partners in Prevention HSV/HIV Transmission Study) whose primary aim was to investigate whether suppression of herpes simplex virus infection could prevent HIV transmission. In all the couples, the woman was HIV-positive and the man was initially HIV-negative. The female partners were examined every three months for the presence of bacterial vaginosis and the male partners were tested regularly for HIV infection. The researchers also determined whether the men who became HIV-positive were infected with the same HIV strain as their partner to check that their infection had been acquired from this partner. The HIV incidence in men whose partners had bacterial vaginosis was 2.9 per 100 person-years (that is, 2.9 out of every 100 men became HIV-positive per year) whereas the HIV incidence in men whose partners had a normal vaginal flora was 0.76 per 100 person-years. After controlling for factors that might affect the risk of HIV transmission such as male circumcision and viral levels in female partner's blood, the researchers estimated that bacterial vaginosis was associated with a 3.17-fold increased risk of female-to-male HIV transmission in their study population.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that HIV-positive African women with bacterial vaginosis are more than three times as likely to transmit HIV to their male partners as those with a normal vaginal flora. It is possible that some unknown characteristic of the men in this study might have increased both their own risk of HIV infection and their partner's risk of bacterial vaginosis. Nevertheless, because bacterial vaginosis is so common in Africa (half of the women in this study had bacterial vaginosis at least once during follow-up) and because this condition is associated with both female HIV acquisition and transmission, these findings suggest that bacterial vaginosis could be responsible for a substantial proportion of new HIV infections in Africa. Normalization of vaginal flora in HIV-infected women by frequent presumptive treatment with antimicrobials (treatment with a curative dose of antibiotics without testing for bacterial vaginosis) or possibly by treatment with probiotics (live “good” bacteria) might, therefore, reduce female-to-male HIV transmission in sub-Saharan Africa.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001251.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and infectious diseases on all aspects of HIV infection and AIDS and on bacterial vaginosis
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including specific information about HIV/AIDS and women; it also has information on bacterial vaginosis (in English and Spanish)
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment, and information on bacterial vaginosis and HIV transmission (in several languages)
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS nonprofit group on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including detailed information on HIV and AIDS prevention, on women, HIV and AIDS and on HIV/AIDS in Africa (in English and Spanish); personal stories of women living with HIV are available; the website Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about living with HIV
More information about the Partners in Prevention HSV/HIV Transmission Study is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001251
PMCID: PMC3383741  PMID: 22745608
2.  Mass HIV Treatment and Sex Disparities in Life Expectancy: Demographic Surveillance in Rural South Africa 
PLoS Medicine  2015;12(11):e1001905.
Background
Women have better patient outcomes in HIV care and treatment than men in sub-Saharan Africa. We assessed—at the population level—whether and to what extent mass HIV treatment is associated with changes in sex disparities in adult life expectancy, a summary metric of survival capturing mortality across the full cascade of HIV care. We also determined sex-specific trends in HIV mortality and the distribution of HIV-related deaths in men and women prior to and at each stage of the clinical cascade.
Methods and Findings
Data were collected on all deaths occurring from 2001 to 2011 in a large population-based surveillance cohort (52,964 women and 45,688 men, ages 15 y and older) in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Cause of death was ascertained by verbal autopsy (93% response rate). Demographic data were linked at the individual level to clinical records from the public sector HIV treatment and care program that serves the region. Annual rates of HIV-related mortality were assessed for men and women separately, and female-to-male rate ratios were estimated in exponential hazard models. Sex-specific trends in adult life expectancy and HIV-cause-deleted adult life expectancy were calculated. The proportions of HIV deaths that accrued to men and women at different stages in the HIV cascade of care were estimated annually.
Following the beginning of HIV treatment scale-up in 2004, HIV mortality declined among both men and women. Female adult life expectancy increased from 51.3 y (95% CI 49.7, 52.8) in 2003 to 64.5 y (95% CI 62.7, 66.4) in 2011, a gain of 13.2 y. Male adult life expectancy increased from 46.9 y (95% CI 45.6, 48.2) in 2003 to 55.9 y (95% CI 54.3, 57.5) in 2011, a gain of 9.0 y. The gap between female and male adult life expectancy doubled, from 4.4 y in 2003 to 8.6 y in 2011, a difference of 4.3 y (95% CI 0.9, 7.6). For women, HIV mortality declined from 1.60 deaths per 100 person-years (95% CI 1.46, 1.75) in 2003 to 0.56 per 100 person-years (95% CI 0.48, 0.65) in 2011. For men, HIV-related mortality declined from 1.71 per 100 person-years (95% CI 1.55, 1.88) to 0.76 per 100 person-years (95% CI 0.67, 0.87) in the same period. The female-to-male rate ratio for HIV mortality declined from 0.93 (95% CI 0.82–1.07) in 2003 to 0.73 (95% CI 0.60–0.89) in 2011, a statistically significant decline (p = 0.046). In 2011, 57% and 41% of HIV-related deaths occurred among men and women, respectively, who had never sought care for HIV in spite of the widespread availability of free HIV treatment. The results presented here come from a poor rural setting in southern Africa with high HIV prevalence and high HIV treatment coverage; broader generalizability is unknown. Additionally, factors other than HIV treatment scale-up may have influenced population mortality trends.
Conclusions
Mass HIV treatment has been accompanied by faster declines in HIV mortality among women than men and a growing female–male disparity in adult life expectancy at the population level. In 2011, over half of male HIV deaths occurred in men who had never sought clinical HIV care. Interventions to increase HIV testing and linkage to care among men are urgently needed.
Jacob Bor and colleagues use demographic data from a longitudinal surveillance cohort to identify increased gains in life expectancy among women compared to men in the years following antiretroviral therapy scale-up in rural South Africa.
Editors' Summary
Background.
AIDS has killed 39 million people over the past three decades, and about 35 million people (including 25 million living in sub-Saharan Africa) are currently infected with HIV, the retrovirus that causes AIDS. HIV destroys immune system cells, leaving HIV-positive individuals susceptible to other serious infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-positive individuals died within ten years of infection. Then, in 1996, effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) became available. For people living in high-income countries, HIV infection became a chronic condition, but HIV/AIDS remained largely untreated and fatal in resource-limited countries. In 2003, the international community began to work towards achieving universal access to ART. Now, at least a third of people living with HIV have access to ART, the global rate of AIDS-related deaths has fallen by more than a third from its 2005 peak, and the life expectancy (how long a person is likely to live based on their year of their birth, their current age, and other demographic factors) of HIV-positive adults has markedly increased.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although ART has been provided without charge to patients in South African public clinics since 2004, HIV/AIDS remains the leading cause of death in many parts of South Africa. Reducing the lingering burden of HIV mortality is a policy priority. Prior studies have found worse outcomes among men in HIV care and treatment. Here, the researchers assess the evolution of sex disparities in life expectancy and HIV mortality rates at the population level with the scale-up of ART in a rural region of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where 29% of the population is HIV-positive. Different trends in life expectancy for men and women following ART scale-up may reflect differences in the underlying burden of HIV disease—women tend to be infected and die at younger ages—as well as differences in access to HIV testing, care, and treatment. The researchers also assess where in the cascade of HIV care and treatment HIV mortality occurs for men and women. Knowing more about sex-specific trends in population life expectancy and where the lingering burden of HIV mortality occurs could help experts design strategies to further reduce HIV mortality in regions where free ART is widely available.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers linked demographic data obtained through regular household surveys, including all deaths occurring between 2001 and 2011, for nearly 100,000 adults living in rural KwaZulu-Natal to clinical records held by the public sector HIV treatment and care program. In addition, trained nurses visited households where there had been a death and collected data that were used to determine the probable cause of death (verbal autopsy). Analysis of these data indicated that, between 2003 and 2011, female adult life expectancy increased by 13.2 years (from 51.3 years to 64.5 years), whereas male life expectancy increased by only 9 years (from 46.9 years to 55.9 years). Thus, the gap between female and male adult life expectancy doubled between 2003 and 2011. Moreover, although HIV-related mortality among women and men was similar in 2003, in 2011 women were 27% less likely to die from HIV than men. With the scale-up of ART, male sex has emerged as a risk factor for HIV mortality at the population level. Finally, in 2011, 55% of all male HIV-related deaths and 40% of all female HIV-related deaths occurred among men and women who had never sought care for HIV/AIDS.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that although the mass provision of free ART in South Africa has coincided with a reduction in HIV-related mortality among both men and women, ART scale-up has been accompanied by faster declines in HIV-related deaths among women than men and by a growing female–male disparity in adult life expectancy. Notably, these findings also indicate that despite the wide availability of ART, about half of all HIV-related deaths in the study population occurred among people who had never sought care for HIV. The use of verbal autopsy to determine the probable cause of death may limit the accuracy of these findings, and factors other than the scale-up of ART may have influenced the population mortality trends. Moreover, these findings may not be generalizable to other populations. However, these results highlight the need for further research to understand why men are not as likely as women to seek and adhere to HIV care and treatment, and to design effective interventions to increase the uptake of HIV services among men. Without better outreach to men, the researchers conclude, the full benefits of mass ART provision will not be realized.
Additional Information.
This list of resources contains links that can be accessed when viewing the PDF on a device or via the online version of the article at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001905.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment, and personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on universal access to ART and on HIV/AIDS in South Africa; Avert also provides personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS (in several languages), including its Consolidated Guidelines on the Use of Antiretroviral Therapy for Treating and Preventing HIV Infection and information on the WHO/UNAIDS Treatment 2.0 strategy, an initiative to expand access to HIV testing and ART
The UNAIDS Fast-Track Strategy to End the AIDS Epidemic by 2030 provides up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it, including progress towards universal access to antiretroviral therapy; UNAIDS also provides detailed information about HIV/AIDS in South Africa
More information about the population-based surveillance cohort that provided the data for this study is available from the Africa Centre for Population Health website
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001905
PMCID: PMC4658174  PMID: 26599699
3.  Mortality in Patients with HIV-1 Infection Starting Antiretroviral Therapy in South Africa, Europe, or North America: A Collaborative Analysis of Prospective Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(9):e1001718.
Analyzing survival in HIV treatment cohorts, Andrew Boulle and colleagues find mortality rates in South Africa comparable to or better than those in North America by 4 years after starting antiretroviral therapy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
High early mortality in patients with HIV-1 starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to Europe and North America, is well documented. Longer-term comparisons between settings have been limited by poor ascertainment of mortality in high burden African settings. This study aimed to compare mortality up to four years on ART between South Africa, Europe, and North America.
Methods and Findings
Data from four South African cohorts in which patients lost to follow-up (LTF) could be linked to the national population register to determine vital status were combined with data from Europe and North America. Cumulative mortality, crude and adjusted (for characteristics at ART initiation) mortality rate ratios (relative to South Africa), and predicted mortality rates were described by region at 0–3, 3–6, 6–12, 12–24, and 24–48 months on ART for the period 2001–2010. Of the adults included (30,467 [South Africa], 29,727 [Europe], and 7,160 [North America]), 20,306 (67%), 9,961 (34%), and 824 (12%) were women. Patients began treatment with markedly more advanced disease in South Africa (median CD4 count 102, 213, and 172 cells/µl in South Africa, Europe, and North America, respectively). High early mortality after starting ART in South Africa occurred mainly in patients starting ART with CD4 count <50 cells/µl. Cumulative mortality at 4 years was 16.6%, 4.7%, and 15.3% in South Africa, Europe, and North America, respectively. Mortality was initially much lower in Europe and North America than South Africa, but the differences were reduced or reversed (North America) at longer durations on ART (adjusted rate ratios 0.46, 95% CI 0.37–0.58, and 1.62, 95% CI 1.27–2.05 between 24 and 48 months on ART comparing Europe and North America to South Africa). While bias due to under-ascertainment of mortality was minimised through death registry linkage, residual bias could still be present due to differing approaches to and frequency of linkage.
Conclusions
After accounting for under-ascertainment of mortality, with increasing duration on ART, the mortality rate on HIV treatment in South Africa declines to levels comparable to or below those described in participating North American cohorts, while substantially narrowing the differential with the European cohorts.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
AIDS has killed about 36 million people since the first recorded case of the disease in 1981, and a similar number of people (including 25 million living in sub-Saharan Africa) are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV destroys immune system cells (including CD4 cells, a type of lymphocyte), leaving infected individuals susceptible to other serious infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, HIV-positive people usually died within 10 years of becoming infected. In 1996, effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) became available and, for people living in high-income countries, HIV infection became a chronic condition. But ART was expensive, so HIV/AIDS remained largely untreated and fatal in resource-limited countries. Then, in 2003, the international community began to work towards achieving universal access to ART. By the end of 2012, nearly two-thirds of HIV-positive people (nearly 10 million individuals) living in low- and middle-income countries who were eligible for treatment because their CD4 cell count had fallen below 350/mm3 blood or because they had developed an AIDS-defining condition were receiving treatment.
Why Was This Study Done?
It is known that a larger proportion of HIV-positive patients starting ART die during the first year of treatment in sub-Saharan Africa than in Europe and North America. This difference arises in part because patients in resource-limited settings tend to have lower CD4 counts when they start treatment than patients in wealthy countries. However, the lack of reliable data on mortality (death) in resource-limited settings has made it hard to compare longer-term outcomes in different settings. Information on the long-term outcomes of HIV-positive patients receiving ART in resource-limited countries is needed to guide the development of appropriate health systems and treatment regimens in these settings. In this collaborative analysis of prospective cohort studies, the researchers compare mortality up to 4 years on ART in South Africa, Europe, and North America. A prospective cohort study follows a group of individuals over time to see whether differences in specific characteristics at the start of the study affect subsequent outcomes. A collaborative analysis combines individual patient data from several studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers combined data from four South Africa cohorts of HIV-positive patients starting ART included in the International Epidemiologic Databases to Evaluate AIDS South African (IeDEA-SA) collaboration with data from six North American cohorts and nine European cohorts included in the ART Cohort Collaboration (ART-CC). The South African cohorts were chosen because unusually for studies undertaken in countries in sub-Saharan Africa the vital status of patients (whether they had died) who had been lost to follow-up in these cohorts could be obtained from the national population register. Patients in South Africa began treatment with more advanced disease (indicated by a lower average CD4 count) than patients in Europe or North America. Notably, high early mortality after starting ART in South Africa occurred mainly in patients starting ART with a CD4 count below 50 cells/mm3. The cumulative mortality after 4 years of ART was 16.6%, 4.7%, and 15.3% in South Africa, Europe, and North America, respectively. After adjusting for patient characteristics at ART initiation, the mortality rate among patients beginning ART was initially lower in Europe and North American than in South Africa. However, although the adjusted mortality rate in Europe remained lower than the rate in South Africa, the rate in North America was higher than that in South Africa between 24 and 48 months on ART.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although the linkage to national vital registration systems (databases of births and deaths) undertaken in this collaborative analysis is likely to have greatly reduced bias due to under-ascertainment of mortality, the accuracy of these findings may still be limited by differences in how this linkage was undertaken in different settings. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that mortality among HIV-infected patients receiving ART in South Africa, although initially higher than in Europe and North America, rapidly declines with increasing duration on ART and, after 4 years of treatment, approaches the rate seen in high-income settings. Intriguingly, these findings also highlight the relatively higher late mortality in North America compared to either Europe or South Africa, a result that needs to be investigated to explore the extent to which differences in mortality ascertainment, patient characteristics and comorbidities, or health systems and treatment regimens contribute to variations in outcomes among HIV-positive patients in various settings.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001718.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Agnes Binagwaho and colleagues
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on universal access to ART, on HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, and on HIV and AIDS in South Africa (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS (in several languages); its 2013 Consolidated guidelines on the use of antiretroviral drugs for treating and preventing HIV infections: recommendations for a public health approach are available
The 2013 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report provides up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it
Information about the International Epidemiologic Databases to Evaluate AIDS South African (IeDEA-SA) collaboration and about the ART Cohort Collaboration is available
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert, Nam/aidsmap, and Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001718
PMCID: PMC4159124  PMID: 25203931
4.  Public-Health and Individual Approaches to Antiretroviral Therapy: Township South Africa and Switzerland Compared 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(7):e148.
Background
The provision of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in resource-limited settings follows a public health approach, which is characterised by a limited number of regimens and the standardisation of clinical and laboratory monitoring. In industrialized countries doctors prescribe from the full range of available antiretroviral drugs, supported by resistance testing and frequent laboratory monitoring. We compared virologic response, changes to first-line regimens, and mortality in HIV-infected patients starting HAART in South Africa and Switzerland.
Methods and Findings
We analysed data from the Swiss HIV Cohort Study and two HAART programmes in townships of Cape Town, South Africa. We included treatment-naïve patients aged 16 y or older who had started treatment with at least three drugs since 2001, and excluded intravenous drug users. Data from a total of 2,348 patients from South Africa and 1,016 patients from the Swiss HIV Cohort Study were analysed. Median baseline CD4+ T cell counts were 80 cells/μl in South Africa and 204 cells/μl in Switzerland. In South Africa, patients started with one of four first-line regimens, which was subsequently changed in 514 patients (22%). In Switzerland, 36 first-line regimens were used initially, and these were changed in 539 patients (53%). In most patients HIV-1 RNA was suppressed to 500 copies/ml or less within one year: 96% (95% confidence interval [CI] 95%–97%) in South Africa and 96% (94%–97%) in Switzerland, and 26% (22%–29%) and 27% (24%–31%), respectively, developed viral rebound within two years. Mortality was higher in South Africa than in Switzerland during the first months of HAART: adjusted hazard ratios were 5.90 (95% CI 1.81–19.2) during months 1–3 and 1.77 (0.90–3.50) during months 4–24.
Conclusions
Compared to the highly individualised approach in Switzerland, programmatic HAART in South Africa resulted in similar virologic outcomes, with relatively few changes to initial regimens. Further innovation and resources are required in South Africa to both achieve more timely access to HAART and improve the prognosis of patients who start HAART with advanced disease.
Comparing HIV treatment in Switzerland, where drug selection is individualized, and South Africa, where a programmatic approach is used, Matthias Egger and colleagues find similar virologic outcomes over two years.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed more than 25 million people since the first reported case in 1981, and more than 30 million people are now infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. HIV destroys immune system cells (including CD4 cells, a type of lymphocyte), leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-infected people died within 10 years of becoming infected. Then, in 1996, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART)—a combination of several antiretroviral drugs—was developed. Now, in resource-rich countries, clinicians provide individually tailored care for HIV-infected people by prescribing combinations of antiretroviral drugs chosen from more than 20 approved medicines. The approach to treatment of HIV in developed countries typically also includes frequent monitoring of the amount of virus in patients' blood (viral load), viral resistance testing (to see whether any viruses are resistant to specific antiretroviral drugs), and regular CD4 cell counts (an indication of immune-system health). Since the implementation of these interventions, the health and life expectancy of people with HIV has improved dramatically in these countries.
Why Was This Study Done?
The history of HIV care in resource-poor countries has been very different. Initially, these countries could not afford to provide HAART for their populations. In 2003, however, governments, international agencies, and funding bodies began to implement plans to increase HAART coverage in developing countries. By December 2006, more than a quarter of the HIV-infected people in low- and middle-income countries who urgently needed treatment were receiving HAART. However, instead of individualized treatment, HAART programs in developing countries follow a public-health approach developed by the World Health Organization. That is, drug regimens, clinical decision-making, and clinical and laboratory monitoring are all standardized. This public-health approach takes into account the realities of under-resourced health systems, but is it as effective as the individualized approach? The researchers addressed this question by comparing virologic responses (the effect of treatment on the viral load), changes to first-line (initial) therapy, and deaths in patients receiving HAART in South Africa (public-health approach) and in Switzerland (individualized approach).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed data collected since 2001 from more than 2,000 patients enrolled in HAART programs in two townships (Gugulethu and Khayelitsha) in Cape Town, South Africa, and from more than 1,000 patients enrolled in the Swiss HIV Cohort Study, a nationwide study of HIV-infected people. The patients in South Africa, who had a lower starting CD4 cell count and were more likely to have advanced AIDS than the patients in Switzerland, started their treatment for HIV infection with one of four first-line therapies, and about a quarter changed to a second-line therapy during the study. By contrast, 36 first-line regimens were used in Switzerland and half the patients changed to a different regimen. Despite these differences, the viral load was greatly reduced within a year in virtually all the patients and viral rebound (an increased viral load after a low measurement) developed within 2 years in a quarter of the patients in both countries. However, more patients died in South Africa than in Switzerland, particularly during the first 3 months of therapy.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the public-health approach to HAART practiced in South Africa is as effective in terms of virologic outcomes as the individualized approach practiced in Switzerland. This is reassuring because it suggests that “antiretroviral anarchy” (the unregulated use of antiretroviral drugs, interruptions in drug supplies, and the lack of treatment monitoring), which is likely to lead to the emergence of viral resistance, is not happening in South Africa as some experts feared it might. Thus, these findings support the continued rollout of the public-health approach to HAART in resource-poor countries. Conversely, they also suggest that a more standardized approach to HAART could be taken in Switzerland (and in other industrialized countries) without compromising its effectiveness. Finally, the higher mortality in South Africa than in Switzerland, which partly reflects the many patients in South Africa in desperate need of HAART and their more advanced disease at the start of therapy, suggests that HIV-infected patients in South Africa and in other resource-limited countries would benefit from earlier initiation of therapy.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050148.
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to HIV treatment (in several languages) and on its recommendations for a public-health approach to antiretroviral therapy for HIV infection
More details on the Swiss HIV Cohort Study and on the studies in Gugulethu and Khayelitsha are available
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including detailed information about antiretroviral therapy and links to treatment guidelines for various countries
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on HIV and AIDS around the world and on providing AIDS drug treatment for millions
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050148
PMCID: PMC2443185  PMID: 18613745
5.  Elimination of HIV in South Africa through Expanded Access to Antiretroviral Therapy: A Model Comparison Study 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(10):e1001534.
Using nine structurally different models, Jan Hontelez and colleagues investigate timeframes for HIV elimination in South Africa using a universal test and treat strategy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Expanded access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) using universal test and treat (UTT) has been suggested as a strategy to eliminate HIV in South Africa within 7 y based on an influential mathematical modeling study. However, the underlying deterministic model was criticized widely, and other modeling studies did not always confirm the study's finding. The objective of our study is to better understand the implications of different model structures and assumptions, so as to arrive at the best possible predictions of the long-term impact of UTT and the possibility of elimination of HIV.
Methods and Findings
We developed nine structurally different mathematical models of the South African HIV epidemic in a stepwise approach of increasing complexity and realism. The simplest model resembles the initial deterministic model, while the most comprehensive model is the stochastic microsimulation model STDSIM, which includes sexual networks and HIV stages with different degrees of infectiousness. We defined UTT as annual screening and immediate ART for all HIV-infected adults, starting at 13% in January 2012 and scaled up to 90% coverage by January 2019. All models predict elimination, yet those that capture more processes underlying the HIV transmission dynamics predict elimination at a later point in time, after 20 to 25 y. Importantly, the most comprehensive model predicts that the current strategy of ART at CD4 count ≤350 cells/µl will also lead to elimination, albeit 10 y later compared to UTT. Still, UTT remains cost-effective, as many additional life-years would be saved. The study's major limitations are that elimination was defined as incidence below 1/1,000 person-years rather than 0% prevalence, and drug resistance was not modeled.
Conclusions
Our results confirm previous predictions that the HIV epidemic in South Africa can be eliminated through universal testing and immediate treatment at 90% coverage. However, more realistic models show that elimination is likely to occur at a much later point in time than the initial model suggested. Also, UTT is a cost-effective intervention, but less cost-effective than previously predicted because the current South African ART treatment policy alone could already drive HIV into elimination.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
About 34 million people (mostly in low- and middle-income countries) are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and every year another 2.5 million people become infected. HIV, which is usually transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected partner, gradually destroys CD4 lymphocytes and other immune system cells, leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, people infected with HIV often died within ten years of infection. Then, in 1996, antiretroviral therapy (ART) became available, and, for people living in affluent countries, HIV/AIDS became a chronic condition. However, ART was expensive, so HIV/AIDS remained a fatal condition for people living in resource-limited countries. In 2006, the international community set a target of achieving universal ART coverage by 2010, and ART programs were initiated in many resource-limited countries. Although universal ART coverage has still not been achieved in South Africa, where nearly 6 million people are HIV-positive, 80% of people in need of ART were receiving a World Health Organization–recommended ART regimen by October 2012.
Why Was This Study Done?
ART is usually started when a person's CD4 count falls below 350 cells/µl blood, but it is thought that treatment of all HIV-positive individuals, regardless of their CD4 count, could reduce HIV transmission by reducing the infectiousness of HIV-positive individuals (“treatment as prevention”). Might it be possible, therefore, to eliminate HIV by screening everyone annually for infection and treating all HIV-positive individuals immediately? In 2009, a mathematical modeling study suggested that seven years of universal test and treat (UTT) could eliminate HIV in South Africa. The deterministic (nonrandom) model used in that study has been widely criticized, however, and some subsequent modeling studies have reached different conclusions, probably because of differences in the models' structures and in the assumptions built into them. A better understanding of the reasons for the discrepancies between models would help policy-makers decide whether to introduce UTT, so, here, the researchers developed several increasingly complex and realistic models of the South African HIV epidemic and used these models to predict the long-term impact of UTT in South Africa.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed nine structurally different mathematical models of the South African HIV epidemic based on the STDSIM framework, a stochastic microsimulation model that simulates the life course of individuals in a dynamic network of sexual contacts and in which events such as HIV infection are random processes. The simplest model, which resembled the original deterministic model, was extended by sequentially adding in factors such as different HIV transmission rates at different stages of HIV infection and up-to-date assumptions regarding the ability of ART to reduce HIV infectiousness. All the models replicated the prevalence of HIV in South Africa (the proportion of the population that was HIV-positive) between 1990 and 2010, and all predicted that UTT (defined as annual screening of individuals age 15+ years and immediate ART for all HIV-infected adults starting in 2012 and scaled up to 90% coverage by 2019) would result in HIV elimination (less than one new infection per 1,000 person-years). However, whereas the simplest model predicted that UTT would eliminate HIV after seven years, the more complex, realistic models predicted elimination at much later time points. Importantly, the most comprehensive model predicted that, although elimination would be reached after about 17 years of UTT, the current strategy of ART initiation for HIV-positive individuals at a CD4 cell count at or below 350 cells/µl would also lead to HIV elimination, albeit ten years later than UTT.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings confirm previous predictions that UTT could eliminate HIV in South Africa, but the development of more realistic models than those used in the past suggests that HIV elimination would occur substantially later than originally predicted. Importantly, the most comprehensive model suggests that HIV could be eliminated in South Africa using the current strategy for ART treatment alone. As with all modeling studies, the accuracy of these findings depends on the assumptions built into the models and on the structure of the models. Thus, although these findings support the use of UTT as an intervention to eliminate HIV, more research with comprehensive models that incorporate factors such as data from ongoing trials of treatment as prevention is needed to determine the population-level impact and overall cost-effectiveness of UTT.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001534.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Ford and Hirnschall
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV and AIDS in South Africa, on HIV treatment as prevention and the possibility of HIV elimination (in English and Spanish)
The 2012 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report provides up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment (in several languages); its 2010 ART guidelines can be downloaded
The PLOS Medicine Collection Investigating the Impact of Treatment on New HIV Infections provides more information about HIV treatment as prevention
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert, through NAM/aidsmap, and through the charity website Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001534
PMCID: PMC3805487  PMID: 24167449
6.  The Potential Impact of Male Circumcision on HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(7):e262.
Background
A randomized controlled trial (RCT) has shown that male circumcision (MC) reduces sexual transmission of HIV from women to men by 60% (32%−76%; 95% CI) offering an intervention of proven efficacy for reducing the sexual spread of HIV. We explore the implications of this finding for the promotion of MC as a public health intervention to control HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods and Findings
Using dynamical simulation models we consider the impact of MC on the relative prevalence of HIV in men and women and in circumcised and uncircumcised men. Using country level data on HIV prevalence and MC, we estimate the impact of increasing MC coverage on HIV incidence, HIV prevalence, and HIV-related deaths over the next ten, twenty, and thirty years in sub-Saharan Africa. Assuming that full coverage of MC is achieved over the next ten years, we consider three scenarios in which the reduction in transmission is given by the best estimate and the upper and lower 95% confidence limits of the reduction in transmission observed in the RCT.
MC could avert 2.0 (1.1−3.8) million new HIV infections and 0.3 (0.1−0.5) million deaths over the next ten years in sub-Saharan Africa. In the ten years after that, it could avert a further 3.7 (1.9−7.5) million new HIV infections and 2.7 (1.5−5.3) million deaths, with about one quarter of all the incident cases prevented and the deaths averted occurring in South Africa. We show that a) MC will increase the proportion of infected people who are women from about 52% to 58%; b) where there is homogenous mixing but not all men are circumcised, the prevalence of infection in circumcised men is likely to be about 80% of that in uncircumcised men; c) MC is equivalent to an intervention, such as a vaccine or increased condom use, that reduces transmission in both directions by 37%.
Conclusions
This analysis is based on the result of just one RCT, but if the results of that trial are confirmed we suggest that MC could substantially reduce the burden of HIV in Africa, especially in southern Africa where the prevalence of MC is low and the prevalence of HIV is high. While the protective benefit to HIV-negative men will be immediate, the full impact of MC on HIV-related illness and death will only be apparent in ten to twenty years.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Africa is the continent most affected by HIV/AIDS, and it is important to consider all possible means of reducing the spread of HIV infection. Male circumcision has been a tradition in many parts of Africa for hundreds of years. Boys who are circumcised usually have it done in late childhood or their early teenage years. It was noticed some years ago that those African groups in which circumcision is routinely done on all boys have fewer cases of HIV/AIDS than are found in groups where circumcision is not a tradition. This finding gave rise to the idea that circumcision might give a degree of protection against HIV, though it was recognised that some other, unknown difference between these groups of people might actually be the important factor. In 2005 a trial was reported from the Orange Farm area of South Africa, in which uncircumcised men were offered the chance to be circumcised. The men who agreed were divided at random into those who had the operation straightaway and those who were to have it two years later. During the next 18 months, the number of new cases of HIV infection was much higher amongst the men who had not been circumcised. Circumcision did therefore seem to offer a measure of protection against infection. This protective effect was estimated at being about 60%. Similar trials are under way in other parts of Africa but there are no results available from them at this stage.
Why Was This Study Done?
If the level of effectiveness of circumcision suggested by the South African trial is correct, then, as one part of a range of measures to reduce the spread of HIV, it would seem logical to encourage the practice of male circumcision. It would be useful to have an estimate of just how many new cases could be prevented and how many lives would be saved by the promotion of male circumcision. Calculations would have to allow for various factors, such as the present level of HIV infection, which varies from one country to another, and the fact that many men are already circumcised.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This research did not involve collecting any new data. The researchers used mathematical modelling to make calculations. They based their model on data from the Orange Farm trial and on information from various sub-Saharan African countries on the proportion of men who are circumcised and the proportion who are HIV-positive. They made the assumption that if circumcision is intensively promoted, all men in those countries will be circumcised in 10 years time. They calculated the number of new cases that would be prevented and the lives that would be saved in ten years, 20 years, and 30 years time. Their best estimate is that with the promotion of male circumcision, two million cases and 0.3 million deaths will be avoided in ten years time. Over the following ten years, according to the researchers' model, a further 3.7 million cases and 2.7 million deaths would be prevented. Most of the initial impact would be in men, but the reduction in the number of HIV-positive men would in time also lower the risk of women becoming infected. Overall, on the basis of these calculations, male circumcision would reduce the rate of infections by about 37%—both female-to-male and male-to-female transmission. The size of the impact would vary from one country to another; it would be greatest in southern Africa where HIV infection rates are high and circumcision rates relatively low compared with the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Male circumcision alone cannot bring the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa under control. Even circumcised men can become infected, though their risk of doing so is much lower. However, the researchers call for the promotion of male circumcision to become a major part of AIDS control programmes. Their results are based on the findings of just one study (the Orange Farm trial), and it will be important to repeat the calculations when further studies have been completed.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030262:
• The Orange Farm trial was published in PLoS Medicine. Several articles discussing the trial were also published in the same issue of the journal
• The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has information about the state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and prevention strategies worldwide. It produces an annual report and has documents on a wide range of topics
•  AEGIS is the world's largest searchable database on HIV and AIDS.
• Many organizations provide information on AIDS prevention—for example, the Terrence Higgins Trust
• The World Bank's Global HIV/AIDS Program has a report about male circumcision and HIV infection
A modelling study, based on one trial plus national figures for current prevalence of HIV and of male circumcision (MC), found increasing MC in Africa could produce major fall in HIV prevalence in 10-12 years.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030262
PMCID: PMC1489185  PMID: 16822094
7.  Prevalence of Consensual Male–Male Sex and Sexual Violence, and Associations with HIV in South Africa: A Population-Based Cross-Sectional Study 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(6):e1001472.
Using a method that offered complete privacy to participants, Rachel Jewkes and colleagues conducted a survey among South African men about their lifetime same-sex experiences.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
In sub-Saharan Africa the population prevalence of men who have sex with men (MSM) is unknown, as is the population prevalence of male-on-male sexual violence, and whether male-on-male sexual violence may relate to HIV risk. This paper describes lifetime prevalence of consensual male–male sexual behavior and male-on-male sexual violence (victimization and perpetration) in two South African provinces, socio-demographic factors associated with these experiences, and associations with HIV serostatus.
Methods and Findings
In a cross-sectional study conducted in 2008, men aged 18–49 y from randomly selected households in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces provided anonymous survey data and dried blood spots for HIV serostatus assessment. Interviews were completed in 1,737 of 2,298 (75.6%) of enumerated and eligible households. From these households, 1,705 men (97.1%) provided data on lifetime history of same-sex experiences, and 1,220 (70.2%) also provided dried blood spots for HIV testing. 5.4% (n = 92) of participants reported a lifetime history of any consensual sexual activity with another man; 9.6% (n = 164) reported any sexual victimization by a man, and 3.0% (n = 51) reported perpetrating sexual violence against another man. 85.0% (n = 79) of men with a history of consensual sex with men reported having a current female partner, and 27.7% (n = 26) reported having a current male partner. Of the latter, 80.6% (n = 21/26) also reported having a female partner. Men reporting a history of consensual male–male sexual behavior are more likely to have been a victim of male-on-male sexual violence (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 7.24; 95% CI 4.26–12.3), and to have perpetrated sexual violence against another man (aOR = 3.10; 95% CI 1.22–7.90). Men reporting consensual oral/anal sex with a man were more likely to be HIV+ than men with no such history (aOR = 3.11; 95% CI 1.24–7.80). Men who had raped a man were more likely to be HIV+ than non-perpetrators (aOR = 3.58; 95% CI 1.17–10.9).
Conclusions
In this sample, one in 20 men (5.4%) reported lifetime consensual sexual contact with a man, while about one in ten (9.6%) reported experience of male-on-male sexual violence victimization. Men who reported having had sex with men were more likely to be HIV+, as were men who reported perpetrating sexual violence towards other men. Whilst there was no direct measure of male–female concurrency (having overlapping sexual relationships with men and women), the data suggest that this may have been common. These findings suggest that HIV prevention messages regarding male–male sex in South Africa should be mainstreamed with prevention messages for the general population, and sexual health interventions and HIV prevention interventions for South African men should explicitly address male-on-male sexual violence.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
AIDS first emerged in the early 1980s among gay men living in the US, but it soon became clear that AIDS also infects heterosexual men and women. Now, three decades on, globally, 34 million people (two-thirds of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa and half of whom are women) are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and 2.5 million people become infected every year. HIV is most often spread by having unprotected sex with an infected partner, and most sexual transmission of HIV now occurs during heterosexual sex. However, 5%–10% of all new HIV infections still occur in men who have sex with men (MSM; homosexual, bisexual, and transgender men, and heterosexual men who sometimes have consensual sex with men). Moreover, in the concentrated HIV epidemics of high-income countries (epidemics in which the prevalence of HIV infection is more than 5% in at-risk populations such as sex workers but less than 1% in the general population), male-to-male sexual contact remains the most important transmission route, and MSM often have a higher prevalence of HIV infection than heterosexual men.
Why Was This Study Done?
By contrast to high-income countries, HIV epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa are generalized—the prevalence of HIV infection is 1% or more in the general population. Because male-to-male sexual behavior is criminalized in many African countries and because homosexuality is widely stigmatized, little is known about the prevalence of consensual male–male sexual behavior in sub-Saharan Africa. This information and a better understanding of male–female sexual concurrency (having overlapping sexual relationships with men and women) and of how male-to-male transmission contributes to generalized HIV epidemics is needed to inform the design of HIV prevention strategies for use in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, very little is known about male-on-male sexual violence. Such violence is potentially important to study because we know that male-on-female violence is associated with increased HIV risk for both victims and perpetrators. In this cross-sectional study (an investigation that measures population characteristics at a single time point), the researchers use data from a population-based household survey to investigate the lifetime prevalence of consensual male–male sexual behavior and male-on-male sexual violence (victimization and perpetration) among men in South Africa and the association of these experiences with HIV infection.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
About 1,700 adult men from randomly selected households in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces of South Africa self-completed a survey that included questions about their lifetime history of same-sex experiences using audio-enhanced personal digital assistants, a data collection method that provided a totally private and anonymous environment for the disclosure of illegal and stigmatized behavior; 1,220 of them also provided dried blood spots for HIV testing. Ninety-two men (5.4% of the participants) reported consensual sexual activity (for example, anal or oral sex) with another man at some time during their life; 9.6% of the men reported that they had been forced to have sex with another man (sexual victimization), and 3% reported that they had perpetrated sexual violence against another man. Most of the men who reported consensual sex with men, including those with current male partners, reported that they had a current female partner. Men with a history of consensual male–male sexual behavior were more likely to have been a victim or perpetrator of male-on-male sexual violence than men without a history of such experiences. Finally, men who reported consensual oral or anal sex with a man were more likely to be HIV+ than men without such a history, and perpetrators of male-on-male sexual violence were more likely to be HIV+ than non-perpetrators.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide new information about male–male sexual behaviors, male-on-male sexual violence, male–female concurrency, and HIV prevalence among men in two South African provinces. The precision of these findings is likely to be affected by the small numbers of men reporting a history of consensual male–male sexual behavior and of male-on-male sexual violence. Importantly, because the study was cross-sectional, these findings cannot indicate whether the association between consensual male–male sexual behaviors and increased risk of male-on-male sexual violence is causal. Moreover, these findings may not be generalizable to other regions of South Africa or to other African countries. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that information about the risks of male–male sexual behaviors should be included in HIV prevention strategies targeted at the general population in South Africa and that HIV prevention interventions for South African men should explicitly address male-on-male sexual violence. Similar HIV prevention strategies may also be suitable for other African countries, but are likely to succeed only in countries that have, like South Africa, decriminalized consensual homosexual behavior.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001472.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Jerome Singh
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, including summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV and men who have sex with men, on HIV prevention, and on AIDS in Africa (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has information about HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with men (in English and Spanish)
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert; the charity website Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about living with HIV
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001472
PMCID: PMC3708702  PMID: 23853554
8.  When Do HIV-Infected Women Disclose Their HIV Status to Their Male Partner and Why? A Study in a PMTCT Programme, Abidjan 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(12):e342.
Background
In Africa, women tested for HIV during antenatal care are counselled to share with their partner their HIV test result and to encourage partners to undertake HIV testing. We investigate, among women tested for HIV within a prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) programme, the key moments for disclosure of their own HIV status to their partner and the impact on partner HIV testing.
Methods and Findings
Within the Ditrame Plus PMTCT project in Abidjan, 546 HIV-positive and 393 HIV-negative women were tested during pregnancy and followed-up for two years after delivery. Circumstances, frequency, and determinants of disclosure to the male partner were estimated according to HIV status. The determinants of partner HIV testing were identified according to women's HIV status. During the two-year follow-up, disclosure to the partner was reported by 96.7% of the HIV-negative women, compared to 46.2% of HIV-positive women (χ2 = 265.2, degrees of freedom [df] = 1, p < 0.001). Among HIV-infected women, privileged circumstances for disclosure were just before delivery, during early weaning (at 4 mo to prevent HIV postnatal transmission), or upon resumption of sexual activity. Formula feeding by HIV-infected women increased the probability of disclosure (adjusted odds ratio 1.54, 95% confidence interval 1.04–2.27, Wald test = 4.649, df = 1, p = 0.031), whereas household factors such as having a co-spouse or living with family reduced the probability of disclosure. The proportion of male partners tested for HIV was 23.1% among HIV-positive women and 14.8% among HIV-negative women (χ2 = 10.04, df = 1, p = 0.002). Partners of HIV-positive women who were informed of their wife's HIV status were more likely to undertake HIV testing than those not informed (37.7% versus 10.5%, χ2 = 56.36, df = 1, p < 0.001).
Conclusions
In PMTCT programmes, specific psychosocial counselling and support should be provided to women during the key moments of disclosure of HIV status to their partners (end of pregnancy, weaning, and resumption of sexual activity). This support could contribute to improving women's adherence to the advice given to prevent postnatal and sexual HIV transmission.
In a mother-to-child HIV prevention program in Côte d'Ivoire, Annabel Desgrées-du-Loû and colleagues identify three junctures at which women tend to disclose their HIV status to partners.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Since the first reported case of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) in 1981, the number of people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, has risen steadily. By the end of 2006, nearly 40 million people were infected, 25 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV is most often spread by having unprotected sex with an infected partner. In Africa, most sexual transmission of HIV is between partners in stable relationships—many such couples do not adopt measures that prevent viral transmission, such as knowing the HIV status of both partners and using condoms if one partner is HIV-positive. HIV can also pass from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, labor, or delivery, or through breastfeeding. Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV can be reduced by giving anti-HIV drugs to the mother during pregnancy and labor and to her newborn baby, and by avoiding breastfeeding or weaning the baby early.
Why Was This Study Done?
Many African countries have programs for prevention of MTCT (PMTCT) that offer pregnant women prenatal HIV counseling and testing. As a result, women are often the first member of a stable relationship to know their HIV status. PMTCT programs advise women to disclose their HIV test result to their partner and to encourage him to have an HIV test. But for many women, particularly those who are HIV-positive, talking to their partner about HIV/AIDS is hard because of fears of rejection (which could mean loss of housing and food) or accusations of infidelity. Knowing more about when women disclose their HIV status and what makes them decide to do so would help the people running PMTCT programs to support women during the difficult process of disclosure. In this study, the researchers have investigated when and why women participating in a PMTCT research project in Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire) told their partner about their HIV status and the impact this disclosure had on their partner's uptake of HIV testing.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
At regular follow-up visits, the researchers asked women in the Abidjan PMTCT project whether they had told their partners their HIV status and whether they were breast-feeding or had resumed sexual activity. Nearly all the women who tested negative for HIV, but slightly fewer than half of the HIV-positive (infected) women had told their partner about their HIV status by two years after childbirth. Two-thirds of the HIV-positive women who disclosed their status did so before delivery. Other key times for disclosure were at early weaning (4 months after birth) for women who breast-fed their babies, and when sexual activity resumed. HIV-positive women who bottle fed their babies from birth were more likely to tell their partners of their status than women who breast-fed. Factors that prevented women disclosing their HIV status included living in a polygamous relationship or living separately from their partners. Finally, the researchers report that the partners of HIV-positive women who disclosed their HIV status were about three times more likely to take an HIV test than the partners of HIV-positive women who did not disclose.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings identify three key times when women who have had an HIV test during pregnancy are likely to disclose their HIV status to their partner. The main one is before delivery and relates, in part, to how the mother plans to feed her baby. To bottle feed in Abidjan, women need considerable support from their partners and this may be the impetus for disclosing their HIV status. Disclosure at early weaning may reflect the woman's need to enlist her partner's support for this unusual decision—the normal time for weaning in Abidjan is 17 months. Finally, disclosure when sexual activity resumes may be necessary so that the woman can explain why she wants to use condoms. Although these findings need confirmation in other settings, targeting counseling and support within PMTCT programs to these key moments might help HIV-positive women to tell their partners about their status. This, hopefully, would help to reduce sexual transmission of HIV within stable relationships in sub-Saharan Africa.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040342.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS and on HIV infection in women
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS
Women Children and HIV provides extensive information on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in developing countries
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on HIV and AIDS in Africa and on HIV and AIDS prevention
AIDSinfo, a service of the US Department of Health and Human Services provideshealth information for HIV-positive pregnant women (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040342
PMCID: PMC2100145  PMID: 18052603
9.  Mortality of HIV-Infected Patients Starting Antiretroviral Therapy in Sub-Saharan Africa: Comparison with HIV-Unrelated Mortality 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(4):e1000066.
Comparing mortality rates between patients starting HIV treatment and the general population in four African countries, Matthias Egger and colleagues find the gap decreases over time, especially with early treatment.
Background
Mortality in HIV-infected patients who have access to highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART) has declined in sub-Saharan Africa, but it is unclear how mortality compares to the non-HIV–infected population. We compared mortality rates observed in HIV-1–infected patients starting ART with non-HIV–related background mortality in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods and Findings
Patients enrolled in antiretroviral treatment programmes in Côte d'Ivoire, Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe were included. We calculated excess mortality rates and standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Expected numbers of deaths were obtained using estimates of age-, sex-, and country-specific, HIV-unrelated, mortality rates from the Global Burden of Disease project. Among 13,249 eligible patients 1,177 deaths were recorded during 14,695 person-years of follow-up. The median age was 34 y, 8,831 (67%) patients were female, and 10,811 of 12,720 patients (85%) with information on clinical stage had advanced disease when starting ART. The excess mortality rate was 17.5 (95% CI 14.5–21.1) per 100 person-years SMR in patients who started ART with a CD4 cell count of less than 25 cells/µl and World Health Organization (WHO) stage III/IV, compared to 1.00 (0.55–1.81) per 100 person-years in patients who started with 200 cells/µl or above with WHO stage I/II. The corresponding SMRs were 47.1 (39.1–56.6) and 3.44 (1.91–6.17). Among patients who started ART with 200 cells/µl or above in WHO stage I/II and survived the first year of ART, the excess mortality rate was 0.27 (0.08–0.94) per 100 person-years and the SMR was 1.14 (0.47–2.77).
Conclusions
Mortality of HIV-infected patients treated with combination ART in sub-Saharan Africa continues to be higher than in the general population, but for some patients excess mortality is moderate and reaches that of the general population in the second year of ART. Much of the excess mortality might be prevented by timely initiation of ART.
Please see later in the article for Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed more than 25 million people since 1981 and more than 30 million people (22 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone) are now infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. HIV destroys immune system cells (including CD4 cells, a type of lymphocyte), leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-positive people died within ten years of infection. Then, in 1996, highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART)—combinations of powerful antiretroviral drugs—was developed and the life expectancy of HIV-infected people living in affluent countries improved dramatically. Now, in industrialized countries, all-cause mortality (death from any cause) among HIV-infected patients treated successfully with ART is similar to that of the general population and the mortality rate (the number of deaths in a population per year) among patients with HIV/AIDS is comparable to that among patients with diabetes and other chronic conditions.
Why Was This Study Done?
Unfortunately, combination ART is costly, so although HIV/AIDS quickly became a chronic disease in industrialized countries, AIDS deaths continued unabated among the millions of HIV-infected people living in low- and middle-income countries. Then, in 2003, governments, international agencies and funding bodies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in developing countries. By the end of 2007, nearly three million people living with HIV/AIDS in these countries were receiving ART—nearly a third of the people who urgently need ART. In sub-Saharan Africa more than 2 million people now receive ART and mortality in HIV-infected patients who have access to ART is declining. However, no-one knows how mortality among HIV-infected people starting ART compares with non-HIV related mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. This information is needed to ensure that appropriate health services (including access to ART) are provided in this region. In this study, the researchers compare mortality rates among HIV-infected patients starting ART with non-HIV related mortality in the general population of four sub-Saharan countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained estimates of the number of HIV-unrelated deaths and information about patients during their first two years on ART at five antiretroviral treatment programs in the Côte d'Ivoire, Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe from the World Health Organization Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project and the International epidemiological Databases to Evaluate AIDS (IeDEA) initiative, respectively. They then calculated the excess mortality rates among the HIV-infected patients (the death rates in HIV-infected patients minus the national HIV-unrelated death rates) and the standardized mortality rate (SMR; the number of deaths among HIV-infected patients divided by the number of HIV-unrelated deaths in the general population). The excess mortality rate among HIV-infected people who started ART when they had a low CD4 cell count and clinically advanced disease was 17.5 per 100 person-years of follow-up. For HIV-infected people who started ART with a high CD4 cell count and early disease, the excess mortality rate was 1.0 per 100 person-years. The SMRs over two years of ART for these two groups of HIV-infected patients were 47.1 and 3.4, respectively. Finally, patients who started ART with a high CD4 cell count and early disease who survived the first year of ART had an excess mortality of only 0.27 per 100 person-years and an SMR over two years follow-up of only 1.14.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that mortality among HIV-infected people during the first two years of ART is higher than in the general population in these four sub-Saharan countries. However, for patients who start ART when they have a high CD4 count and clinically early disease, the excess mortality is moderate and similar to that associated with diabetes. Because the researchers compared the death rates among HIV-infected patients with estimates of national death rates rather than with estimates of death rates for the areas where the ART programs were located, these findings may not be completely accurate. Nevertheless, these findings support further expansion of strategies that increase access to ART in sub-Saharan Africa and suggest the excess mortality among HIV-infected patients in this region might be largely prevented by starting ART before an individual's HIV infection has progressed to advanced stages.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000066.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS including HIV and AIDS in Africa, providing AIDS drug treatment for millions, and on the stages of HIV infection
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to HIV treatment and about the Global Burden of Disease project (in several languages)
More information about the International epidemiological Databases to evaluate AIDS initiative is available on the IeDEA Web site
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000066
PMCID: PMC2667633  PMID: 19399157
10.  HIV among People Who Inject Drugs in the Middle East and North Africa: Systematic Review and Data Synthesis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(6):e1001663.
Laith Abu-Raddad and colleagues assess the current state of knowledge of the HIV epidemic among people who inject drugs in the Middle East and North Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
It is perceived that little is known about the epidemiology of HIV infection among people who inject drugs (PWID) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The primary objective of this study was to assess the status of the HIV epidemic among PWID in MENA by describing HIV prevalence and incidence. Secondary objectives were to describe the risk behavior environment and the HIV epidemic potential among PWID, and to estimate the prevalence of injecting drug use in MENA.
Methods and Findings
This was a systematic review following the PRISMA guidelines and covering 23 MENA countries. PubMed, Embase, regional and international databases, as well as country-level reports were searched up to December 16, 2013. Primary studies reporting (1) the prevalence/incidence of HIV, other sexually transmitted infections, or hepatitis C virus (HCV) among PWIDs; or (2) the prevalence of injecting or sexual risk behaviors, or HIV knowledge among PWID; or (3) the number/proportion of PWID in MENA countries, were eligible for inclusion. The quality, quantity, and geographic coverage of the data were assessed at country level. Risk of bias in predefined quality domains was described to assess the quality of available HIV prevalence measures. After multiple level screening, 192 eligible reports were included in the review. There were 197 HIV prevalence measures on a total of 58,241 PWID extracted from reports, and an additional 226 HIV prevalence measures extracted from the databases.
We estimated that there are 626,000 PWID in MENA (range: 335,000–1,635,000, prevalence of 0.24 per 100 adults). We found evidence of HIV epidemics among PWID in at least one-third of MENA countries, most of which are emerging concentrated epidemics and with HIV prevalence overall in the range of 10%–15%. Some of the epidemics have however already reached considerable levels including some of the highest HIV prevalence among PWID globally (87.1% in Tripoli, Libya). The relatively high prevalence of sharing needles/syringes (18%–28% in the last injection), the low levels of condom use (20%–54% ever condom use), the high levels of having sex with sex workers and of men having sex with men (15%–30% and 2%–10% in the last year, respectively), and of selling sex (5%–29% in the last year), indicate a high injecting and sexual risk environment. The prevalence of HCV (31%–64%) and of sexually transmitted infections suggest high levels of risk behavior indicative of the potential for more and larger HIV epidemics.
Conclusions
Our study identified a large volume of HIV-related biological and behavioral data among PWID in the MENA region. The coverage and quality of the data varied between countries. There is robust evidence for HIV epidemics among PWID in multiple countries, most of which have emerged within the last decade and continue to grow. The lack of sufficient evidence in some MENA countries does not preclude the possibility of hidden epidemics among PWID in these settings. With the HIV epidemic among PWID in overall a relatively early phase, there is a window of opportunity for prevention that should not be missed through the provision of comprehensive programs, including scale-up of harm reduction services and expansion of surveillance systems.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
About 35 million people worldwide are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and around 2.3 million people become newly infected every year. HIV is mainly transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected partner. However, people who inject drugs (PWID) have a particularly high risk of HIV infection because blood transfer through needle and syringe sharing can transmit the virus. Worldwide, 5%–10% of all HIV-positive people are PWID but in some regions of the world the fraction of all HIV-positive people that are PWID is even higher. To meet the global health challenge of the high HIV prevalence (the proportion of a population that has a specific disease) among PWID, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and other international bodies endorse harm reduction strategies to prevent risky injection behaviors among PWID. These strategies include education and the provision of clean needles, syringes, and opioid substitution therapy.
Why Was This Study Done?
To maximize the effect of these harm-reduction strategies in specific regions, it is important to understand the status of the HIV epidemic among PWID. Although surveillance systems provide the information on HIV infection needed to track the progress of HIV epidemics among PWID in many regions, little is known about the HIV epidemic among PWID in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA, a geographical region that encompasses countries that share historical, socio-cultural, linguistic, and religious characteristics). Several factors contribute to the likelihood of individuals injecting drugs in MENA. For example, Afghanistan (a MENA country) produces most of the world's supply of heroin, which is largely trafficked through Iran and Pakistan (also MENA countries). In this systematic review and data synthesis, the researchers use predefined criteria to identify all the published and unpublished data on HIV prevalence and incidence (the number of new cases of a disease in a population in a given time) among PWID in MENA and combine (synthesize) these data to assess the status of the HIV epidemic in this key population for HIV transmission in MENA.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 192 reports that reported the prevalence/incidence of HIV, other sexually transmitted infections and infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV, another virus transmitted through drug injection) among PWID, the prevalence of injecting or sexual risk behaviors among PWID, or the number/proportion of PWID in MENA. From these data, the researchers estimated that there are about 600,000 PWID in MENA (a prevalence of 0.24 per 100 adults, which is comparable with figures from other regions). The data provided evidence for HIV epidemics among PWID in at least a third of MENA countries, mainly emerging concentrated epidemics (epidemics that are still growing but in which HIV infection and transmission are already considerable). HIV prevalence among PWID in MENA varied considerably, reaching an extremely high prevalence of 87.1% in Tripoli, Libya. The data also revealed a high injecting and sexual risk environment among PWID in MENA (for example, on average, about a quarter of PWID shared a needle or syringe in their most recent injection and only a third reported ever using condoms) that, together with a high prevalence of HCV and sexually transmitted infections among PWID, indicates the potential for more and larger HIV epidemics.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that substantial amounts of HIV-related data have been collected from PWID in MENA but that the coverage and quality of these data vary widely between countries. They provide robust evidence for growing HIV epidemics, most of which have emerged within the past decade, among PWID in several MENA countries, but do not preclude the possibility of hidden epidemics among PWID in additional MENA countries. Overall, these findings suggest that the HIV epidemic among PWID in MENA is at a relatively early stage. This window of opportunity to control the emerging epidemics should not be missed, warn the researchers. HIV surveillance among PWID in MENA must be expanded to detect and monitor emerging and growing HIV epidemics, they suggest, and to inform effective HIV policy and programming. Improvements in HIV prevention and treatment among PWID in MENA are essential, they conclude, to confront the growing HIV problem in this population and, to prevent the onward transmission of HIV from PWID to other population groups.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001663.
A 2010 report produced by the World Bank, UNAIDS, and WHO provides information on the status of the HIV epidemic in the Middle East and North Africa; the UNAIDS Middle East and North Africa Regional Report on AIDS 2011 provides further information
The 2013 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report provides up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it
The Middle East and North Africa Harm Reduction Association (MENAHRA) provides information about harm reduction efforts, services, and programs in the Middle East and North Africa; Harm Reduction International provides information about harm reduction concepts, strategies, programs, and publications globally
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on people who inject drugs and HIV/AIDS and on harm reduction and HIV prevention (in English and Spanish)
The US National Institute on Drug Abuse also provides information about drug abuse and HIV/AIDS (in English and Spanish)
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert, Nam/aidsmap, and Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001663
PMCID: PMC4061009  PMID: 24937136
11.  Uptake of Home-Based Voluntary HIV Testing in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(12):e1001351.
Kalpana Sabapathy and colleagues conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the acceptability of home-based voluntary counseling and testing for HIV in sub-Saharan Africa with some encouraging results.
Introduction
Improving access to HIV testing is a key priority in scaling up HIV treatment and prevention services. Home-based voluntary counselling and testing (HBT) as an approach to delivering wide-scale HIV testing is explored here.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a systematic review and random-effects meta-analysis of studies published between 1 January 2000 and 24 September 2012 that reported on uptake of HBT in sub-Saharan Africa, to assess the proportion of individuals accepting HBT and receiving their test result.
Our initial search yielded 1,199 articles; 114 were reviewed as full-text articles, and 19 publications involving 21 studies (n = 524,867 individuals offered HBT) were included for final review and meta-analysis. The studies came from five countries: Uganda, Malawi, Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia.
The proportion of people who accepted HBT (n = 474,377) ranged from 58.1% to 99.8%, with a pooled proportion of 83.3% (95% CI: 80.4%–86.1%). Heterogeneity was high (τ2 = 0.11). Sixteen studies reported on the number of people who received the result of HBT (n = 432,835). The proportion of individuals receiving their results out of all those offered testing ranged from 24.9% to 99.7%, with a pooled proportion of 76.7% (95% CI: 73.4%–80.0%) (τ2 = 0.12). HIV prevalence ranged from 2.9% to 36.5%. New diagnosis of HIV following HBT ranged from 40% to 79% of those testing positive. Forty-eight percent of the individuals offered testing were men, and they were just as likely to accept HBT as women (pooled odds ratio = 0.84; 95% CI: 0.56–1.26) (τ2 = 0.33). The proportion of individuals previously tested for HIV among those offered a test ranged from 5% to 66%. Studies in which <30% of individuals had been previously tested, local HIV prevalence was <10%, incentives were provided, or HBT was offered to household members of HIV-positive individuals showed higher uptake of testing. No evidence was reported of negative consequences of HBT.
Conclusions
HBT could substantially increase awareness of HIV status in previously undiagnosed individuals in sub-Saharan Africa, with over three-quarters of the studies in this review reporting >70% uptake. It could be a valuable tool for treatment and prevention efforts.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Knowledge of HIV status is crucial for both the prevention and treatment of HIV. However, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (the UN agency responsible for HIV/AIDS), in low-and-middle-income countries only ten percent of those who need voluntary counseling and testing, because they may have been exposed to HIV infection, have access to this service. Even in health care settings in which voluntary counseling and HIV testing is routinely offered, such as to pregnant women, the number of people who use these services is low. This situation is partly because of the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV, which makes people reluctant to volunteer to come forward to be tested for HIV. To help overcome this problem, one important strategy in encouraging people to be tested for HIV is to offer them the opportunity to be counseled and tested at home—home-based voluntary counseling and testing (HBT). Using the HBT approach, people are visited in their home by health workers regardless of their perceived risk of HIV. HBT has obvious advantages and upholds the “3 Cs” principles of HIV testing: that testing is confidential, accompanied by counseling, and conducted only with informed consent.
Why Was This Study Done?
The HBT approach has received widespread international support, and the World Health Organization has recently published guidance to service providers and policy makers about the delivery of HBT. However, the acceptability of HBT, that is, whether those offered HBT actually take up the offer and are tested, remains unknown, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the world region with the highest prevalence of HIV. So, in this study, the researchers systematically compiled all of the available studies on this topic from sub-Saharan Africa to determine the acceptability of HBT and also to and identify any factors associated with the uptake of HBT.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers searched several databases to identify suitable peer-reviewed studies from Africa published between January 2000 and September 2012. The researchers included studies that described any intervention to provide HIV testing at home and also reported the proportions of participants accepting HIV testing out of all individuals offered a home-based HIV test. Because different types of studies were included (such as randomized controlled trials, observational cohort studies, and cross-sectional surveys), the researchers tested the quality of included studies. Then they pooled all of the studies together to calculate the overall proportion of people who accepted HIV testing at home and the proportion who received their result.
Using these methods, the researchers included 21 studies from five African countries: Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia, comprising a total of 524,867 people. Overall, the proportion of people who accepted HBT ranged from 58.1% to 99.7%, with a pooled proportion of 83.3% accepting HBT (474,377 people). In the eight studies that separated data by gender, men were as likely as women to accept testing (78.5% versus 81.5%). Over three-quarters of everyone who accepted HBT received their result (77% in 16 studies reporting on this), and, importantly, the proportion of people with previously undiagnosed HIV was high (40%–79% of those diagnosed HIV-positive), emphasizing the value of HBT. The researchers also found that providing incentives, local HIV prevalence being less than 10%, and targeting HBT to household members of HIV-positive individuals may be factors associated with increased uptake of HBT, but further research is needed to verify the results of this subgroup analysis.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that voluntary counseling and testing for HIV at home is highly acceptable in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with the majority of those tested receiving their test result, highlighting the importance of this approach in the diagnosis of HIV. Therefore, by increasing uptake of testing, HBT may provide an effective tool for governments and health service providers to increase access to HIV treatment and prevention. However, testing is just the first step in the management of HIV, and this study does not address the follow-up of those who tested positive using the home-based approach, such as access to treatment, as well as repeated HBT for ongoing knowledge of HIV status. The option of self-testing was examined in only one of the studies included in this review, but the researchers identify that self-testing at home with the support HBT staff is an important area of future research. Overall, HBT has the potential to substantially increase awareness of HIV status in previously undiagnosed men and women in sub-Saharan Africa.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001351.
The World Health Organization provides extensive information on HIV testing and counseling, and the World Health Organization's guidance on home-based testing mentioned in this summary is also available
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS gives the latest facts and figures about the global status of HIV and about reducing stigma and discrimination around HIV
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001351
PMCID: PMC3514284  PMID: 23226107
12.  Association of the ANRS-12126 Male Circumcision Project with HIV Levels among Men in a South African Township: Evaluation of Effectiveness using Cross-sectional Surveys 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(9):e1001509.
Betran Auvert and colleagues report findings from the Bophelo Pele project, a community-based HIV prevention intervention offering free voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), that demonstrate an association between VMMC roll-out and a reduction in the incidence and prevalence of HIV in the community.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Randomized controlled trials have shown that voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) reduces HIV infection by 50% to 60% in sub-Saharan African populations; however, little is known about the population-level effect of adult male circumcision (MC) as an HIV prevention method. We assessed the effectiveness of VMMC roll-out on the levels of HIV in the South African township of Orange Farm where the first randomized controlled trial (RCT) to test the effect of VMMC on HIV acquisition was conducted in 2002–2005.
Methods and Findings
The Bophelo Pele project is a community-based campaign against HIV, which includes the roll-out of free VMMC. A baseline cross-sectional biomedical survey was conducted in 2007–2008 among a random sample of 1,998 men aged 15 to 49 (survey response rate 80.7%). In 2010–2011, we conducted a follow-up random survey among 3,338 men aged 15 to 49 (survey response rate 79.6%) to evaluate the project. Participants were interviewed, blood samples were collected and tested for HIV and recent HIV infection (using the BED HIV incidence assay), and MC status was assessed through a clinical examination. Data were analyzed using multivariate and propensity statistical methods.
Owing to the VMMCs performed in the context of the RCT and the Bophelo Pele project, the prevalence rate of adult MC increased from 0.12 (95% CI 0.10–0.14) to 0.53 (95% CI 0.51–0.55). Without these VMMCs, the HIV prevalence rate in 2010–2011 would have been 19% (95% CI 12%–26%) higher (0.147 instead of 0.123).
When comparing circumcised and uncircumcised men, no association of MC status with sexual behavior was detected. Among circumcised and uncircumcised men, the proportion consistently using condoms with non-spousal partners in the past 12 months was 44.0% (95% CI 41.7%–46.5%) versus 45.4% (95% CI 42.2%–48.6%) with weighted prevalence rate ratio (wPRR) = 0.94 (95% CI 0.85–1.03). The proportion having two or more non-spousal partners was 50.4% (95% CI 47.9%–52.9%) versus 44.2% (95% CI 41.3%–46.9%) with wPRR = 1.03 (95% CI 0.95–1.10).
We found a reduction of BED-estimated HIV incidence rate ranging from 57% (95% CI 29%–76%) to 61% (95% CI 14%–83%) among circumcised men in comparison with uncircumcised men.
Conclusions
Findings suggest that the roll-out of VMMC in Orange Farm is associated with a significant reduction of HIV levels in the community. The main limitation of the study is that it was not randomized and cannot prove a causal association. The roll-out of VMMC among adults in sub-Saharan Africa should be an international priority and needs to be accelerated to effectively combat the spread of HIV.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year about 2.2 million people (mostly in sub-Saharan Africa) become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Consequently, prevention of HIV transmission is extremely important. Because HIV is most often spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner, individuals can reduce their risk of HIV infection by abstaining from sex, by having only one or a few sexual partners, and by always using a male or female condom. The results of three randomized controlled trials conducted in sub-Saharan Africa also suggest that voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC)—the removal of the foreskin, a loose fold of skin that covers the head of the penis—can reduce the heterosexual acquisition of HIV in men by 50%–60%. In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) recommended that VMMC should be offered as part of comprehensive HIV risk reduction programs in settings with generalized HIV epidemics and low levels of male circumcision and prioritized 14 east and southern African countries for VMMC roll-out.
Why Was This Study Done?
To date, about 3 million VMMCs have been performed for HIV prevention but it is not known whether “real world” VMMC roll-out programs will replicate the promising results obtained in the earlier trials. Indeed, there are fears that “risk compensation” (an increase in risky sexual behaviors after VMMC) might lead to increased HIV transmission in regions where VMMC is rolled out. In this study, the researchers use sequential cross-sectional surveys (studies that collect data from a group of people at a single time point) to investigate HIV infection levels in men in Orange Farm, a township in South Africa where one of the randomized controlled trials of VMMC was undertaken. The surveys were conducted before and after implementation of the Bophelo Pele project, a community-based campaign against HIV that was initiated in 2008 and that includes free VMMC.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers asked a random sample of nearly 2,000 men aged 15–49 years about their sexual behavior (for example, how many non-spousal partners they had had over the past year), and their intention to become circumcised if uncircumcised in a baseline survey in 2007–2008. The study participants were also offered HIV counseling and testing (including a test that indicated whether the participant had recently become HIV positive) and were examined to see whether they were already circumcised. A similar follow-up survey was conducted in 2010–2011 in which more than 3,000 men were invited to take part. At baseline, 12% of the men surveyed had been circumcised (a prevalence of circumcision of 12%) whereas in the follow-up survey, the overall prevalence of circumcision and the prevalence of circumcision among 15–29 year-olds (an important target group for VMMC roll-out) were 53% and 58%, respectively. The overall HIV prevalence at follow-up was 12% and the researchers estimated that without the VMMCs performed during the Bophelo Pele project and the preceding randomized control trial the prevalence of HIV among men living in Orange Farm would have been 15% in 2011. Using various cut-off values and corrections for a laboratory-based test to measure recent HIV infections, the researchers reported a reduction in the rate of new HIV infections (incidence rate) ranging from 57% to 61% among circumcised men in comparison with uncircumcised men. Importantly, there was no evidence of an association between circumcision status and risky sexual behavior but circumcision was associated with a reduction in the number of men who had recently become HIV positive.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that VMMC roll out in Orange Farm is associated with a reduction in HIV infection levels in the community and that circumcision is not associated with changes in sexual behavior that might affect HIV infection rates. They also suggest that VMMC roll-out is associated with a rapid uptake of VMMC, especially among young men, in an African community where male circumcision is not a social norm. Because this study is not a randomized controlled trial, it cannot establish cause and effect. Thus, although the observed reduction in HIV prevalence among circumcised men compared to uncircumcised men suggests that circumcision provided protection against HIV acquisition within the study population, the results do not conclusively prove this. The findings of this study nevertheless support the continuation and acceleration of the roll-out of adult VMMC in Africa although further studies are needed to show whether VMMC roll-out is also associated with a reduction in HIV acquisition among women and among uncircumcised men.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001509.
Information and resources on male circumcision for HIV prevention are available
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and infectious diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment, and information on male circumcision for the prevention of HIV transmission
Information is available from WHO and UNAIDS on all aspects of HIV/AIDS; the Clearinghouse on Male Circumcision, a resource provided by WHO, UNAIDS and other international bodies, provides information and tools for VMMC policy development and program implementation; a report entitled Progress in scaling up voluntary medical male circumcision for HIV prevention in East and Southern Africa, January-December 2011 is available
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV and AIDS in South Africa, on HIV prevention, and on circumcision and HIV (in English and Spanish)
A 2010 PLOS Medicine Research Article by Pascale Lissouba et al. provides more information about the Bophelo Pele project
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert, through Nam/aidsmap, and through the charity website Healthtalkonline; a personal story about circumcision in Zimbabwe is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001509
PMCID: PMC3760784  PMID: 24019763
13.  Effectiveness of and Financial Returns to Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision for HIV Prevention in South Africa: An Incremental Cost-Effectiveness Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2016;13(5):e1002012.
Background
Empirical studies and population-level policy simulations show the importance of voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) in generalized epidemics. This paper complements available scenario-based studies (projecting costs and outcomes over some policy period, typically spanning decades) by adopting an incremental approach—analyzing the expected consequences of circumcising one male individual with specific characteristics in a specific year. This approach yields more precise estimates of VMMC’s cost-effectiveness and identifies the outcomes of current investments in VMMC (e.g., within a fiscal budget period) rather than of investments spread over the entire policy period.
Methods/Findings
The model has three components. We adapted the ASSA2008 model, a demographic and epidemiological model of the HIV epidemic in South Africa, to analyze the impact of one VMMC on HIV incidence over time and across the population. A costing module tracked the costs of VMMC and the resulting financial savings owing to reduced HIV incidence over time. Then, we used several financial indicators to assess the cost-effectiveness of and financial return on investments in VMMC. One circumcision of a young man up to age 20 prevents on average over 0.2 HIV infections, but this effect declines steeply with age, e.g., to 0.08 by age 30. Net financial savings from one VMMC at age 20 are estimated at US$617 at a discount rate of 5% and are lower for circumcisions both at younger ages (because the savings occur later and are discounted more) and at older ages (because male circumcision becomes less effective). Investments in male circumcision carry a financial rate of return of up to 14.5% (for circumcisions at age 20). The cost of a male circumcision is refinanced fastest, after 13 y, for circumcisions at ages 20 to 25. Principal limitations of the analysis arise from the long time (decades) over which the effects of VMMC unfold—the results are therefore sensitive to the discount rate applied, and more generally to the future course of the epidemic and of HIV/AIDS-related policies pursued by the government.
Conclusions
VMMC in South Africa is highly effective in reducing both HIV incidence and the financial costs of the HIV response. The return on investment is highest if males are circumcised between ages 20 and 25, but this return on investment declines steeply with age.
Medical male circumcision reduces incidences of HIV. Gorgens and colleagues present a new model that identifies the best age for this treatment, in terms of cost efficiencies and disease incidence.
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, about 2 million people become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Although antiretroviral therapy can keep HIV in check, there is no cure for AIDS. Consequently, prevention of HIV transmission is an important component of efforts to control the AIDS epidemic. Because HIV is most often spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner, individuals can reduce their risk of becoming infected by abstaining from sex, by having only one or a few sexual partners, and by using male or female condoms. In addition, three trials undertaken in sub-Saharan Africa a decade ago showed that male circumcision—the surgical removal of the foreskin, a loose fold of skin that covers the head of the penis—can halve the sexual transmission of HIV from HIV-positive women to HIV-negative men. In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) recommended that individuals living in countries with generalized HIV epidemics (countries where more than 1% of the general population is HIV positive) should be offered voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) to help prevent HIV transmission.
Why Was This Study Done?
In 2011, following several studies that assessed the population-level effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of VMMC scale-up, WHO/UNAIDS set a target of having at least 80% of all men aged 15–49 circumcised in 14 priority countries in Africa by 2015. Good progress towards this target was made, but VMMC scale-up needs further improvement. Scenario-based studies provide estimates of the overall costs and impacts of VMMC policies over the whole policy period, which can span several decades, but policy makers sometimes need to know the returns on investments in VMMC over the current financial year. Here, the researchers use an “incremental” cost-effectiveness approach (one that analyzes the expected consequences of circumcising one male with specific characteristics in a specific year) to provide estimates of the impacts of current VMMC investments and to obtain more precise estimates of VMMC’s cost-effectiveness for HIV prevention in South Africa, a country with a generalized HIV epidemic.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed a mathematical model consisting of three elements: a demographic and epidemiological model of the South African HIV epidemic adapted to analyze the impact of one VMMC on HIV incidence over time and across the population; a module to track the costs of VMMC and financial savings from HIV infections averted by VMMC; and several financial indicators to assess the cost-effectiveness of and financial return on investments in VMMC. Using this model, the researchers estimate that the circumcision of a young man up to age 20 prevents, on average, 0.2 HIV infections, and that the number of infections averted by VMMC declines steeply with age at circumcision. Estimated financial savings from one VMMC at age 20 are US$617 at a discount rate of 5% (discounting translates future costs and benefits into present-day values); VMMC at younger and older ages results in lower financial savings. From a purely financial perspective, circumcisions at age 20 are most effective with a financial return of 14.5% (they are equivalent to a financial investment yielding an interest of 14.5% annually). Finally, the costs of a circumcision are refinanced (covered by reductions in the costs associated with HIV infection) fastest for circumcisions at ages 20–25.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Because the effects of VMMC unfold over many decades, the accuracy of these findings is likely to be affected by the future course of the AIDS epidemic, by HIV/AIDS policies adopted by the South African government, and by the discount rate applied in the cost-effectiveness analysis. Moreover, some of the assumptions made by the researchers in their model may affect the accuracy of their findings. Overall, however, these findings, which provide estimates of the consequences of current VMMC policies, suggest that VMMC in South Africa (and possibly in settings where a lower proportion of the population is HIV positive) is a highly effective HIV prevention intervention that is cost-saving under many circumstances. These findings also indicate how age at circumcision affects the impacts of circumcision. Specifically, they suggest that the return on investment is highest if males are circumcised between ages 20 and 25 but declines steeply with increasing age.
Additional Information
This list of resources contains links that can be accessed when viewing the PDF on a device or via the online version of the article at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002012.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and infectious diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment, information on male circumcision for the prevention of HIV transmission, and personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on how HIV is transmitted, on voluntary medical male circumcision for HIV prevention, and on HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa; Avert also provides personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS (in several languages), including information on voluntary medical male circumcision for HIV prevention
UNAIDS provides up-to-information about the AIDS epidemic and detailed information about HIV/AIDS in South Africa
The Clearinghouse on Male Circumcision for HIV Prevention provides up-to-date information and resources on male circumcision for HIV prevention
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002012
PMCID: PMC4854479  PMID: 27138961
14.  Hormonal Contraception and the Risk of HIV Acquisition: An Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2015;12(1):e1001778.
In a meta-analysis of individual participant data, Charles Morrison and colleagues explore the association between hormonal contraception use and risk of HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa.
Background
Observational studies of a putative association between hormonal contraception (HC) and HIV acquisition have produced conflicting results. We conducted an individual participant data (IPD) meta-analysis of studies from sub-Saharan Africa to compare the incidence of HIV infection in women using combined oral contraceptives (COCs) or the injectable progestins depot-medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) or norethisterone enanthate (NET-EN) with women not using HC.
Methods and Findings
Eligible studies measured HC exposure and incident HIV infection prospectively using standardized measures, enrolled women aged 15–49 y, recorded ≥15 incident HIV infections, and measured prespecified covariates. Our primary analysis estimated the adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) using two-stage random effects meta-analysis, controlling for region, marital status, age, number of sex partners, and condom use. We included 18 studies, including 37,124 women (43,613 woman-years) and 1,830 incident HIV infections. Relative to no HC use, the aHR for HIV acquisition was 1.50 (95% CI 1.24–1.83) for DMPA use, 1.24 (95% CI 0.84–1.82) for NET-EN use, and 1.03 (95% CI 0.88–1.20) for COC use. Between-study heterogeneity was mild (I2 < 50%). DMPA use was associated with increased HIV acquisition compared with COC use (aHR 1.43, 95% CI 1.23–1.67) and NET-EN use (aHR 1.32, 95% CI 1.08–1.61). Effect estimates were attenuated for studies at lower risk of methodological bias (compared with no HC use, aHR for DMPA use 1.22, 95% CI 0.99–1.50; for NET-EN use 0.67, 95% CI 0.47–0.96; and for COC use 0.91, 95% CI 0.73–1.41) compared to those at higher risk of bias (pinteraction = 0.003). Neither age nor herpes simplex virus type 2 infection status modified the HC–HIV relationship.
Conclusions
This IPD meta-analysis found no evidence that COC or NET-EN use increases women’s risk of HIV but adds to the evidence that DMPA may increase HIV risk, underscoring the need for additional safe and effective contraceptive options for women at high HIV risk. A randomized controlled trial would provide more definitive evidence about the effects of hormonal contraception, particularly DMPA, on HIV risk.
Editors’ Summary
Background
AIDS has killed about 36 million people since the first recorded case of the disease in 1981. About 35 million people (including 25 million living in sub-Saharan Africa) are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and every year, another 2.3 million people become newly infected with HIV. At the beginning of the epidemic, more men than women were infected with HIV. Now, about half of all adults infected with HIV are women. In 2013, almost 60% of all new HIV infections among young people aged 15–24 years occurred among women, and it is estimated that, worldwide, 50 young women are newly infected with HIV every hour. Most women become infected with HIV through unprotected intercourse with an infected male partner—biologically, women are twice as likely to become infected through unprotected intercourse as men. A woman’s risk of becoming infected with HIV can be reduced by abstaining from sex, by having one or a few partners, and by always using condoms.
Why Was This Study Done?
Women and societies both benefit from effective contraception. When contraception is available, women can avoid unintended pregnancies, fewer women and babies die during pregnancy and childbirth, and maternal and infant health improves. However, some (but not all) observational studies (investigations that measure associations between the characteristics of participants and their subsequent development of specific diseases) have reported an association between hormonal contraceptive use and an increased risk of HIV acquisition by women. So, does hormonal contraception increase the risk of HIV acquisition among women or not? Here, to investigate this question, the researchers undertake an individual participant data meta-analysis of studies conducted in sub-Saharan Africa (a region where both HIV infection and unintended pregnancies are common) to compare the incidence of HIV infection (the number of new cases in a population during a given time period) among women using and not using hormonal contraception. Meta-analysis is a statistical method that combines the results of several studies; an individual participant data meta-analysis combines the data recorded for each individual involved in the studies rather than the aggregated results from each study.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers included 18 studies that measured hormonal contraceptive use and incident HIV infection among women aged 15–49 years living in sub-Saharan Africa in their meta-analysis. More than 37,000 women took part in these studies, and 1,830 became newly infected with HIV. Half of the women were not using hormonal contraception, a quarter were using depot-medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA; an injectable hormonal contraceptive), and the remainder were using combined oral contraceptives (COCs) or norethisterone enanthate (NET-EN, another injectable contraceptive). After adjustment for other factors likely to influence HIV acquisition (for example, condom use), women using DMPA had a 1.5-fold increased risk of HIV acquisition compared to women not using hormonal contraception. There was a slightly increased risk of HIV acquisition among women using NET-EN compared to women not using hormonal contraception, but this increase was not statistically significant (it may have happened by chance alone). There was no increased risk of HIV acquisition associated with COC use. DMPA use was associated with a 1.43-fold and 1.32-fold increased risk of HIV acquisition compared with COC and NET-EN use, respectively. Finally, neither age nor herpes simplex virus 2 infection status modified the effect of hormonal contraceptive use on HIV acquisition.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings of this individual patient data meta-analysis provide no evidence that COC or NET-EN use increases a woman’s risk of acquiring HIV, but add to the evidence suggesting that DMPA use increases the risk of HIV acquisition. These findings are likely to be more accurate than those of previous meta-analyses that used aggregated data but are likely to be limited by the quality, design, and representativeness of the studies included in the analysis. These findings nevertheless highlight the need to develop additional safe and effective contraceptive options for women at risk of HIV, particularly those living in sub-Saharan Africa, where although contraceptive use is generally low, DMPA is the most widely used hormonal contraceptive. In addition, these findings highlight the need to initiate randomized controlled trials to provide more definitive evidence of the effects of hormonal contraception, particularly DMPA, on HIV risk.
Additional Information.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001778.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment, including personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS and a news report on this meta-analysis
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including detailed information on women, HIV, and AIDS, and on HIV and AIDS in South Africa (in English and Spanish); personal stories of women living with HIV are available
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS (in several languages); information about a 2012 WHO technical consultation about hormonal contraception and HIV
The 2013 UNAIDS World AIDS Day report provides up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it; UNAIDS also provides information about HIV and hormonal contraception
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001778
PMCID: PMC4303292  PMID: 25612136
15.  Elevated Risk for HIV Infection among Men Who Have Sex with Men in Low- and Middle-Income Countries 2000–2006: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(12):e339.
Background
Recent reports of high HIV infection rates among men who have sex with men (MSM) from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union (FSU) suggest high levels of HIV transmission among MSM in low- and middle-income countries. To investigate the global epidemic of HIV among MSM and the relationship of MSM outbreaks to general populations, we conducted a comprehensive review of HIV studies among MSM in low- and middle-income countries and performed a meta-analysis of reported MSM and reproductive-age adult HIV prevalence data.
Methods and Findings
A comprehensive review of the literature was conducted using systematic methodology. Data regarding HIV prevalence and total sample size was sequestered from each of the studies that met inclusion criteria and aggregate values for each country were calculated. Pooled odds ratio (OR) estimates were stratified by factors including HIV prevalence of the country, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)–classified level of HIV epidemic, geographic region, and whether or not injection drug users (IDUs) played a significant role in given epidemic. Pooled ORs were stratified by prevalence level; very low-prevalence countries had an overall MSM OR of 58.4 (95% CI 56.3–60.6); low-prevalence countries, 14.4 (95% CI 13.8–14.9); and medium- to high-prevalence countries, 9.6 (95% CI 9.0–10.2). Significant differences in ORs for HIV infection among MSM in were seen when comparing low- and middle-income countries; low-income countries had an OR of 7.8 (95% CI 7.2–8.4), whereas middle-income countries had an OR of 23.4 (95% CI 22.8–24.0). Stratifying the pooled ORs by whether the country had a substantial component of IDU spread resulted in an OR of 12.8 (95% CI 12.3–13.4) in countries where IDU transmission was prevalent, and 24.4 (95% CI 23.7–25.2) where it was not. By region, the OR for MSM in the Americas was 33.3 (95% CI 32.3–34.2); 18.7 (95% CI 17.7–19.7) for Asia; 3.8 (95% CI 3.3–4.3) for Africa; and 1.3 (95% CI 1.1–1.6) for the low- and middle-income countries of Europe.
Conclusions
MSM have a markedly greater risk of being infected with HIV compared with general population samples from low- and middle-income countries in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. ORs for HIV infection in MSM are elevated across prevalence levels by country and decrease as general population prevalence increases, but remain 9-fold higher in medium–high prevalence settings. MSM from low- and middle-income countries are in urgent need of prevention and care, and appear to be both understudied and underserved.
From a systematic review, Chris Beyrer and colleagues conclude that men who have sex with men in the Americas, Asia, and Africa have a markedly greater risk of being HIV-infected than does the general population.
Editors' Summary
Background.
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) first emerged in the early 1980s among gay men living in New York and California. But, as the disease rapidly spread around the world, it became clear that AIDS also affected heterosexual men and women. Now, a quarter of a century later, 40 million people are infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the organism that causes AIDS. HIV is most often spread by having unprotected sex with an infected partner and in sub-Saharan Africa, the region most badly hit by HIV/AIDS, heterosexual transmission predominates. However, globally, 5%–10% of all HIV infections are thought to be in men who have sex with men (MSM, a term that encompasses gay, bisexual, transgendered, and heterosexual men who sometimes have sex with men), and in several high-income countries, including the US, male-to-male sexual contact remains the most important HIV transmission route.
Why Was This Study Done?
In the US, the MSM population is visible and there is considerable awareness about the risks of HIV transmission associated with sex between men. In many other countries, MSM are much less visible. They remain invisible because they fear discrimination, stigmatization (being considered socially unacceptable), or arrest—sex between men is illegal in 85 countries. Consequently, MSM are often under-represented in HIV surveillance systems and in prevention and care programs. If the AIDS epidemic is going to be halted, much more needs to be known about HIV prevalence (the proportion of the population that is infected) among MSM. In this study, the researchers have done a systematic review (a type of research where the results of existing studies are brought together) on published reports of HIV prevalence among MSM in low- and middle-income countries to get a better picture of the global epidemic of HIV in this population.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers found 83 published studies that reported HIV prevalence in 38 low- and middle-income countries in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Eastern Europe. When the results were pooled—in what statisticians call a meta-analysis—MSM were found to have a 19.3-times greater chance of being infected with HIV than the general population. This is described as a pooled odds ratio (OR) of 19.3. The researchers also did several subgroup analyses where they asked whether factors such as injection drug use (another risk factor for HIV transmission), per capita income, geographical region, or the HIV prevalence in the general population were associated with differential risk (increase in odds) of HIV infection compared to the general population. They found, for example, that in countries where the prevalence of HIV in the general population was very low (less than 1 adult in 1,000 infected) the pooled OR for MSM compared to the general population was 58.4; where it was high (more than 1 adult in 20 infected), the pooled OR for MSM was 9.6.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that MSM living in low- to middle-income countries have a greater risk of HIV infection than the general populations of these countries. The subgroup analyses indicate that the high HIV prevalence among MSM is not limited to any one region or income level or to countries with any specific HIV prevalence or injection drug use level. Although the small number and design of the studies included in the meta-analysis may affect the numerical accuracy of these findings, the clear trend toward a higher HIV prevalence of among MSM suggests that HIV surveillance efforts should be expanded to include MSM in those countries where they are currently ignored. Efforts should also be made to include MSM in HIV prevention programs and to improve the efficacy of these programs by investigating the cultural, behavioral, social, and public policy factors that underlie the high HIV prevalence among MSM. By increasing surveillance, research, and prevention among MSM in low- to middle-income countries, it should be possible to curb HIV transmission in this marginalized population and reduce the global burden of HIV.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040339.
The International Lesbian and Gay Association provides a world legal map on legislation affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission provides a page called Off the Map: How HIV/AIDS Programming is Failing Same-Sex Practicing People in Africa
The American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) has launched their MSM initiative, which is focused on providing support to front-line community groups working on providing services and doing research focused on HIV among MSM in lower income-settings
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including a list of organizations that provide information for gay men and MSM
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on HIV, AIDS, and men who have sex with men
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on HIV/AIDS and on HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with men (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040339
PMCID: PMC2100144  PMID: 18052602
16.  The Safety of Adult Male Circumcision in HIV-Infected and Uninfected Men in Rakai, Uganda 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(6):e116.
Background
The objective of the study was to compare rates of adverse events (AEs) related to male circumcision (MC) in HIV-positive and HIV-negative men in order to provide guidance for MC programs that may provide services to HIV-infected and uninfected men.
Methods and Findings
A total of 2,326 HIV-negative and 420 HIV-positive men (World Health Organization [WHO] stage I or II and CD4 counts > 350 cells/mm3) were circumcised in two separate but procedurally identical trials of MC for HIV and/or sexually transmitted infection prevention in rural Rakai, Uganda. Participants were followed at 1–2 d and 5–9 d, and at 4–6 wk, to assess surgery-related AEs, wound healing, and resumption of intercourse. AE risks and wound healing were compared in HIV-positive and HIV-negative men. Adjusted odds ratios (AdjORs) were estimated by multiple logistic regression, adjusting for baseline characteristics and postoperative resumption of sex. At enrollment, HIV-positive men were older, more likely to be married, reported more sexual partners, less condom use, and higher rates of sexually transmitted disease symptoms than HIV-negative men. Risks of moderate or severe AEs were 3.1/100 and 3.5/100 in HIV-positive and HIV-negative participants, respectively (AdjOR 0.91, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.47–1.74). Infections were the most common AEs (2.6/100 in HIV-positive versus 3.0/100 in HIV-negative men). Risks of other complications were similar in the two groups. The proportion with completed healing by 6 wk postsurgery was 92.7% in HIV-positive men and 95.8% in HIV-negative men (p = 0.007). AEs were more common in men who resumed intercourse before wound healing compared to those who waited (AdjOR 1.56, 95% CI 1.05–2.33).
Conclusions
Overall, the safety of MC was comparable in asymptomatic HIV-positive and HIV-negative men, although healing was somewhat slower among the HIV infected. All men should be strongly counseled to refrain from intercourse until full wound healing is achieved.
Trial registration: http://www.ClinicalTrials.gov; for HIV-negative men, #NCT00047073 and for HIV-positive men, #NCT00047073.
Ron Gray and colleagues report on complications of circumcision in HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected men from two related trials in Uganda, finding increased risk with intercourse before wound healing.
Editors' Summary
Background
Worldwide over 33 million people are thought to be living with HIV, and in the absence of a vaccine, preventing its spread is a major health issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimate that 68% of 2.5 million new infections worldwide in 2007 took place in sub-Saharan Africa, where 76% of 2.1 million AIDS-related deaths also took place.
One of the principal means of person-to-person transmission of HIV is through sex without the protection of a condom. In parts of Africa, male circumcision is performed in infancy or childhood for religious or cultural reasons or is a traditional rite of passage that marks the transition from child to man. Three trials, in South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda, each found that circumcised men were around half as likely as uncircumcised men to contract HIV from HIV-positive female partners. After reviewing the results, WHO and UNAIDS issued joint advice that male circumcision should be promoted for preventing HIV infection in heterosexual men. As male circumcision does not provide complete protection against HIV infection, they advised that it should be promoted in addition to existing strategies of promoting condom use, abstinence, and a reduction in the number of sexual partners.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although earlier studies had shown that adult male circumcision, when performed in Africa under optimal conditions, is a safe procedure for HIV-negative men, it was not known whether it would also be a safe procedure for HIV-positive men. WHO guidelines recommend that HIV-positive men who request the procedure or have a medical need and no contraindications for it should be circumcised. Also, exclusion of HIV-positive men from circumcision programs may result in stigmatization of these men, and discourage participation by men who do not wish to be tested for HIV. Therefore, it is important to know whether the procedure is safe for HIV-positive men.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The authors compared results from two separate clinical trials carried out with identical procedures in rural Rakai, Uganda. The first, which compared the effect of circumcision with no circumcision in HIV-negative men, was one of the three trials that persuaded the WHO and UNAIDS to promote male circumcision as an HIV prevention strategy. The second Rakai trial did the same comparison but in men who were HIV positive and without symptoms. In this present study, the authors used data from both trials to compare the likelihood of surgery-related complications following circumcision for HIV-negative and HIV-positive men.
The trials recruited men aged 15–49, who were randomly assigned to be circumcised either on enrollment or two years later and were followed up to monitor complications related to the procedure, such as infections, as well as wound healing and when the participant first had sex after the operation. Condom use was recorded at enrollment and six months after enrollment.
The researchers found that most complications were infrequent, mild, and comparable in both groups, with moderate-to-severe complications occurring in only 3%–4% of men in each group. However, delayed wound healing was more frequent in HIV-positive men. Complications were more likely among men who had sex before healing was complete; such men were more likely to be HIV-positive and/or married. Similarly, moderate or severe complications were more likely where men had symptoms of sexually transmitted disease at enrollment, although these were treated before surgery, and these men were more likely to be HIV-positive. Six months after enrollment, similar proportions of HIV-positive and HIV-negative men used condoms consistently, but HIV-positive men were more likely to report using condoms inconsistently than HIV-negative men. However, consistent use of a condom increased among the HIV-positive men compared to when they enrolled.
What Do these Findings Mean?
Circumcision in HIV-positive men without symptoms of AIDS has a low rate of complications, although healing is slower than in HIV-negative men. Because of the greater risk of complications if sex is resumed before full healing, both men and their women partners should be advised to have no sex for at least six weeks after the operation. A separately reported analysis from one of these studies found that women partners are more likely to become HIV infected by HIV-positive men who resume sex prior to complete wound healing. Therefore, for protection of both men and their female partners, it is essential to refrain from intercourse after circumcision until the wound has completely healed.
Because the study found no increased risk of surgical complications in HIV-positive men who undergo circumcision, it should not be necessary to screen men with no symptoms of HIV in future circumcision programs. This should reduce the complexity of implementing such programs and reduce any stigma resulting from exclusion, making it likely that more men will be willing to be circumcised. The rise in consistent condom use among HIV-positive men suggests that messages of safe sex are reaching an important target group and changing their behavior, and that circumcision does not make men less likely to use a condom.
The authors also noted that the rates of complications they observed were low compared with those following traditional circumcision procedures. Others have found that circumcision carried out under unsafe conditions has a high rate of complications. The authors of this study comment that the resources and standards of surgery during the trial represented best practice and that to attain similarly low rates of complications—and the confidence of men in the safety of the procedure—there is a need to ensure sufficient resources and high standards of training.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050116.
WHO and the UNAIDS issued a joint report recommending male circumcision for HIV prevention and another on the HIV epidemic worldwide in December 2007
An information pack here on male circumcision and HIV prevention has also been developed jointly by WHO/UNAIDS, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the World Bank
The University of California San Francisco's HIV InSite provides information on HIV prevention, treatment, and policy
AEGIS is the world's largest searchable database on HIV and AIDS
The National AIDS Trust provides information on HIV prevention
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050116
PMCID: PMC2408615  PMID: 18532873
17.  The Impact of Company-Level ART Provision to a Mining Workforce in South Africa: A Cost–Benefit Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2015;12(9):e1001869.
Background
HIV impacts heavily on the operating costs of companies in sub-Saharan Africa, with many companies now providing antiretroviral therapy (ART) programmes in the workplace. A full cost–benefit analysis of workplace ART provision has not been conducted using primary data. We developed a dynamic health-state transition model to estimate the economic impact of HIV and the cost–benefit of ART provision in a mining company in South Africa between 2003 and 2022.
Methods and Findings
A dynamic health-state transition model, called the Workplace Impact Model (WIM), was parameterised with workplace data on workforce size, composition, turnover, HIV incidence, and CD4 cell count development. Bottom-up cost analyses from the employer perspective supplied data on inpatient and outpatient resource utilisation and the costs of absenteeism and replacement of sick workers. The model was fitted to workforce HIV prevalence and separation data while incorporating parameter uncertainty; univariate sensitivity analyses were used to assess the robustness of the model findings. As ART coverage increases from 10% to 97% of eligible employees, increases in survival and retention of HIV-positive employees and associated reductions in absenteeism and benefit payments lead to cost savings compared to a scenario of no treatment provision, with the annual cost of HIV to the company decreasing by 5% (90% credibility interval [CrI] 2%–8%) and the mean cost per HIV-positive employee decreasing by 14% (90% CrI 7%–19%) by 2022. This translates into an average saving of US$950,215 (90% CrI US$220,879–US$1.6 million) per year; 80% of these cost savings are due to reductions in benefit payments and inpatient care costs. Although findings are sensitive to assumptions regarding incidence and absenteeism, ART is cost-saving under considerable parameter uncertainty and in all tested scenarios, including when prevalence is reduced to 1%—except when no benefits were paid out to employees leaving the workforce and when absenteeism rates were half of what data suggested. Scaling up ART further through a universal test and treat strategy doubles savings; incorporating ART for family members reduces savings but is still marginally cost-saving compared to no treatment. Our analysis was limited to the direct cost of HIV to companies and did not examine the impact of HIV prevention policies on the miners or their families, and a few model inputs were based on limited data, though in sensitivity analysis our results were found to be robust to changes to these inputs along plausible ranges.
Conclusions
Workplace ART provision can be cost-saving for companies in high HIV prevalence settings due to reductions in healthcare costs, absenteeism, and staff turnover. Company-sponsored HIV counselling and voluntary testing with ensuing treatment of all HIV-positive employees and family members should be implemented universally at workplaces in countries with high HIV prevalence.
Gesine Meyer-Rath and colleagues assess whether workplace ART provision can be cost-saving for mining companies in high HIV prevalence settings.
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, more than 2 million people become newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, usually by having unprotected sex with an infected partner. People in the early stages of HIV infection rarely have any symptoms, but, over time, HIV destroys CD4 lymphocytes and other immune system cells, and, eventually, HIV-positive individuals become susceptible to numerous other infections. Because many of these infections are extremely serious, early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-infected individuals died within ten years of infection. Then, in 1996, effective antiretroviral therapy (ART)—cocktails of drugs that stop HIV replicating—became available. For people living in affluent countries, HIV/AIDS became a chronic condition, but because ART was expensive, HIV/AIDS remained fatal in low- and middle-income countries. In 2003, the international community began to work towards achieving universal access to ART. By 2013, nearly 13 million HIV-positive people—more than a third of the global HIV-infected population—had access to ART.
Why Was This Study Done?
HIV disease hits individuals in the prime of their working lives, thereby increasing absenteeism, the turnover of labor, and the operating costs of companies working in countries where HIV infection is common (high HIV prevalence). To reduce the economic impact of HIV/AIDS, some companies provide their workforces in such countries with comprehensive HIV services that include counseling and testing, and ART. For example, mining companies in South Africa (where nearly 20% of the working-age population is HIV-positive) provide HIV services to their workforces. However, although there is strong evidence that HIV disease increases the cost of doing business, a full cost–benefit analysis (the quantification of both the costs and benefits of a business strategy or medical intervention) of ART provision in the workplace based on real-world data has not been undertaken. Here, the researchers use a mathematical model to estimate the economic impact of HIV and the costs and benefits of company-level ART provision by a South African mining company between 2003 and 2022.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed a mathematical model to evaluate the past and future impact and costs to the employer of an ART program provided since 2002 by a coal mining company operating at a number of South African colleries. They fed data on the workforce’s characteristics, the annual number of new HIV infections in the workforce, the CD4 cell counts of HIV-positive employees, healthcare resource utilization, and the costs of absenteeism and labor turnover into the model. The model estimated that, as ART coverage increased from 10% to 97% of eligible employees, increases in the survival and retention of HIV-positive employees and reductions in absenteeism and benefit payments would lead to overall cost savings compared to a scenario of no ART provision. Specifically, the annual cost of HIV to the company would decrease by 5% and the average cost per HIV-positive employee would decrease by 14% by 2022. These changes in costs (which mainly accrue from reductions in benefit payments for death and ill-health retirement and in employee healthcare costs) translate into average savings of nearly US$1 million per year. Finally, scaling up ART coverage through a universal test and treat strategy would double savings, whereas providing ART for family members as well as employees would reduce savings but remain marginally cost-saving compared to no ART.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that workplace ART provision can be cost-saving for companies operating in settings with a high HIV prevalence because of reductions in healthcare costs, absenteeism, and staff turnover. That is, the costs to the employer of providing ART can be less than the costs saved by reducing healthcare use, absenteeism, and worker turnover. The accuracy of these findings depends on the quality of the data used to run the model. However, additional analyses indicate that ART provision is likely to be cost-saving unless people receive no benefits on leaving the workforce or the absenteeism rate is considerably lower than the available data suggest. Thus, the researchers propose that company-sponsored counseling and voluntary HIV testing with treatment of all HIV-positive employees and family members should be implemented universally at workplaces in countries with a high HIV prevalence. Such a strategy should be cost-saving for employers and might also take some pressure off resource-limited public sector ART programs.
Additional Information
This list of resources contains links that can be accessed when viewing the PDF on a device or via the online version of the article at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001869.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment, and personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on ART, universal access to ART, and HIV/AIDS in South Africa; Avert also provides personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS (in several languages), including its guidelines on the use of ART for treating and preventing HIV infection
The UNAIDS Fast-Track Strategy to End the AIDS Epidemic by 2030 provides up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it; UNAIDS also provides detailed information about HIV/AIDS in South Africa
Wikipedia has a page about cost–benefit analysis (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The HIV Modelling Consortium has a database of models used in analyzing the impact of HIV and ART, including models such as the one used in this analysis
The International AIDS Economics Network has a library of research on the economics of HIV around the world
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001869
PMCID: PMC4556678  PMID: 26327271
18.  Are HIV Epidemics among Men Who Have Sex with Men Emerging in the Middle East and North Africa?: A Systematic Review and Data Synthesis 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(8):e1000444.
A systematic review by Laith Abu-Raddad and colleagues collates and analyzes the epidemiology of HIV among men who have sex with men in Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Background
Men who have sex with men (MSM) bear a disproportionately higher burden of HIV infection than the general population. MSM in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are a largely hidden population because of a prevailing stigma towards this type of sexual behavior, thereby limiting the ability to assess infection transmission patterns among them. It is widely perceived that data are virtually nonexistent on MSM and HIV in this region. The objective of this review was to delineate, for the first time, the evidence on the epidemiology of HIV among MSM in MENA.
Methods and Findings
This was a systematic review of all biological, behavioral, and other related data on HIV and MSM in MENA. Sources of data included PubMed (Medline), international organizations' reports and databases, country-level reports and databases including governmental and nongovernmental organization publications, and various other institutional documents. This review showed that onsiderable data are available on MSM and HIV in MENA. While HIV prevalence continues at low levels among different MSM groups, HIV epidemics appear to be emerging in at least few countries, with a prevalence reaching up to 28% among certain MSM groups. By 2008, the contribution of MSM transmission to the total HIV notified cases increased and exceeded 25% in several countries. The high levels of risk behavior (4–14 partners on average in the last six months among different MSM populations) and of biomarkers of risks (such as herpes simplex virus type 2 at 3%–54%), the overall low rate of consistent condom use (generally below 25%), the relative frequency of male sex work (20%–76%), and the substantial overlap with heterosexual risk behavior and injecting drug use suggest potential for further spread.
Conclusions
This systematic review and data synthesis indicate that HIV epidemics appear to be emerging among MSM in at least a few MENA countries and could already be in a concentrated state among several MSM groups. There is an urgent need to expand HIV surveillance and access to HIV testing, prevention, and treatment services in a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to prevent the worst of HIV transmission among MSM in the Middle East and North Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
AIDS first emerged in the early 1980s among gay men living in the US. But, as the disease rapidly spread, it became clear that AIDS also affects heterosexual men and women. Now three decades on, more than 30 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV is most often spread by having unprotected sex with an infected partner and, globally, most sexual transmission of HIV now occurs during heterosexual sex. However, 5%–10% of all new HIV infections still occur in men who have sex with men (MSM, a term that encompasses homosexual, bisexual, and transgender men, and heterosexual men who sometimes have sex with men). In some countries, male-to-male sexual contact remains the most important transmission route. Moreover, although the global prevalence of HIV infection (the proportion the world's population infected with HIV) has stabilized, the prevalence of HIV infection among MSM seems to be increasing in multiple countries and new and resurgent HIV epidemics among MSM populations are being frequently reported.
Why Was This Study Done?
In the US and the UK, the MSM population is visible and has helped to raise awareness about the risks of HIV transmission through male-to-male sexual contact. In many other countries, MSM are much less visible, fearing discrimination, stigmatization (being considered socially unacceptable) or arrest. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA, a geographical region that encompasses countries that share historical, socio-cultural, linguistic and religious characteristics), MSM are the most hidden HIV risk group. Consequently, very little is known about HIV transmission patterns among MSM in MENA. Indeed, it is widely thought that there is virtually no information available on the epidemiology (causes, distribution, and control) of HIV among MSM in this region. In this systematic review and data synthesis, the researchers use predefined search criteria to identify all the published and unpublished data on the epidemiology of HIV among MSM in MENA and combine (synthesize) these data to produce a coherent picture of the HIV epidemic in this potentially key group of people for HIV transmission in this region.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 26 articles and 51 other country-level reports and sources of data that included data on the prevalence of male-to-male sexual contact, HIV transmission, levels of high-risk behavior, and the extent of knowledge about HIV among MSM in MENA. The prevalence of HIV infection among MSM was low in most countries but high in others. For example, the infection rate in Pakistan was 27.6% among one MSM group. Importantly, there was some evidence of increasing HIV prevalence and emerging epidemics among MSM in the region. Thus, by 2008, MSM transmission was responsible for more than a quarter of notified cases of HIV in several countries. Worryingly, MSM were involved in several types of HIV-related high risk behavior. For example, they had, on average, between 4 and 14 sexual partners in the past six months, their rates of consistent condom use were generally below 25% and, in some countries, MSM frequently reported injecting drug use, another common mode of HIV transmission. In addition, 20%–75.5% of MSM exchanged sex for money and contact between MSM and female sex workers and other female sexual partners was often common. Finally, although the level of basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS was high, the level of comprehensive knowledge was limited with a high proportion of MSM perceiving their risk of contracting HIV as low.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that there is considerable and increasing data about HIV transmission and risk behavior among MSM in MENA. However, the quality of this evidence varies greatly. Little has been collected over time in individual populations and, because only the visible part of the MSM populations in many MENA countries has been sampled, these findings may not be representative of all MSM in this region. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that HIV epidemics are emerging among MSM in several MENA countries. Importantly, the high levels of risk behaviors practiced by many MSM in MENA mean that MSM could become the pivotal risk group for HIV transmission in this region in the next decade. There is, therefore, an urgent need to expand HIV surveillance and access to HIV testing, prevention and treatment services among MSM in this region to limit the size of the HIV epidemic.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000444.
Information about the status of the HIV epidemic in the Middle East and North Africa can be found in the World Bank/UNAIDS/WHO report Characterizing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Middle East and North Africa: Time for strategic action
Information about the global HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men can be found in the World Bank report The Global HIV Epidemics among Men Who Have Sex with Men
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV transmission and transmission in gay men and other MSM and on safer sex
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV, AIDS and men who have sex with men and on HIV and AIDS prevention (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also have information about HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with men (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000444
PMCID: PMC3149074  PMID: 21829329
19.  HIV Treatment as Prevention: Systematic Comparison of Mathematical Models of the Potential Impact of Antiretroviral Therapy on HIV Incidence in South Africa 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(7):e1001245.
Background
Many mathematical models have investigated the impact of expanding access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) on new HIV infections. Comparing results and conclusions across models is challenging because models have addressed slightly different questions and have reported different outcome metrics. This study compares the predictions of several mathematical models simulating the same ART intervention programmes to determine the extent to which models agree about the epidemiological impact of expanded ART.
Methods and Findings
Twelve independent mathematical models evaluated a set of standardised ART intervention scenarios in South Africa and reported a common set of outputs. Intervention scenarios systematically varied the CD4 count threshold for treatment eligibility, access to treatment, and programme retention. For a scenario in which 80% of HIV-infected individuals start treatment on average 1 y after their CD4 count drops below 350 cells/µl and 85% remain on treatment after 3 y, the models projected that HIV incidence would be 35% to 54% lower 8 y after the introduction of ART, compared to a counterfactual scenario in which there is no ART. More variation existed in the estimated long-term (38 y) reductions in incidence. The impact of optimistic interventions including immediate ART initiation varied widely across models, maintaining substantial uncertainty about the theoretical prospect for elimination of HIV from the population using ART alone over the next four decades. The number of person-years of ART per infection averted over 8 y ranged between 5.8 and 18.7. Considering the actual scale-up of ART in South Africa, seven models estimated that current HIV incidence is 17% to 32% lower than it would have been in the absence of ART. Differences between model assumptions about CD4 decline and HIV transmissibility over the course of infection explained only a modest amount of the variation in model results.
Conclusions
Mathematical models evaluating the impact of ART vary substantially in structure, complexity, and parameter choices, but all suggest that ART, at high levels of access and with high adherence, has the potential to substantially reduce new HIV infections. There was broad agreement regarding the short-term epidemiologic impact of ambitious treatment scale-up, but more variation in longer term projections and in the efficiency with which treatment can reduce new infections. Differences between model predictions could not be explained by differences in model structure or parameterization that were hypothesized to affect intervention impact.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Following the first reported case of AIDS in 1981, the number of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, increased rapidly. In recent years, the number of people becoming newly infected has declined slightly, but the virus continues to spread at unacceptably high levels. In 2010 alone, 2.7 million people became HIV-positive. HIV, which is usually transmitted through unprotected sex, destroys CD4 lymphocytes and other immune system cells, leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, half of HIV-infected people died within eleven years of infection. Then, in 1996, antiretroviral therapy (ART) became available, and, for people living in affluent countries, HIV/AIDS gradually became considered a chronic condition. But because ART was expensive, for people living in developing countries HIV/AIDS remained a fatal condition. Roll-out of ART in developing countries first started in the early 2000s. In 2006, the international community set a target of achieving universal ART coverage by 2010. Although this target has still not been reached, by the end of 2010, 6.6 million of the estimated 15 million people in need of ART in developing countries were receiving ART.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several studies suggest that ART, in addition to reducing illness and death among HIV-positive people, reduces HIV transmission. Consequently, there is interest in expanding the provision of ART as a strategy for reducing the spread of HIV (“HIV treatment as prevention"), particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in 20 adults is HIV-positive. It is important to understand exactly how ART might contribute to averting HIV transmission. Several mathematical models that simulate HIV infection and disease progression have been developed to investigate the impact of expanding access to ART on the incidence of HIV (the number of new infections occurring in a population over a year). But, although all these models predict that increased ART coverage will have epidemiologic (population) benefits, they vary widely in their estimates of the magnitude of these benefits. In this study, the researchers systematically compare the predictions of 12 mathematical models of the HIV epidemic in South Africa, simulating the same ART intervention programs to determine the extent to which different models agree about the impact of expanded ART.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers invited groups who had previously developed mathematical models of the epidemiological impact of expanded access to ART in South Africa to participate in a systematic comparison exercise in which their models were used to simulate ART scale-up scenarios in which the CD4 count threshold for treatment eligibility, access to treatment, and retention on treatment were systematically varied. To exclude variation resulting from different model assumptions about the past and current ART program, it was assumed that ART is introduced into the population in the year 2012, with no treatment provision prior to this, and interventions were evaluated in comparison to an artificial counterfactual scenario in which no treatment is provided. A standard scenario based on the World Health Organization's recommended threshold for initiation of ART, although unrepresentative of current provision in South Africa, was used to compare the models. In this scenario, 80% of HIV-infected individuals received treatment, they started treatment on average a year after their CD4 count dropped below 350 cells per microliter of blood, and 85% remained on treatment after three years. The models predicted that, with a start point of 2012, the HIV incidence would be 35%–54% lower in 2020 and 32%–74% lower in 2050 compared to a counterfactual scenario where there was no ART. Estimates of the number of person-years of ART needed per infection averted (the efficiency with which ART reduced new infections) ranged from 6.3–18.7 and from 4.5–20.2 over the periods 2012–2020 and 2012–2050, respectively. Finally, estimates of the impact of ambitious interventions (for example, immediate treatment of all HIV-positive individuals) varied widely across the models.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although the mathematical models used in this study had different characteristics, all 12 predict that ART, at high levels of access and adherence, has the potential to reduce new HIV infections. However, although the models broadly agree about the short-term epidemiologic impact of treatment scale-up, their longer-term projections (including whether ART alone can eliminate HIV infection) and their estimates of the efficiency with which ART can reduce new infections vary widely. Importantly, it is possible that all these predictions will be wrong—all the models may have excluded some aspect of HIV transmission that will be found in the future to be crucial. Finally, these findings do not aim to indicate which specific ART interventions should be used to reduce the incidence of HIV. Rather, by comparing the models that are being used to investigate the feasibility of “HIV treatment as prevention," these findings should help modelers and policy-makers think critically about how the assumptions underlying these models affect the models' predictions.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001245.
This study is part of the July 2012 PLoS Medicine Collection, Investigating the Impact of Treatment on New HIV Infections
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV/AIDS treatment and care, on HIV treatment as prevention, and on HIV/AIDS in South Africa (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment (in English, French, and Spanish); its 2010 ART guidelines can be downloaded
The HIV Modelling Consortium aims to improve scientific support for decision-making by coordinating mathematical modeling of the HIV epidemic
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert; the charity website Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about living with HIV, including stories about taking anti-HIV drugs and the challenges of anti-HIV drugs
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001245
PMCID: PMC3393664  PMID: 22802730
20.  Incident HIV during Pregnancy and Postpartum and Risk of Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(2):e1001608.
Alison Drake and colleagues conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis to estimate maternal HIV incidence during pregnancy and the postpartum period and to compare mother-to-child HIV transmission risk among women with incident versus chronic infection.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Women may have persistent risk of HIV acquisition during pregnancy and postpartum. Estimating risk of HIV during these periods is important to inform optimal prevention approaches. We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis to estimate maternal HIV incidence during pregnancy/postpartum and to compare mother-to-child HIV transmission (MTCT) risk among women with incident versus chronic infection.
Methods and Findings
We searched PubMed, Embase, and AIDS-related conference abstracts between January 1, 1980, and October 31, 2013, for articles and abstracts describing HIV acquisition during pregnancy/postpartum. The inclusion criterion was studies with data on recent HIV during pregnancy/postpartum. Random effects models were constructed to pool HIV incidence rates, cumulative HIV incidence, hazard ratios (HRs), or odds ratios (ORs) summarizing the association between pregnancy/postpartum status and HIV incidence, and MTCT risk and rates. Overall, 1,176 studies met the search criteria, of which 78 met the inclusion criterion, and 47 contributed data. Using data from 19 cohorts representing 22,803 total person-years, the pooled HIV incidence rate during pregnancy/postpartum was 3.8/100 person-years (95% CI 3.0–4.6): 4.7/100 person-years during pregnancy and 2.9/100 person-years postpartum (p = 0.18). Pooled cumulative HIV incidence was significantly higher in African than non-African countries (3.6% versus 0.3%, respectively; p<0.001). Risk of HIV was not significantly higher among pregnant (HR 1.3, 95% CI 0.5–2.1) or postpartum women (HR 1.1, 95% CI 0.6–1.6) than among non-pregnant/non-postpartum women in five studies with available data. In African cohorts, MTCT risk was significantly higher among women with incident versus chronic HIV infection in the postpartum period (OR 2.9, 95% CI 2.2–3.9) or in pregnancy/postpartum periods combined (OR 2.3, 95% CI 1.2–4.4). However, the small number of studies limited power to detect associations and sources of heterogeneity.
Conclusions
Pregnancy and the postpartum period are times of persistent HIV risk, at rates similar to “high risk” cohorts. MTCT risk was elevated among women with incident infections. Detection and prevention of incident HIV in pregnancy/postpartum should be prioritized, and is critical to decrease MTCT.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Worldwide, about 3.4 million children younger than 15 years old (mostly living in sub-Saharan Africa) are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS by gradually destroying immune system cells, thereby leaving infected individuals susceptible to other serious infections. In 2012 alone, 230,000 children (more than 700 every day) were newly infected with HIV. Most HIV infections among children are the result of mother-to-child HIV transmission (MTCT) during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. The rate of MTCT (and deaths among HIV-positive pregnant women from complications related to HIV infection) can be greatly reduced by testing women for HIV infection during pregnancy (antenatal HIV testing), treating HIV-positive women with antiretroviral drugs (ARVs, powerful drugs that control HIV replication and allow the immune system to recover) during pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding, and giving ARVs to their newborn babies.
Why Was This Study Done?
The World Health Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have developed a global plan that aims to move towards eliminating new HIV infections among children by 2015 and towards keeping their mothers alive. To ensure the plan's success, the incidence of HIV (the number of new infections) among women and the rate of MTCT must be reduced by increasing ARV uptake by mothers and their infants for the prevention of MTCT. However, the risk of HIV infection among pregnant women and among women who have recently given birth (postpartum women) is poorly understood because, although guidelines recommend repeat HIV testing during late pregnancy or at delivery in settings where HIV infection is common, pregnant women are often tested only once for HIV infection. The lack of retesting represents a missed opportunity to identify pregnant and postpartum women who have recently acquired HIV and to prevent MTCT by initiating ARV therapy. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) and meta-analysis (a study that uses statistical methods to combine the results of several studies), the researchers estimate maternal HIV incidence during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and compare the risk of MTCT among women with incident (new) and chronic (long-standing) HIV infection.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 47 studies (35 undertaken in Africa) that examined recent HIV acquisition by women during pregnancy and the 12-month postpartum period. They used random effects statistical models to estimate the pooled HIV incidence rate and cumulative HIV incidence (the number of new infections per number of people at risk), and the association between pregnancy/postpartum status and HIV incidence and MTCT risk and rates. The pooled HIV incidence rate among pregnant/postpartum women estimated from 19 studies (all from sub-Saharan Africa) that reported HIV incidence rates was 3.8/100 person-years. The pooled cumulative HIV incidence was significantly higher in African countries than in non-African countries (3.6% and 0.3%, respectively; a “significant” difference is one that is unlikely to arise by chance). In the five studies that provided suitable data, the risk of HIV acquisition was similar in pregnant, postpartum, and non-pregnant/non-postpartum women. Finally, among African women, the risk of MTCT was 2.9-fold higher during the postpartum period among those who had recently acquired HIV than among those with chronic HIV infection, and 2.3-fold higher during the pregnancy/postpartum periods combined.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results suggest that women living in regions where HIV infection is common are at high risk of acquiring HIV infection during pregnancy and the postpartum period and that mothers who acquire HIV during pregnancy or postpartum are more likely to pass the infection on to their offspring than mothers with chronic HIV infections. However, the small number of studies included in this meta-analysis and the use of heterogeneous research methodologies in these studies may limit the accuracy of these findings. Nevertheless, these findings have important implications for the global plan to eliminate HIV infections in children. First, they suggest that women living in regions where HIV infection is common should be offered repeat HIV testing (using sensitive methods to enhance early detection of infection) during pregnancy and in the postpartum period to detect incident HIV infections, and should be promptly referred to HIV care and treatment. Second, they suggest that prevention of HIV transmission during pregnancy and postpartum should be prioritized, for example, by counseling women about the need to use condoms to prevent transmission during this period of their lives.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001608.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on children and HIV/AIDS and on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (in English and Spanish)
The 2013 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report provides information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it; the 2013 UNAIDS Progress Report on the Global Plan provides information on progress towards eliminating new HIV infections among children; the UNAIDS Believe it. Do it website provides information about the campaign to support the UNAIDS global plan
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS, including stories from young people infected with HIV, are available through Avert, NAM/aidsmap, and Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001608
PMCID: PMC3934828  PMID: 24586123
21.  Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision: Modeling the Impact and Cost of Expanding Male Circumcision for HIV Prevention in Eastern and Southern Africa 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(11):e1001132.
Emmanuel Njeuhmeli and colleagues estimate the impact and cost of scaling up adult medical male circumcision in 13 priority countries in eastern and southern Africa, finding that reaching 80% coverage and maintaining it until 2025 would avert 3.36 million new HIV infections.
Background
There is strong evidence showing that voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) reduces HIV incidence in men. To inform the VMMC policies and goals of 13 priority countries in eastern and southern Africa, we estimate the impact and cost of scaling up adult VMMC using updated, country-specific data.
Methods and Findings
We use the Decision Makers' Program Planning Tool (DMPPT) to model the impact and cost of scaling up adult VMMC in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Nyanza Province in Kenya. We use epidemiologic and demographic data from recent household surveys for each country. The cost of VMMC ranges from US$65.85 to US$95.15 per VMMC performed, based on a cost assessment of VMMC services aligned with the World Health Organization's considerations of models for optimizing volume and efficiencies. Results from the DMPPT models suggest that scaling up adult VMMC to reach 80% coverage in the 13 countries by 2015 would entail performing 20.34 million circumcisions between 2011 and 2015 and an additional 8.42 million between 2016 and 2025 (to maintain the 80% coverage). Such a scale-up would result in averting 3.36 million new HIV infections through 2025. In addition, while the model shows that this scale-up would cost a total of US$2 billion between 2011 and 2025, it would result in net savings (due to averted treatment and care costs) amounting to US$16.51 billion.
Conclusions
This study suggests that rapid scale-up of VMMC in eastern and southern Africa is warranted based on the likely impact on the region's HIV epidemics and net savings. Scaling up of safe VMMC in eastern and southern Africa will lead to a substantial reduction in HIV infections in the countries and lower health system costs through averted HIV care costs.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, about 2.5 million people (mainly in sub-Saharan Africa) become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Consequently, prevention of HIV transmission is very important. Because the most common HIV transmission route is through unprotected sex with an infected partner, individuals can reduce their risk of HIV infection by abstaining from sex, by having only one or a few partners, and by using male or female condoms. There is also strong evidence that voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC)—the removal of the foreskin, the loose fold of skin that covers the head of the penis—reduces the heterosexual acquisition of HIV in men by about 60%. In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) recommended that VMMC should be offered to men as part of comprehensive HIV risk reduction programs in settings with generalized HIV epidemics and low levels of male circumcision. They also prioritized 13 countries in eastern and southern Africa for VMMC program scale-up.
Why Was This Study Done?
The impact of VMMC scale-up in terms of HIV infections and AIDS deaths averted (epidemiologic impact) is expected to be large, and the intervention should also reduce the costs associated with the treatment, care, and support of infected individuals. However, VMMC scale-up will require substantial funding and considerable effort by countries—many of which have weak health systems and limited resources—to train personnel, equip facilities, and provide the necessary commodities. To support planning for VMMC scale-up, the United States Agency for International Development Health Policy Initiative has collaborated with UNAIDS to develop the Decision Makers' Program Planning Tool (DMPPT), a mathematical model that allows analysts and decision makers to estimate the epidemiologic impact and cost of alternative VMMC scale-up programs. In this study, the researchers use DMPPT to estimate the impact and cost of scaling up adult VMMC in the 13 priority countries in eastern and southern Africa.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers derived VMMC unit costs for each priority country based on a cost assessment undertaken in Zimbabwe, one of the first countries to scale up VMMC services using WHO's “Models for Optimizing Volume and Efficiencies” (MOVE) guidelines. They fed these costs and recent epidemiologic data (including HIV infection rates and the effectiveness of VMMC in preventing HIV transmission) and demographic data (including the adult population size and pre-scale-up male circumcision prevalence) collected in each country into the DMPPT, together with information on the lifetime costs of HIV treatment. Results from running the DMPPT model suggest that scaling up adult VMMC to reach 80% coverage in the 13 priority countries by 2015 would require 20.33 million circumcisions to be completed between 2011 and 2015. To maintain this coverage, a further 8.42 million circumcisions would be required between 2016 and 2025. Such a scale-up would avert 3.36 million new HIV infections through 2025 and would cost US$2,000,000,000 between 2011 and 2025. However, it would result in net savings (because of averted treatment and care costs) of US$16,510,000,000.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that rapid VMMC scale-up in eastern and southern Africa is warranted, given its likely impact on the region's HIV epidemics and the resultant cost savings. However, the accuracy of these findings depends on the assumptions built into the DMPPT and on the data fed into it. For example, there could be risk behavior changes after circumcision. That is, risky sexual behaviors may increase in men who have been circumcised. However, the researchers show that, except in Rwanda, post-circumcision risk behavior change is unlikely to completely reverse the benefits of VMMC. These modeling results also assume that men seeking out VMMC services are typical of the general male population, but if they are actually at unusually low risk of HIV infection, then the benefits of VMMC reported here are likely to be overestimated. Finally, these findings assume 80% VMMC coverage. This may be optimistic, although results from Kenya indicate that this target is achievable. Thus, countries and their international partners must allocate sufficient resources to VMMC scale-up to achieve high coverage rates if they are to take full advantage of the benefits predicted here for VMMC scale-up.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001132.
This study is part of a PLoS Collection of articles on http://www.ploscollections.org/VMMC2011 and is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Review Article by Hankins et al. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001127)
Information is available from WHO, UNAIDS, and PEPFAR on all aspects of HIV/AIDS; the 2011WHO/UNAIDS progress report on VMMC scale-up in the 13 priority countries is available
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment, and information on male circumcision for the prevention of HIV transmission
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on all aspects of HIV prevention, and on HIV/AIDS in Africa (in English and Spanish)
The Clearinghouse on Male Circumcision, a resource provided by WHO, UNAIDS, and other international bodies, provides information and tools for VMMC policy development and program implementation, including information on the DMPPT and the MOVE guidance
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert, through NAM/aidsmap, and through the charity website Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001132
PMCID: PMC3226464  PMID: 22140367
22.  The Role of HIV-Related Stigma in Utilization of Skilled Childbirth Services in Rural Kenya: A Prospective Mixed-Methods Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(8):e1001295.
Janet Turan and colleagues examined the role of the perception of women in rural Kenya of HIV-related stigma during pregnancy on their subsequent utilization of maternity services.
Background
Childbirth with a skilled attendant is crucial for preventing maternal mortality and is an important opportunity for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The Maternity in Migori and AIDS Stigma Study (MAMAS Study) is a prospective mixed-methods investigation conducted in a high HIV prevalence area in rural Kenya, in which we examined the role of women's perceptions of HIV-related stigma during pregnancy in their subsequent utilization of maternity services.
Methods and Findings
From 2007–2009, 1,777 pregnant women with unknown HIV status completed an interviewer-administered questionnaire assessing their perceptions of HIV-related stigma before being offered HIV testing during their first antenatal care visit. After the visit, a sub-sample of women was selected for follow-up (all women who tested HIV-positive or were not tested for HIV, and a random sample of HIV-negative women, n = 598); 411 (69%) were located and completed another questionnaire postpartum. Additional qualitative in-depth interviews with community health workers, childbearing women, and family members (n = 48) aided our interpretation of the quantitative findings and highlighted ways in which HIV-related stigma may influence birth decisions. Qualitative data revealed that health facility birth is commonly viewed as most appropriate for women with pregnancy complications, such as HIV. Thus, women delivering at health facilities face the risk of being labeled as HIV-positive in the community. Our quantitative data revealed that women with higher perceptions of HIV-related stigma (specifically those who held negative attitudes about persons living with HIV) at baseline were subsequently less likely to deliver in a health facility with a skilled attendant, even after adjusting for other known predictors of health facility delivery (adjusted odds ratio = 0.44, 95% CI 0.22–0.88).
Conclusions
Our findings point to the urgent need for interventions to reduce HIV-related stigma, not only for improving quality of life among persons living with HIV, but also for better health outcomes among all childbearing women and their families.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, nearly 350,000 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications. Almost all these “maternal” deaths occur in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the maternal mortality ratio (the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) is 500 whereas in industrialized countries it is only 12. Most maternal deaths are caused by hemorrhage (severe bleeding after childbirth), post-delivery infections, obstructed (difficult) labor, and blood pressure disorders during pregnancy. All these conditions can be prevented if women have access to adequate reproductive health services and if trained health care workers are present during delivery. Notably, in sub-Saharan Africa, infection with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) is an increasingly important contributor to maternal mortality. HIV infection causes maternal mortality directly by increasing the occurrence of pregnancy complications and indirectly by increasing the susceptibility of pregnant women to malaria, tuberculosis, and other “opportunistic” infections—HIV-positive individuals are highly susceptible to other infections because HIV destroys the immune system.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although skilled delivery attendants reduce maternal mortality, there are many barriers to their use in developing countries including cost and the need to travel long distances to health facilities. Fears and experiences of HIV-related stigma and discrimination (prejudice, negative attitudes, abuse, and maltreatment directed at people living with HIV) may also be a barrier to the use of skilled childbirth service. Maternity services are prime locations for HIV testing and for the provision of interventions for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, so pregnant women know that they will have to “deal with” the issue of HIV when visiting these services. In this prospective mixed-methods study, the researchers examine the role of pregnant women's perceptions of HIV-related stigma in their subsequent use of maternity services in Nyanza Province, Kenya, a region where 16% women aged 15–49 are HIV-positive and where only 44.2% of mothers give birth in a health facility. A mixed-methods study combines qualitative data—how people feel about an issue—with quantitative data—numerical data about outcomes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In the Maternity in Migori and AIDS Stigma (MAMAS) study, pregnant women with unknown HIV status living in rural regions of Nyanza Province answered questions about their perceptions of HIV-related stigma before being offered HIV testing during their first antenatal clinic visit. After delivery, the researchers asked the women who tested HIV positive or were not tested for HIV and a sample of HIV-negative women where they had delivered their baby. They also gathered qualitative information about barriers to maternity and HIV service use by interviewing childbearing women, family members, and community health workers. The qualitative data indicate that labor in a health facility is commonly viewed as being most appropriate for women with pregnancy complications such as HIV infection. Thus, women delivering at health facilities risk being labeled as HIV positive, a label that the community associates with promiscuity. The quantitative data indicate that women with more negative attitudes about HIV-positive people (higher perceptions of HIV-related stigma) at baseline were about half as likely to deliver in a health facility with a skilled attendant as women with more positive attitudes about people living with HIV.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that HIV-related stigma is associated with the low rate of delivery by skilled attendants in rural areas of Nyanza Province and possibly in other rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Community mobilization efforts aimed at increasing the use of PMTCT services may be partly responsible for the strong perception that delivery in a health facility is most appropriate for women with HIV and other pregnancy complications and may have inadvertently strengthened the perception that women who give birth in such facilities are likely to be HIV positive. The researchers suggest, therefore, that health messages should stress that delivery in a health facility is recommended for all women, not just HIV-positive women or those with pregnancy complications, and that interventions should be introduced to reduce HIV-related stigma. This combined strategy has the potential to increase the use of maternity services by all women and the use of HIV and PMTCT services, thereby reducing some of the most pressing health problems facing women and their children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001295.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) provides information on maternal mortality, including the WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA/World Bank 2008 country estimates of maternal mortality; a UNICEF special report tells the stories of seven mothers living with HIV in Lesotho
The World Health Organization provides information on maternal health, including information about Millennium Development Goal 5, which aims to reduce maternal mortality (in several languages); the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed by world leaders in 2000, are designed to eradicate extreme poverty worldwide by 2015
Immpact is a global research initiative for the evaluation of safe motherhood intervention strategies
Maternal Death: The Avoidable Crisis is a briefing paper published by the independent humanitarian medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in March 2012
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on women, HIV and AIDS, on HIV and pregnancy, on HIV and AIDS stigma and discrimination, and on HIV in Kenya (in English and Spanish); Avert also has personal stories from women living with HIV
The Stigma Action Network (SAN) is a collaborative endeavor that aims to comprehensively coordinate efforts to develop and expand program, research, and advocacy strategies for reducing HIV stigma worldwide, including mobilizing stakeholders, delivering program and policy solutions, and maximizing investments in HIV programs and services globally
The People Living with Stigma Index aims to address stigma relating to HIV and advocate on key barriers and issues perpetuating stigma; it has recently published Piecing it together for women and girls, the gender dimensions of HIV-related stigma
The Health Policy Project http://www.healthpolicyproject.com has prepared a review of the academic and programmatic literature on stigma and discrimination as barriers to achievement of global goals for maternal health and the elimination of new child HIV infections (see under Resources)
More information on the MAMAS study is available from the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001295
PMCID: PMC3424253  PMID: 22927800
23.  Intravaginal Practices, Bacterial Vaginosis, and HIV Infection in Women: Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(2):e1000416.
Pooling of data from 14,874 women in an individual participant data meta-analysis by Nicola Low and colleagues reveals that some intravaginal practices increase the risk of HIV acquisition.
Background
Identifying modifiable factors that increase women's vulnerability to HIV is a critical step in developing effective female-initiated prevention interventions. The primary objective of this study was to pool individual participant data from prospective longitudinal studies to investigate the association between intravaginal practices and acquisition of HIV infection among women in sub-Saharan Africa. Secondary objectives were to investigate associations between intravaginal practices and disrupted vaginal flora; and between disrupted vaginal flora and HIV acquisition.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a meta-analysis of individual participant data from 13 prospective cohort studies involving 14,874 women, of whom 791 acquired HIV infection during 21,218 woman years of follow-up. Data were pooled using random-effects meta-analysis. The level of between-study heterogeneity was low in all analyses (I2 values 0.0%–16.1%). Intravaginal use of cloth or paper (pooled adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] 1.47, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.18–1.83), insertion of products to dry or tighten the vagina (aHR 1.31, 95% CI 1.00–1.71), and intravaginal cleaning with soap (aHR 1.24, 95% CI 1.01–1.53) remained associated with HIV acquisition after controlling for age, marital status, and number of sex partners in the past 3 months. Intravaginal cleaning with soap was also associated with the development of intermediate vaginal flora and bacterial vaginosis in women with normal vaginal flora at baseline (pooled adjusted odds ratio [OR] 1.24, 95% CI 1.04–1.47). Use of cloth or paper was not associated with the development of disrupted vaginal flora. Intermediate vaginal flora and bacterial vaginosis were each associated with HIV acquisition in multivariable models when measured at baseline (aHR 1.54 and 1.69, p<0.001) or at the visit before the estimated date of HIV infection (aHR 1.41 and 1.53, p<0.001), respectively.
Conclusions
This study provides evidence to suggest that some intravaginal practices increase the risk of HIV acquisition but a direct causal pathway linking intravaginal cleaning with soap, disruption of vaginal flora, and HIV acquisition has not yet been demonstrated. More consistency in the definition and measurement of specific intravaginal practices is warranted so that the effects of specific intravaginal practices and products can be further elucidated.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Since the first reported case of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in 1981, the number of people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, has risen steadily. By the end of 2009, an estimated 33.3 million people were living with HIV/AIDS. At the beginning of the epidemic, more men than women were infected with HIV but now, globally, more than half of all adults living with HIV/AIDS are women, and HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among women of child-bearing age. In sub-Saharan Africa, where more than two-thirds of HIV-positive people live, the situation for women is particularly bad. About 12 million women live with HIV/AIDS in this region compared with about 8 million men; among 15–24 year-olds, women are eight times more likely than men to be HIV-positive. This pattern of infection has developed because in sub-Saharan Africa most people contract HIV through heterosexual sex.
Why Was This Study Done?
If modifiable factors that increase women's vulnerability to HIV infection could be identified, it might be possible to develop effective female-initiated prevention interventions. Some experts think that intravaginal practices such as cleaning the vagina with soap or a cloth increase the risk of HIV infection by damaging the vagina's lining or by increasing bacterial vaginosis (a condition in which harmful bacteria disrupt the healthy vaginal flora) but the evidence for such an association is inconclusive. In this meta-analysis, the researchers pool individual participant data from several prospective longitudinal cohort studies to assess the association between intravaginal practices and HIV acquisition among women in sub-Saharan Africa. Meta-analysis is a statistical method that combines data from several studies to get a clearer view of the factors associated with of a disease than is possible from individual studies. In a prospective longitudinal cohort study, groups of participants with different baseline characteristics (here, women who did or did not use intravaginal practices), who do not have the outcome of interest at the start of the study (here, HIV infection) are followed to see whether these characteristics affect disease development.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers pooled individual participant data from 13 prospective cohort studies in sub-Saharan Africa involving nearly 15,000 women, 791 of whom acquired HIV, and asked whether HIV infection within 2 years of study enrollment was associated with self-reported intravaginal practices. That is, were women who used specific intravaginal practices more likely to become infected with HIV than women who did not use these practices? After controlling for age, marital status, and the number of recent sex partners, women who used cloth or paper to clean their vagina were nearly one and half times more likely to have acquired HIV infection as women who did not use this practice (a pooled adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] of 1.47). The insertion of products to dry or tighten the vagina and intravaginal cleaning with soap also increased women's chances of acquiring HIV (aHRs of 1.31 and 1.24, respectively). Moreover, intravaginal cleaning with soap was associated with the development of bacterial vaginosis, and disrupted vaginal flora and bacterial vaginosis were both associated with an increased risk of HIV acquisition.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that some intravaginal practices increase the risk of HIV acquisition but they do not prove that there is a causal link between any intravaginal practice, disruption of vaginal flora, and HIV acquisition. It could be that the women who use intravaginal practices share other unknown characteristics that affect their vulnerability to HIV infection. The accuracy of these findings is also likely to be affected by the use of self-reported data and inconsistent definitions of intravaginal practices. Nevertheless, given the widespread use of intravaginal practices in some sub-Saharan countries (95% of female sex workers in Kenya use such practices, for example), these findings suggest that encouraging women to use less harmful intravaginal practices (for example, washing with water alone) should be included in female-initiated HIV prevention research strategies in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions where intravaginal practices are common.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000416
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases provides information on HIV infection and AIDS and on bacterial vaginosis
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including specific information about HIV/AIDS and women; it also has information on bacterial vaginosis (in English and Spanish)
HIV InSite has information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS nonprofit on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including HIV/AIDS and women and HIV/AIDS in Africa (in English and Spanish)
A full description of the researchers' study protocol is available
Several Web sites provide information on microbicides Global Campaign for Microbicides, Microbicides Development Programme, Microbicides Trials Network, and International Partnership for Microbicides
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000416
PMCID: PMC3039685  PMID: 21358808
24.  Gender Differences in Survival among Adult Patients Starting Antiretroviral Therapy in South Africa: A Multicentre Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(9):e1001304.
Morna Cornell and colleagues investigate differences in mortality for HIV-positive men and women on antiretroviral therapy in South Africa.
Background
Increased mortality among men on antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been documented but remains poorly understood. We examined the magnitude of and risk factors for gender differences in mortality on ART.
Methods and Findings
Analyses included 46,201 ART-naïve adults starting ART between January 2002 and December 2009 in eight ART programmes across South Africa (SA). Patients were followed from initiation of ART to outcome or analysis closure. The primary outcome was mortality; secondary outcomes were loss to follow-up (LTF), virologic suppression, and CD4+ cell count responses. Survival analyses were used to examine the hazard of death on ART by gender. Sensitivity analyses were limited to patients who were virologically suppressed and patients whose CD4+ cell count reached >200 cells/µl. We compared gender differences in mortality among HIV+ patients on ART with mortality in an age-standardised HIV-negative population.
Among 46,201 adults (65% female, median age 35 years), during 77,578 person-years of follow-up, men had lower median CD4+ cell counts than women (85 versus 110 cells/µl, p<0.001), were more likely to be classified WHO stage III/IV (86 versus 77%, p<0.001), and had higher mortality in crude (8.5 versus 5.7 deaths/100 person-years, p<0.001) and adjusted analyses (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR] 1.31, 95% CI 1.22–1.41). After 36 months on ART, men were more likely than women to be truly LTF (AHR 1.20, 95% CI 1.12–1.28) but not to die after LTF (AHR 1.04, 95% CI 0.86–1.25). Findings were consistent across all eight programmes. Virologic suppression was similar by gender; women had slightly better immunologic responses than men. Notably, the observed gender differences in mortality on ART were smaller than gender differences in age-standardised death rates in the HIV-negative South African population. Over time, non-HIV mortality appeared to account for an increasing proportion of observed mortality. The analysis was limited by missing data on baseline HIV disease characteristics, and we did not observe directly mortality in HIV-negative populations where the participating cohorts were located.
Conclusions
HIV-infected men have higher mortality on ART than women in South African programmes, but these differences are only partly explained by more advanced HIV disease at the time of ART initiation, differential LTF and subsequent mortality, and differences in responses to treatment. The observed differences in mortality on ART may be best explained by background differences in mortality between men and women in the South African population unrelated to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
About 34 million people (most living in low- and middle-income countries) are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV destroys CD4 lymphocytes and other immune system cells, leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-infected people died within 10 years of becoming infected. Then, in 1996, antiretroviral therapy (ART)—cocktails of drugs that keep HIV in check—became available. For people living in affluent countries, HIV/AIDS became a chronic condition. However, ART was expensive and, for people living in poorer countries, HIV/AIDS remained a fatal illness. In 2003, this situation was declared a global emergency, and governments and international agencies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in resource-limited countries. Since then, ART programs in these countries have grown rapidly. In South Africa, for example, about 52% of the 3.14 million adults in need of ART were receiving an ART regimen recommended by the World Health Organization by the end of 2010.
Why Was This Study Done?
The outcomes of ART programs in resource-limited countries need to be evaluated thoroughly so that these programs can be optimized. One area of concern to ART providers is that of gender differences in survival among patients receiving treatment. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, men are more likely to die than women while receiving ART. This gender difference in mortality may arise because men initiating ART in many African ART programs have more advanced HIV disease than women (early ART initiation is associated with better outcomes than late initiation) or because men are more likely to be lost to follow-up than women (failure to continue treatment is associated with death). Other possible explanations for gender differentials in mortality on ART include gender differences in immunologic and virologic responses to treatment (increased numbers of immune system cells and reduced amounts of virus in the blood, respectively). In this multicenter cohort study, the researchers examine the size of, and risk factors for, gender differences in mortality on ART in South Africa by examining data collected from adults starting ART at International Epidemiologic Databases to Evaluate AIDS South Africa (IeDEA-SA) collaboration sites.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed data collected from 46,201 ART-naïve adults who started ART between 2002 and 2009 in eight IeDEA-SA ART programs. At ART initiation, men had a lower CD4 count on average and were more likely to have advanced HIV disease than women. During the study, after allowing for factors likely to affect mortality such as HIV disease stage at initiation, men on ART had a 31% higher risk of dying than women. Men were more likely to be lost to follow-up than women, but men and women who were lost to follow-up were equally likely to die. Women had a slightly better immunological response to ART than men but virologic suppression was similar in both genders. Importantly, in analyses of mortality limited to individuals who were virologically suppressed at 12 months and to patients who had a good immunological response to ART, men still had a higher risk of death than women. However, the gender differences in mortality on ART were smaller than the gender differences in age-standardized mortality in the HIV-negative South African population.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These analyses show that among South African patients initiating ART between 2002 and 2009, men were more likely to die than women but that this gender difference in mortality on ART cannot be completely explained by gender differences in baseline characteristics, loss to follow-up, or virologic and/or immunologic responses. Instead, the observed gender differences in mortality can best be explained by background gender differences in mortality in the whole South African population. Because substantial amounts of data were missing in this study (for example, HIV disease stage was not available for all the patients), these findings need to be interpreted cautiously. Moreover, similar studies need to be done in other settings to investigate whether they are generalizable to the South African national ART program and to other countries. If confirmed, however, these findings suggest that the root causes of gender differences in mortality on ART may be unrelated to HIV/AIDS or to the characteristics of ART programs.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001304.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
Information on the treatment of HIV/AIDS in South Africa is available from the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV/AIDS treatment and care, and on HIV/AIDS in South Africa (in English and Spanish)
WHO provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment (in several languages); its 2010 ART guidelines can be downloaded
Information about the IeDEA-SA collaboration is available
The Treatment Action Campaign provides information on antiretroviral therapy and South African HIV statistics
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert; the nonprofit website Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about living with HIV, including stories about taking anti-HIV drugs and the challenges of anti-HIV drugs
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001304
PMCID: PMC3433409  PMID: 22973181
25.  A Model for the Roll-Out of Comprehensive Adult Male Circumcision Services in African Low-Income Settings of High HIV Incidence: The ANRS 12126 Bophelo Pele Project 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(7):e1000309.
Bertrand Auvert and colleagues describe the large-scale roll-out of adult male circumcision through a program in South Africa.
Background
World Health Organization (WHO)/Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) has recommended adult male circumcision (AMC) for the prevention of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men from communities where HIV is hyperendemic and AMC prevalence is low. The objective of this study was to investigate the feasibility of the roll-out of medicalized AMC according to UNAIDS/WHO operational guidelines in a targeted African setting.
Methods and Findings
The ANRS 12126 “Bophelo Pele” project was implemented in 2008 in the township of Orange Farm (South Africa). It became functional in 5 mo once local and ethical authorizations were obtained. Project activities involved community mobilization and outreach, as well as communication approaches aimed at both men and women incorporating broader HIV prevention strategies and promoting sexual health. Free medicalized AMC was offered to male residents aged 15 y and over at the project's main center, which had been designed for low-income settings. Through the establishment of an innovative surgical organization, up to 150 AMCs under local anesthesia, with sterilized circumcision disposable kits and electrocautery, could be performed per day by three task-sharing teams of one medical circumciser and five nurses. Community support for the project was high. As of November 2009, 14,011 men had been circumcised, averaging 740 per month in the past 12 mo, and 27.5% of project participants agreed to be tested for HIV. The rate of adverse events, none of which resulted in permanent damage or death, was 1.8%. Most of the men surveyed (92%) rated the services provided positively. An estimated 39.1% of adult uncircumcised male residents have undergone surgery and uptake is steadily increasing.
Conclusion
This study demonstrates that a quality AMC roll-out adapted to African low-income settings is feasible and can be implemented quickly and safely according to international guidelines. The project can be a model for the scale-up of comprehensive AMC services, which could be tailored for other rural and urban communities of high HIV prevalence and low AMC rates in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed about 25 million people since 1981, and more than 30 million people (22 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone) are now infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Consequently, prevention of HIV infection is extremely important. Because HIV is most often spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner, individuals can reduce their risk of HIV infection by abstaining from sex, by having one or a few partners, and by always using a male or female condom. In addition, three trials in sub-Saharan Africa recently reported that medicalized adult male circumcision (AMC)—the surgical removal of the foreskin, a loose fold of skin that covers the head of the penis—can reduce HIV transmission rates in men by more than a half. Thus, AMC delivered as a catch-up campaign—in the long-term, circumcision of male infants is likely to be a more sustainable strategy—has the potential to reduce the prevalence of HIV (the proportion of the population infected with HIV) in sub-Saharan Africa.
Why Was This Study Done?
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) now recommend that AMC programs should be rolled-out wherever there is a generalized HIV epidemic and few men are circumcised. Accordingly, these organizations have defined a minimum package of AMC services and have issued guidelines and tools designed to engage communities in the roll-out and to ensure that appropriate AMC counseling and surgical facilities are available. But is rapid AMC roll-out feasible in real-life settings? Here, the researchers try to find out by studying the “Bophelo Pele” (Health First) project. This project, which follows the WHO/UNAIDS guidelines for AMC, aims to offer free, safe AMC services to all men aged 15 years or more living in the Orange Farm township in South Africa as part of a community-based intervention against HIV. Orange Farm is in a low-income region of South Africa where HIV prevalence is 15.2% and AMC prevalence is about 25%.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Before the Bophelo Pele project started in January 2008, the researchers consulted the community about the implementation of AMC, helped to create a community advisory board, organized community workshops to discuss the project, and surveyed people's knowledge about AMC and willingness to undergo AMC. These activities indicated a high level of community support for the project and a high level of willingness among men to undergo AMC. Once the project started, the researchers used multiple communication channels to tell the Orange Farm residents about AMC and broader HIV prevention strategies and provided eligible men with counseling about AMC and with voluntary HIV counseling and testing during the recruitment process. Three days after recruitment, eligible men were circumcised free-of-charge at the project's main center, where three teams of one medical circumciser and five nurses were able to complete up to 150 AMCs per day. By November 2009, 14,011 men had been circumcised (more than a third of the eligible men in the township), and AMC uptake was still increasing steadily. Nearly all the men circumcised over one 2-month period rated the AMC services positively in a survey and adverse effects (all mild) occurred after fewer than 1 in 50 circumcisions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the rapid roll-out of high-quality, free AMC as an intervention against HIV has been successful in the Orange Farm township. However, other findings highlight some of the challenges that face AMC roll-out. For example, only a quarter of the participants agreed to voluntary HIV counseling and testing, which is worrying because newly circumcised HIV-positive men have an increased risk of transmitting HIV if they resume sexual activity too soon after the operation. Similarly, only two-thirds of the participants returned for a check-up after circumcision; this proportion needs to be increased to ensure the safety and efficacy of AMC programs. Nevertheless, these findings and those from similar intervention programs in Kenya and Uganda indicate that AMC scale-up should be feasible, at least in the short term, as an HIV prevention strategy in low-income communities where there is a high HIV prevalence and a low AMC rate.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000309.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and infectious diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV and AIDS in South Africa, and on circumcision and HIV (in English and Spanish)
More information about male circumcision is available from WHO and from the Clearinghouse on Male Circumcision, including a June 2010 report from WHO/UNAIDS entitled Progress in male circumcision scale-up: country implementation and research update
More information about the Bophelo Pele project is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000309
PMCID: PMC2907271  PMID: 20652013

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