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1.  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
2.  Early and Late Direct Costs in a Southern African Antiretroviral Treatment Programme: A Retrospective Cohort Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(12):e1000189.
Gary Maartens and colleagues describe the direct heath care costs and identify the drivers of cost over time in an HIV managed care program in Southern Africa.
Background
There is a paucity of data on the health care costs of antiretroviral therapy (ART) programmes in Africa. Our objectives were to describe the direct heath care costs and establish the cost drivers over time in an HIV managed care programme in Southern Africa.
Methods/Findings
We analysed the direct costs of treating HIV-infected adults enrolled in the managed care programme from 3 years before starting non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor-based ART up to 5 years afterwards. The CD4 cell count criterion for starting ART was <350 cells/µl. We explored associations between variables and mean total costs over time using a generalised linear model with a log-link function and a gamma distribution. Our cohort consisted of 10,735 patients (59.4% women) with 594,497 mo of follow up data (50.9% of months on ART). Median baseline CD4+ cell count and viral load were 125 cells/µl and 5.16 log10 copies/ml respectively. There was a peak in costs in the period around ART initiation (from 4 mo before until 4 mo after starting ART) driven largely by hospitalisation, following which costs plateaued for 5 years. The variables associated with changes in mean total costs varied with time. Key early associations with higher costs were low baseline CD4+ cell count, high baseline HIV viral load, and shorter duration in HIV care prior to starting ART; whilst later associations with higher costs were lower ART adherence, switching to protease inhibitor-based ART, and starting ART at an older age.
Conclusions
Drivers of mean total costs changed considerably over time. Starting ART at higher CD4 counts or longer pre-ART care should reduce early costs. Monitoring ART adherence and interventions to improve it should reduce later costs. Cost models of ART should take into account these time-dependent cost drivers, and include costs before starting ART.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
About 30 million people (22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone) are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (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, on average HIV-positive people died within 10 years of infection. Then, in 1996, highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART; combinations of powerful antiretroviral drugs) was developed. For people living in affluent, developed countries HIV/AIDS became a chronic, treatable condition, but for the millions of HIV-infected people living in low- and middle-income countries, effective treatment was unavailable and HIV/AIDS remained a fatal illness. In 2003, this situation was declared a global health emergency and governments, international agencies, and funding bodies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in developing countries. By the end of 2008, of the 9.5 million people in need of ART in low- and middle-income countries, more than 4 million people were receiving treatment.
Why Was This Study Done?
Good progress is being made towards achieving universal access to ART, partly because the cost of antiretroviral drugs has plummeted in developing countries. But the provision of antiretroviral drugs is not the only direct cost associated with ART. General practitioner, specialist, and maternity-related care for patients receiving ART, hospital accommodation when necessary, and the investigations that are needed to monitor the progress of HIV infection such as CD4 cell counts and viral load measurements all incur considerable costs. To use their limited resources effectively, public-health officials in developing countries need to know as much as possible about the direct costs of HIV health care but few studies have investigated these costs, particularly those incurred before an individual starts taking ART. In this study, the researchers explore health care costs in a South African private-sector HIV/AIDS program and examine the variables that drive the costs of HIV health care around the time of ART initiation and during later phases of ART.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed the direct costs of treating more than 100,000 HIV-infected adults enrolled in a private HIV care program in South Africa from 3 years before they started ART until up to 5 years after ART initiation; within this program, individuals began to receive ART when their CD4 cell count fell below 350 cells/µl of blood. The researchers found a peak in direct health costs from 4 months before to 4 months after starting ART (the “peri-ART” period), which was driven mainly by hospital costs. After the peri-ART period, costs dropped (although not to the levels seen before this period) and stabilized at an intermediate level for the next 5 years. Detailed statistical analyses suggest that the key variables associated with higher costs in the peri-ART period were a low baseline CD4 cell count, a high baseline HIV viral load, and a shorter time in HIV care before ART initiation. The key variable associated with higher costs later in ART was lower adherence to the drug therapy. That is, costs were higher among patients who did not take their antiretroviral drugs regularly.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This study involved patients enrolled in a private health care program in which the criteria for initiating ART differed somewhat from those recommended by the World Health Organization for ART initiation in resource-limited settings. Thus, the absolute mean total costs calculated by the researchers are unlikely to be generalizable to public HIV care systems in South Africa and in other resource-poor settings. However, the finding that the drivers of mean total costs change considerably over time may be generalizable and provides some useful information for public-health planners that can now be tested in other, more resource-limited patient populations. In particular, the findings of this study suggest that the high early costs of ART programs could be reduced by starting ART at higher CD4 cell counts or by providing longer pre-ART care. In addition, the findings suggest that monitoring ART adherence and introducing interventions to improve ART adherence could reduce the later direct costs 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.1000189.
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 the HIV and AIDS in Africa, and on universal access to AIDS treatment (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment, including the September 2009 progress report (in English and French)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides information on global efforts to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000189
PMCID: PMC2777319  PMID: 19956658
3.  Effectiveness and Cost Effectiveness of Expanding Harm Reduction and Antiretroviral Therapy in a Mixed HIV Epidemic: A Modeling Analysis for Ukraine 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(3):e1000423.
A cost-effectiveness study by Sabina Alistar and colleagues evaluates the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of different levels of investment in methadone, ART, or both, in the mixed HIV epidemic in Ukraine.
Background
Injection drug use (IDU) and heterosexual virus transmission both contribute to the growing mixed HIV epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In Ukraine—chosen in this study as a representative country—IDU-related risk behaviors cause half of new infections, but few injection drug users (IDUs) receive methadone substitution therapy. Only 10% of eligible individuals receive antiretroviral therapy (ART). The appropriate resource allocation between these programs has not been studied. We estimated the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of strategies for expanding methadone substitution therapy programs and ART in mixed HIV epidemics, using Ukraine as a case study.
Methods and Findings
We developed a dynamic compartmental model of the HIV epidemic in a population of non-IDUs, IDUs using opiates, and IDUs on methadone substitution therapy, stratified by HIV status, and populated it with data from the Ukraine. We considered interventions expanding methadone substitution therapy, increasing access to ART, or both. We measured health care costs, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), HIV prevalence, infections averted, and incremental cost-effectiveness. Without incremental interventions, HIV prevalence reached 67.2% (IDUs) and 0.88% (non-IDUs) after 20 years. Offering methadone substitution therapy to 25% of IDUs reduced prevalence most effectively (to 53.1% IDUs, 0.80% non-IDUs), and was most cost-effective, averting 4,700 infections and adding 76,000 QALYs compared with no intervention at US$530/QALY gained. Expanding both ART (80% coverage of those eligible for ART according to WHO criteria) and methadone substitution therapy (25% coverage) was the next most cost-effective strategy, adding 105,000 QALYs at US$1,120/QALY gained versus the methadone substitution therapy-only strategy and averting 8,300 infections versus no intervention. Expanding only ART (80% coverage) added 38,000 QALYs at US$2,240/QALY gained versus the methadone substitution therapy-only strategy, and averted 4,080 infections versus no intervention. Offering ART to 80% of non-IDUs eligible for treatment by WHO criteria, but only 10% of IDUs, averted only 1,800 infections versus no intervention and was not cost effective.
Conclusions
Methadone substitution therapy is a highly cost-effective option for the growing mixed HIV epidemic in Ukraine. A strategy that expands both methadone substitution therapy and ART to high levels is the most effective intervention, and is very cost effective by WHO criteria. When expanding ART, access to methadone substitution therapy provides additional benefit in infections averted. Our findings are potentially relevant to other settings with mixed HIV epidemics.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
HIV epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are mainly driven by increasing use of injection drugs combined with heterosexual transmission. In the Ukraine, in 2007, there were 82,000 officially registered people living with HIV—three times the number registered in 1999—and an estimated 395,000 HIV infected adults. The epidemic in Ukraine, like other countries in the region, is concentrated in at-risk populations, particularly people who inject drugs: in 2007, an estimated 390,000 Ukrainians were injecting drugs, an increase in drug use over the previous decade, not only in Ukraine, but in other former USSR states, owing to the easy availability of precursors for injection drugs in a climate of economic collapse.
The common practices of people who inject drugs in Ukraine and in other countries in the region, such as social injecting, syringe sharing, and using common containers, increase the risk of transmitting HIV. Public health interventions such as needle exchange can limit these risk factors and have been gradually implemented in these countries. In 2007, Ukraine approved the use of methadone substitution therapy and the current target is for 11,000 people who inject drugs to be enrolled in substitution therapy by 2011. Furthermore, since treatment for HIV-infected individuals is also necessary, national HIV control plans included a target of 90% antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage by 2010 but in 2007 less than 10% of the 91,000 eligible people received treatment. Although the number of people who inject drugs and who receive ART is unknown, physicians are often reluctant to treat people who inject drugs using ART owing to alleged poor compliance.
Why Was This Study Done?
As resources for HIV interventions in the region are limited, it is important to investigate the appropriate balance between investments in methadone substitution therapy and ART in order to maximize benefits to public health. Several studies have analyzed the cost effectiveness of methadone substitution therapy in similar settings but have not considered tradeoffs between ART and methadone substitution therapy. Therefore, to provide insights into the appropriate public health investment in methadone substitution therapy and ART in Ukraine, the researchers evaluated the public health effectiveness and cost effectiveness of different strategies for scaling up methadone substitution therapy and/or expanding ART.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed a model to accommodate different population groups: people who inject drugs on substitution therapy with methadone; people who inject opiates and do not take any substitution therapy; and people who do not inject any drugs, hence do not need substitution therapy. The researchers inputted Ukraine country-level data into this model and used current HIV trends in Ukraine to make rational assumptions on possible future trends and scenarios. They considered scenarios expanding methadone substitution therapy availability, increasing acces to ART, or both. Then, the researchers measured health care costs, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), HIV prevalence, infections averted, and incremental cost effectiveness for the different scenarios. They found that after 20 years, HIV prevalence reached 67.2% in people who inject drugs and 0.88% in people who do not inject drugs without further interventions. Offering methadone substitution therapy to 25% of people who inject drugs was the most effective strategy in reducing prevalence of HIV and was also the most cost effective, averting 4,700 infections and adding 75,700 QALYs versus the status quo at $530/QALY gained. Expanding both methadone substitution therapy and ART was also a highly cost effective option, adding 105,000 QALYs at US$1,120/QALY gained versus the methadone substitution therapy-only strategy. Offering ART to 80% of eligible people who did not inject drugs, and 10% of people who injected drugs averted only 1,800 infections, and added 76,400 QALYs at $1,330/QALY gained.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The results show that methadone substitution-focused therapeutic scenarios are the most cost effective, and that benefits increase with the scale of the project, even among people who do not inject drugs. This makes a methadone substitution strategy a highly cost-effective option for addressing the growing HIV epidemic in Ukraine. Therefore, if it is not feasible to invest in large-scale methadone substitution programs for any reason, political circumstances for example, providing as much methadone substitution as is acceptable is still desirable. While substitution therapy appears to avert the most HIV infections, expanded ART provides the largest total increase in QALYs. Thus, methadone substitution therapy and ART offer complementary benefits. Because the HIV epidemic in Ukraine is representative of the HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the cost-effective strategies that the researchers have identified may help inform all decision makers faced with a mixed 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.1000423.
Alliance provides information on its work supporting community action on AIDS in Ukraine
USAID provides an HIV/AIDS Health Profile for Ukraine
UNICEF provides information about its activities to help Ukraine fight rising HIV/AIDS infection rates
International Harm Reduction Association provides information about the status of harm reduction interventions such as methadone substitution therapy around the world
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000423
PMCID: PMC3046988  PMID: 21390264
4.  Retention in HIV Care between Testing and Treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(7):e1001056.
In this systematic review, Sydney Rosen and Matthew Fox find that less than one-third of patients who tested positive for HIV, but were not eligible for antiretroviral therapy (ART) when diagnosed, were retained in pre-ART care continuously.
Background
Improving the outcomes of HIV/AIDS treatment programs in resource-limited settings requires successful linkage of patients testing positive for HIV to pre–antiretroviral therapy (ART) care and retention in pre-ART care until ART initiation. We conducted a systematic review of pre-ART retention in care in Africa.
Methods and Findings
We searched PubMed, ISI Web of Knowledge, conference abstracts, and reference lists for reports on the proportion of adult patients retained between any two points between testing positive for HIV and initiating ART in sub-Saharan African HIV/AIDS care programs. Results were categorized as Stage 1 (from HIV testing to receipt of CD4 count results or clinical staging), Stage 2 (from staging to ART eligibility), or Stage 3 (from ART eligibility to ART initiation). Medians (ranges) were reported for the proportions of patients retained in each stage. We identified 28 eligible studies. The median proportion retained in Stage 1 was 59% (35%–88%); Stage 2, 46% (31%–95%); and Stage 3, 68% (14%–84%). Most studies reported on only one stage; none followed a cohort of patients through all three stages. Enrollment criteria, terminology, end points, follow-up, and outcomes varied widely and were often poorly defined, making aggregation of results difficult. Synthesis of findings from multiple studies suggests that fewer than one-third of patients testing positive for HIV and not yet eligible for ART when diagnosed are retained continuously in care, though this estimate should be regarded with caution because of review limitations.
Conclusions
Studies of retention in pre-ART care report substantial loss of patients at every step, starting with patients who do not return for their initial CD4 count results and ending with those who do not initiate ART despite eligibility. Better health information systems that allow patients to be tracked between service delivery points are needed to properly evaluate pre-ART loss to care, and researchers should attempt to standardize the terminology, definitions, and time periods reported.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Since 1981, AIDS has killed more than 25 million people, and about 33 million people (mostly living in low- and middle-income countries) are now infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV gradually 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 ten years of infection. Then, in 1996, highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART) became available, and, for people living in developed countries, HIV infection became a chronic condition. Unfortunately, ART was extremely expensive, and HIV/AIDS remained a fatal illness for people living in developing countries. In 2003, governments, international agencies, and funding bodies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in resource-limited countries. By the end of 2009, about a third of the people in these countries who needed ART (HIV-positive people whose CD4 count had dropped so low that they could not fight other infections) were receiving treatment.
Why Was This Study Done?
Unfortunately, many HIV-positive people in resource-limited countries who receive ART still do not have a normal life expectancy, often because they start ART when they have a very low CD4 count. ART is more successful if it is started before the CD4 count falls far below 350 cells/mm3 of blood, the threshold recommended by the World Health Organization for ART initiation. Thus, if the outcomes of HIV/AIDS programs in resource-limited settings are to be improved, all individuals testing positive for HIV must receive continuous pre-ART care that includes regular CD4 counts to ensure that ART is initiated as soon as they become eligible for treatment. Before interventions can be developed to achieve this aim, it is necessary to understand where and when patients are lost to pre-ART care. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the researchers investigate the retention of HIV-positive adults in pre-ART care in sub-Saharan Africa.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 28 studies that included data on the proportion of adult patients retained between any two time points between testing positive for HIV and starting ART in HIV/AIDS care programs in sub-Saharan Africa. They defined three stages of pre-ART care: Stage 1, the interval between testing positive for HIV and receiving CD4 count results or being clinically assessed; Stage 2, the interval between enrollment in pre-ART care and the determination of eligibility for ART; and Stage 3, the interval between being deemed eligible for ART and treatment initiation. A median of 59% of patients were retained in Stage 1 of pre-ART care, 46% were retained in Stage 2, and 68% were retained in Stage 3. Retention rates in each stage differed greatly between studies—between 14% and 84% for Stage 3 pre-ART care, for example. Because the enrollment criteria and other characteristics of the identified studies varied widely and were often poorly defined, it was hard to combine study results. Nevertheless, the researchers estimate that, taking all the studies together, less than one-third of patients testing positive for HIV but not eligible for ART when diagnosed were retained in pre-ART care continuously.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that there is a substantial loss of HIV-positive patients at every stage of pre-ART care in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, some patients receiving a positive HIV test never return for the results of their initial CD4 count, some disappear between having an initial CD4 count and becoming eligible for ART, and others fail to initiate ART after having been found eligible for treatment. Because only a few studies were identified (half of which were undertaken in South Africa) and because the quality and design of some of these studies were suboptimal, the findings of this systematic review must be treated with caution. In particular, the estimate of the overall loss of patients during pre-ART care is likely to be imprecise. The researchers call, therefore, for the implementation of better health information systems that would allow patients to be tracked between service delivery points as a way to improve the evaluation and understanding of the loss of HIV-positive patients to pre-ART care in resource-limited countries.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001056.
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/AIDS treatment and care, on HIV and AIDS in Africa and on universal access to AIDS treatment (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment, including the 2010 progress report (in English, French and Spanish); its 2010 ART guidelines can be downloaded (in several languages)
The International AIDS Economics Network posts information about economic, social, and behavioral aspects of HIV care and treatment
Up-to-date research findings about HIV care and treatment are summarized by NAM/aidsmap
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001056
PMCID: PMC3139665  PMID: 21811403
5.  Nevirapine- Versus Lopinavir/Ritonavir-Based Initial Therapy for HIV-1 Infection among Women in Africa: A Randomized Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(6):e1001236.
In a randomized control trial, Shahin Lockman and colleagues compare nevirapine-based therapy with lopinavir/ritonavir-based therapy for HIV-infected women without previous exposure to antiretroviral treatment.
Background
Nevirapine (NVP) is widely used in antiretroviral treatment (ART) of HIV-1 globally. The primary objective of the AA5208/OCTANE trial was to compare the efficacy of NVP-based versus lopinavir/ritonavir (LPV/r)-based initial ART.
Methods and Findings
In seven African countries (Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), 500 antiretroviral-naïve HIV-infected women with CD4<200 cells/mm3 were enrolled into a two-arm randomized trial to initiate open-label ART with tenofovir (TDF)/emtricitabine (FTC) once/day plus either NVP (n = 249) or LPV/r (n = 251) twice/day, and followed for ≥48 weeks. The primary endpoint was time from randomization to death or confirmed virologic failure ([VF]) (plasma HIV RNA<1 log10 below baseline 12 weeks after treatment initiation, or ≥400 copies/ml at or after 24 weeks), with comparison between treatments based on hazard ratios (HRs) in intention-to-treat analysis. Equivalence of randomized treatments was defined as finding the 95% CI for HR for virological failure or death in the range 0.5 to 2.0. Baseline characteristics were (median): age = 34 years, CD4 = 121 cells/mm3, HIV RNA = 5.2 log10copies/ml. Median follow-up = 118 weeks; 29 (6%) women were lost to follow-up. 42 women (37 VFs, five deaths; 17%) in the NVP and 50 (43 VFs, seven deaths; 20%) in the LPV/r arm reached the primary endpoint (HR 0.85, 95% CI 0.56–1.29). During initial assigned treatment, 14% and 16% of women receiving NVP and LPV/r experienced grade 3/4 signs/symptoms and 26% and 22% experienced grade 3/4 laboratory abnormalities. However, 35 (14%) women discontinued NVP because of adverse events, most in the first 8 weeks, versus none for LPV/r (p<0.001). VF, death, or permanent treatment discontinuation occurred in 80 (32%) of NVP and 54 (22%) of LPV/r arms (HR = 1.7, 95% CI 1.2–2.4), with the difference primarily due to more treatment discontinuation in the NVP arm. 13 (45%) of 29 women tested in the NVP versus six (15%) of 40 in the LPV/r arm had any drug resistance mutation at time of VF.
Conclusions
Initial ART with NVP+TDF/FTC demonstrated equivalent virologic efficacy but higher rates of treatment discontinuation and new drug resistance compared with LPV/r+TDF/FTC in antiretroviral-naïve women with CD4<200 cells/mm3.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00089505
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
About 34 million people (mostly living in low- or middle-income countries) are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV destroys CD4 lymphocytes and other immune cells, leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-infected people died within 10 years of infection. Then, in 1996, antiretroviral therapy (ART)—cocktails of drugs that attack different parts of HIV—became available. For people living in affluent countries, HIV/AIDS became a chronic condition. But, because ART was expensive, for people living in developing countries, HIV/AIDS remained a fatal illness. In 2006, the international community set a target of achieving universal access to ART by 2010 and, although this target has 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 one of the ART regimens recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its 2010 guidelines.
Why Was This Study Done?
A widely used combination for the initial treatment of HIV-infected people (particularly women) in resource-limited settings is tenofovir and emtricitabine (both nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors; reverse transcriptase is essential for HIV replication) and nevirapine (NVP, a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor). However, little is known about the efficacy of this NVP-based ART combination. Moreover, its efficacy and toxicity has not been compared with regimens containing lopinavir/ritonavir (LPV/r). LPV/r, which inhibits the viral protease that is essential for HIV replication, is available in resource-limited settings but is usually reserved for second-line treatment. LPV/r-based ART is more expensive than NVP-based ART but if it were more effective or better tolerated than NVP-based ART, then first-line treatment with LPV/r-based ART might be cost-effective in resource-limited settings. Conversely, evidence of the clinical equivalence of NVP-based and LPV/r-based ART would provide support for NVP-based ART as an initial therapy. In this randomized equivalence trial, the researchers compare the efficacy and toxicity of NVP-based and LVP/r-based initial therapy for HIV infection among antiretroviral-naïve African women. In a randomized trial, patients are assigned different treatments by the play of chance and followed to compare the effects of these treatments; an equivalence trial asks whether the effects of two treatments are statistically equivalent.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers followed 500 antiretroviral-naïve HIV-infected women with a low CD4 cell count living in seven African countries, half of whom received NVP-based ART and half of whom received LPV/r-based ART, for an average of 118 weeks and recorded the time to virologic failure (the presence of virus in the blood above pre-specified levels) or death among the participants. Forty-two women in the NVP arm reached this primary endpoint (37 virologic failures and five deaths) compared to 50 women in the LPV/r arm (43 virologic failures and seven deaths), a result that indicates equivalent virologic efficacy according to preset statistical criteria. During the initial assigned treatment, similar proportions of women in both treatment arms developed serious drug-related signs and symptoms and laboratory abnormalities. However, whereas 14% of the women in the NVP arm discontinued treatment because of adverse effects, none of the women in the LPV/r arm discontinued treatment. Finally, nearly half of the women tested in the NVP arm but only 15% of the women tested in the LVP/r arm had developed any drug resistance at the time of virologic failure.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, among HIV-infected, treatment-naïve African women, initial NVP-based ART is as effective as LPV/r-based ART in terms of virologic failure and death although more women in the NVP arm discontinued treatment or developed new drug resistance than in the LPV/r arm. Several limitations of this study may affect the accuracy of these findings. In particular, some of the study participants may have been exposed to single-dose NVP during childbirth to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV; in a parallel randomized trial, the researchers found that LPV/r-based ART was superior to NVP-based ART among women with prior exposure to single-dose NVP. Moreover, the duration of the current study means the long-term effects of the two treatments cannot be compared. Nevertheless, these findings support the WHO recommendation of NVP-based ART with careful early toxicity monitoring as an initial affordable and effective HIV treatment regiment in resource-limited settings, until access to better-tolerated and more potent regimens is possible.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001236.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on all aspects of HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment (in several languages)
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including detailed information on HIV treatment and care (in English and Spanish)
WHO provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment (in English, French and Spanish); its 2010 ART guidelines can be downloaded
More information about this trial, the OCTANE trial, is available
MedlinePlus provides detailed information about nevirapine and lopinavir/ritinovir (in English and Spanish)
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.1001236
PMCID: PMC3373629  PMID: 22719231
6.  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
7.  Scaling Up the 2010 World Health Organization HIV Treatment Guidelines in Resource-Limited Settings: A Model-Based Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(12):e1000382.
Rochelle Walensky and colleagues use a model-based analysis to examine which of the 2010 WHO antiretroviral therapy guidelines should be implemented first in resource-limited settings by ranking them according to survival, cost-effectiveness, and equity.
Background
The new 2010 World Health Organization (WHO) HIV treatment guidelines recommend earlier antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation (CD4<350 cells/µl instead of CD4<200 cells/µl), multiple sequential ART regimens, and replacement of first-line stavudine with tenofovir. This paper considers what to do first in resource-limited settings where immediate implementation of all of the WHO recommendations is not feasible.
Methods and Findings
We use a mathematical model and local input data to project clinical and economic outcomes in a South African HIV-infected cohort (mean age = 32.8 y, mean CD4 = 375/µl). For the reference strategy, we assume that all patients initiate stavudine-based ART with WHO stage III/IV disease and receive one line of ART (stavudine/WHO/one-line). We rank—in survival, cost-effectiveness, and equity terms—all 12 possible combinations of the following: (1) stavudine replacement with tenofovir, (2) ART initiation (by WHO stage, CD4<200 cells/µl, or CD4<350 cells/µl), and (3) one or two regimens, or lines, of available ART. Projected life expectancy for the reference strategy is 99.0 mo. Considering each of the guideline components separately, 5-y survival is maximized with ART initiation at CD4<350 cells/µl (stavudine/<350/µl/one-line, 87% survival) compared with stavudine/WHO/two-lines (66%) and tenofovir/WHO/one-line (66%). The greatest life expectancies are achieved via the following stepwise programmatic additions: stavudine/<350/µl/one-line (124.3 mo), stavudine/<350/µl/two-lines (177.6 mo), and tenofovir/<350/µl/two-lines (193.6 mo). Three program combinations are economically efficient: stavudine/<350/µl/one-line (cost-effectiveness ratio, US$610/years of life saved [YLS]), tenofovir/<350/µl/one-line (US$1,140/YLS), and tenofovir/<350/µl/two-lines (US$2,370/YLS).
Conclusions
In settings where immediate implementation of all of the new WHO treatment guidelines is not feasible, ART initiation at CD4<350 cells/µl provides the greatest short- and long-term survival advantage and is highly cost-effective.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Since 1981, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed more than 25 million people, and about 33 million people (30 million of them in low- and middle-income countries) 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 (so-called opportunistic infections). Early in the AIDS epidemic, most people with HIV died within 10 years of infection. Then, in 1996, highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART)—a combination of several powerful antiretroviral drugs—was developed. Now, in resource-rich countries, clinicians care for people with HIV by prescribing ART regimens tailored to each individual's needs. They also regularly measure the amount of virus in their patients' blood, test for antiretroviral-resistant viruses, and monitor the health of their patients' immune systems through regular CD4 cell counts. As a result, the life expectancy of patients with HIV in developed countries has dramatically improved.
Why Was This Study Done?
Initially, resource-limited countries could not afford to provide ART for their populations, and the life expectancy of HIV-positive people remained low. Now, through the concerted efforts of governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other international agencies, more than a third of the people in low- and middle-income countries who need ART are receiving it. However, many without access are still in need of ART, and ART programs in developing countries follow a public-health approach rather than an individualized approach. That is, drug regimens, clinical decision-making, and disease monitoring are all standardized and follow recommendations in the 2006 WHO ART guidelines. This year (2010), these guidelines were revised. The guidelines now recommend the following: earlier ART initiation—when the CD4 count falls below 350/µl of blood, instead of below 200/µl as in the 2006 guidelines; the provision of sequential ART regimens instead of a single regimen; and the replacement of the antiretroviral drug stavudine with tenofovir, a less toxic but more expensive drug, in first-line ART regimens. However, many resource-limited countries are still struggling to implement the 2006 guidelines, so which of these new recommendations should be prioritized? Here, the researchers use a mathematical model to address this question.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The Cost Effectiveness of AIDS Complications (CEPAC)–International model simulates the natural history and treatment of HIV disease. The researchers entered South African clinical and cost data for HIV treatment into this model and then used it to project survival and costs in a hypothetical group of South African HIV-positive patients under alternative guideline prioritization scenarios. The reference strategy for the simulations (denoted as “stavudine/WHO/one-line”) assumed that patients (with a mean CD4 count of 375/µl) began a single stavudine-based ART regimen when they developed WHO stage III/IV HIV disease (i.e., when patients develop multiple opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia). When the new guideline recommendations were considered separately, ART initiation at CD4<350/µl (stavudine/<350/µl/one-line) maximized five-year survival. Stepwise adjustment from the reference strategy (which had a life expectancy 99.0 months) through strategies of stavudine/<350/µl/one-line (a projected life expectancy of 124.3 months), stavudine/<350/µl/two-lines (177.6 months), and tenofovir/<350/µl/two-lines (193.6 months) produced the greatest improvements in life expectancy. Finally, strategies of stavudine/<350/µl/one-line, tenofovir/<350/µl/one-line, and tenofovir/<350µl/two-lines produced incremental cost-effectiveness ratios of US$610, US$1,140, and US$2,370 per year of life saved, respectively.
What Do These Findings Mean?
As with all mathematical models, the accuracy of these findings are dependent on the assumptions included in the model and on the data populating it. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that, where resources are limited and immediate implementation of all the new WHO recommendations is impossible, ART initiation at a CD4 count of less than 350/µl would provide the greatest survival advantage and would be very cost-effective. In countries that are already initiating ART at this threshold and that have access to CD4 monitoring, a switch from stavudine to tenofovir would further increase survival and would also be cost-effective. Finally, although access to second-line ART regimen would provide more clinical benefits than access to tenofovir, the cost of this change in strategy would be substantially greater. Importantly, these findings should help to avoid the complete dismissal of the revised WHO guidelines on the basis of cost and should help policy makers adjust their ART program strategies to maximize their clinical benefits and cost effectiveness.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000382.
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/AIDS in South Africa and on HIV/AIDS treatment and care (in English and Spanish)
WHO provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment (in English, French, and Spanish); its 2010 ART guidelines can be downloaded
More information on the CEPAC model is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000382
PMCID: PMC3014084  PMID: 21209794
8.  Effectiveness of Early Antiretroviral Therapy Initiation to Improve Survival among HIV-Infected Adults with Tuberculosis: A Retrospective Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(5):e1001029.
Molly Franke, Megan Murray, and colleagues report that early cART reduces mortality among HIV-infected adults with tuberculosis and improves retention in care, regardless of CD4 count.
Background
Randomized clinical trials examining the optimal time to initiate combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) in HIV-infected adults with sputum smear-positive tuberculosis (TB) disease have demonstrated improved survival among those who initiate cART earlier during TB treatment. Since these trials incorporated rigorous diagnostic criteria, it is unclear whether these results are generalizable to the vast majority of HIV-infected patients with TB, for whom standard diagnostic tools are unavailable. We aimed to examine whether early cART initiation improved survival among HIV-infected adults who were diagnosed with TB in a clinical setting.
Methods and Findings
We retrospectively reviewed charts for 308 HIV-infected adults in Rwanda with a CD4 count≤350 cells/µl and a TB diagnosis. We estimated the effect of cART on survival using marginal structural models and simulated 2-y survival curves for the cohort under different cART strategies:start cART 15, 30, 60, or 180 d after TB treatment or never start cART. We conducted secondary analyses with composite endpoints of (1) death, default, or lost to follow-up and (2) death, hospitalization, or serious opportunistic infection. Early cART initiation led to a survival benefit that was most marked for individuals with low CD4 counts. For individuals with CD4 counts of 50 or 100 cells/µl, cART initiation at day 15 yielded 2-y survival probabilities of 0.82 (95% confidence interval: [0.76, 0.89]) and 0.86 (95% confidence interval: [0.80, 0.92]), respectively. These were significantly higher than the probabilities computed under later start times. Results were similar for the endpoint of death, hospitalization, or serious opportunistic infection. cART initiation at day 15 versus later times was protective against death, default, or loss to follow-up, regardless of CD4 count. As with any observational study, the validity of these findings assumes that biases from residual confounding by unmeasured factors and from model misspecification are small.
Conclusions
Early cART reduced mortality among individuals with low CD4 counts and improved retention in care, regardless of CD4 count.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
HIV infection has exacerbated the global tuberculosis (TB) epidemic, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, in which in some countries, 70% of people with TB are currently also HIV positive—a condition commonly described as HIV/TB co-infection. The management of patients with HIV/TB co-infection is a major public health concern.
There is relatively little good evidence on the best time to initiate combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) in adults with HIV/TB co-infection. Clinicians sometimes defer cART in individuals initiating TB treatment because of concerns about complications (such as immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome) and the risk of reduced adherence if patients have to remember to take two sets of pills. However, starting cART later in those patients who are infected with both HIV and TB can result in potentially avoidable deaths during therapy.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several randomized control trials (RCTs) have been carried out, and the results of three of these studies suggest that, among individuals with severe immune suppression, early initiation of cART (two to four weeks after the start of TB treatment) leads to better survival than later ART initiation (two to three months after the start of TB treatment). These results were reported in abstract form, but the full papers have not yet been published. One problem with RCTs is that they are carried out under controlled conditions that might not represent well the conditions in varied settings around the world. Therefore, observational studies that examine how effective a treatment is in routine clinical conditions can provide information that complements that obtained during clinical trials. In this study, the researchers aimed to confirm the results from RCTs among a cohort of adult patients with HIV/TB co-infection in Rwanda, diagnosed under routine program conditions and using routinely collected clinical data. The researchers also wanted to investigate whether early cART initiation reduced the risk of other adverse outcomes, including treatment default and loss to follow-up.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers retrospectively reviewed the charts and other program records of 308 patients with HIV, who had CD4 counts≤350 cells/µl, were aged 15 years or more, had never previously taken cART, and received their first TB treatment at one of five cART sites (two urban, three rural) in Rwanda between January 2004 and February 2007. Using this method, the researchers collected baseline demographic and clinical variables and relevant clinical follow-up data. They then used this data to estimate the effect of cART on survival by using sophisticated statistical models that calculated the effects of initiating cART at 15, 30, 60, or 180 d after the start of TB treatment or not at all.
The researchers then conducted a further analysis to assess combined outcomes of (1) death, default, lost to follow-up, and (2) death, hospitalization due to any cause, or occurrence of severe opportunistic infections, such as Kaposi's sarcoma. The researchers used the resulting multivariable model to estimate survival probabilities for each individual, based on his/her baseline characteristics.
The researchers found that when they set their model to first CD4 cell counts of 50 and 100 cells/µl, and starting cART at day 15, mean survival probabilities at two years were 0.82 and 0.86, respectively, statistically significantly higher than the survival probabilities calculated for each of the other treatment strategies, where cART was started later. They observed a similar pattern for the combined outcome of death, hospitalization, or serious opportunistic infection In addition, two-year outcomes for death or lost to follow-up were also improved with early cART, regardless of CD4 count at treatment initiation.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that in a real world program setting, starting cART 15 d after the start of TB treatment is more beneficial (measured by differences in survival probabilities) among patients with HIV/TB co-infection who have CD4 cell counts≤100 cells/µl than starting later. Early cART initiation may also increase retention in care for all individuals with CD4 cell counts≤350 cells/µl.
As the outcomes of this modeling study are based on data from a retrospective observational study, the biases associated with use of these data must be carefully addressed. However, the results support the recommendation of cART initiation after 15 d of TB treatment for patients with CD4 cell counts≤100 cells/µl and can be used as an advocacy base for TB treatment to be used as an opportunity to refer and retain HIV-infected individuals in care, regardless of CD4 cell count.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001029.
Information is available on HIV/TB co-infection from the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the International AIDS Society
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001029
PMCID: PMC3086874  PMID: 21559327
9.  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
10.  Virologic outcomes of second-line antiretroviral therapy in Eastern European country of Georgia 
Background
Data on the effectiveness of second-line antiretroviral therapy (ART) in resource-limited countries of Eastern Europe is limited. Objective of this study was to evaluate virological outcomes of second-line ART in Georgia.
Methods
We conducted retrospective analysis using routinely available program data. Study included adult HIV-infected patients with confirmed HIV drug resistance, who were switched to second-line ART from August 2005 to December 2010. Patients were followed until July 1, 2011. Primary outcome was achievement of viral suppression. Demographic, clinical, laboratory and adherence data were abstracted from medical and program records. Adherence was expressed as percentage based on medication refill data, and was calculated as days supply of medications dispensed divided by days between prescription fills. Predictors of primary outcome were assessed in modified Poisson regression analysis.
Results
A total of 84 patients were included in the study. Among them 71.4% were men and 62% had history of IDU. All patients were receiving non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase based regimen as initial ART. The mean 6-month adherence prior to virologic failure was 75%, with 31% of patients showing 100% adherence. All patients were switched to protease inhibitor based regimens. Patients were followed for median 27 months. Over this period 9 (10.7%) patients died. Among 80 patients remaining alive at least 6 month after ART regimen switch, 72 (90%) patients ever reached undetectable viral load. The mean first 6-month adherence on second-line treatment was 81%, with 47.5% of patients showing 100% adherence. The proportion of patients achieving viral suppression after 6, 12, 24 and 36 months of second-line ART did not vary significantly ranging from 79 to 83%. Percentage of IDUs achieving viral suppression ranged from 75% and 83%. Factors associated with failure to achieve viral suppression at 6-months of second-line ART were: adherence <80% (Risk ratio [RR] 5.09, 95% CI: 1.89-13.70) and viral load >100,000 at the time of treatment failure (RR 3.39, 95% CI: 1.46-7.89).
Conclusions
The study demonstrated favourable virological outcomes of the second-line ART in Georgia. Majority of patients, including IDUs, achieved sustained virological response over 36 month period. The findings highlight the need of improving adherence.
doi:10.1186/1742-6405-11-18
PMCID: PMC4102034  PMID: 25035708
HIV; Antiretroviral therapy; Second-line ART; Eastern Europe
11.  The Impact of Monitoring HIV Patients Prior to Treatment in Resource-Poor Settings: Insights from Mathematical Modelling 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(3):e53.
Background
The roll-out of antiretroviral treatment (ART) in developing countries concentrates on finding patients currently in need, but over time many HIV-infected individuals will be identified who will require treatment in the future. We investigated the potential influence of alternative patient management and ART initiation strategies on the impact of ART programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods and Findings
We developed a stochastic mathematical model representing disease progression, diagnosis, clinical monitoring, and survival in a cohort of 1,000 hypothetical HIV-infected individuals in Africa. If individuals primarily enter ART programmes when symptomatic, the model predicts that only 25% will start treatment and, on average, 6 life-years will be saved per person treated. If individuals are recruited to programmes while still healthy and are frequently monitored, and CD4+ cell counts are used to help decide when to initiate ART, three times as many are expected to be treated, and average life-years saved among those treated increases to 15. The impact of programmes can be improved further by performing a second CD4+ cell count when the initial value is close to the threshold for starting treatment, maintaining high patient follow-up rates, and prioritising monitoring the oldest (≥ 35 y) and most immune-suppressed patients (CD4+ cell count ≤ 350). Initiating ART at higher CD4+ cell counts than WHO recommends leads to more life-years saved, but disproportionately more years spent on ART.
Conclusions
The overall impact of ART programmes will be limited if rates of diagnosis are low and individuals enter care too late. Frequently monitoring individuals at all stages of HIV infection and using CD4 cell count information to determine when to start treatment can maximise the impact of ART.
Using a stochastic model based on data from Africa, Timothy Hallett and colleagues find that starting HIV treatment based on regular CD4 monitoring, rather than on symptoms, would substantially increase survival.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed more than 25 million people since the first case in 1981, and about 33 million people are currently 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 individuals died within 10 years but in 1996, combination antiretroviral therapy (ART)—a mixture of powerful but expensive antiretroviral drugs—was developed. For HIV-positive people living in affluent, developed countries who could afford ART, AIDS then became a chronic disease, but for those living in low- and middle-income countries it remained a death sentence—ART was too expensive. In 2003, this lack of access to ART was declared a global health emergency and governments, international organizations, and funding bodies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in developing countries.
Why Was This Study Done?
The roll-out of ART in developing countries has concentrated so far on finding HIV-positive people who currently need treatment. In developing countries, these are often individuals who have AIDS-related symptoms such as recurrent severe bacterial infections. But healthy people are also being diagnosed as HIV positive during voluntary testing and at antenatal clinics. How should these HIV-positive but symptom-free individuals be managed? Should regular health-monitoring appointments be scheduled for them and when should ART be initiated? Management decisions like these will determine how well patients do when they eventually start ART, as well as the demand for ART and other health-care services. The full range of alternative patient management strategies cannot be tested in clinical trials—it would be unethical—but public-health officials need an idea of their relative effectiveness in order to use limited resources wisely. In this study, therefore, the researchers use mathematical modeling to investigate the impact of alternative patient management and ART initiation strategies on the impact of ART programs in resource-poor settings.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers' mathematical model, which includes data on disease progression collected in Africa, simulates disease progression in a group (cohort) of 1,000 HIV-infected adults. It tracks these individuals from infection, through diagnosis and clinical monitoring, and into treatment and predicts how many will receive ART and their length of survival under different management scenarios and ART initiation rules. The model predicts that if HIV-positive individuals receive ART only when they have AIDS-related symptoms, only a quarter of them will ever start ART and the average life-years saved per person treated will be 6 years (that is, they will live 6 years longer than they would have done without treatment). If individuals are recruited to ART programs when they are healthy and are frequently monitored using CD4 cell counts to decide when to start ART, three-quarters of the cohort will be treated and 15 life-years will be saved per person treated. The impact of ART programs will be increased further, the model predicts, by preferentially monitoring people who are more than 35 years old and the most immunosuppressed individuals. Finally, strategies that measure CD4 cells frequently will save more life-years because ART is more likely to be started before the immune system is irreversibly damaged. Importantly for resource-poor settings, these strategies also save more life-years per year on ART.
What Do These Findings Mean?
As with all mathematical models, the accuracy of these predictions depends on the assumptions built into the model and the reliability of the data fed into it. Also, this model does not estimate the costs of the various management options, something that will need to be done to ensure effective allocation of limited resources. Nevertheless, these findings provide several general clues about how ART programs should be implemented in poor countries to maximize their effects. Early diagnosis of infections, regular monitoring of patients, and using CD4 cell counts to decide when to initiate ART should all help to improve the number of life-years saved by ART. In other words, the researchers conclude, effectively managing individuals at all stages of HIV infection is essential to maximize the impact of ART.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050053.
Information from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS.
Information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on global HIV/AIDS topics (in English and Spanish)
HIV InSite, comprehensive and up-to-date information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS from the University of California, San Francisco
Information from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on HIV and AIDS in Africa and on HIV/AIDS treatment and care, including universal access to ART
Progress toward universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment, the latest report from the World Health Organization (available in several languages)
Guidelines for antiretroviral therapy in adults and adolescents are provided by the World Health Organization and by the US Department of Health and Human Services
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050053
PMCID: PMC2265759  PMID: 18336064
12.  Impact of Antiretroviral Therapy on Incidence of Pregnancy among HIV-Infected Women in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(2):e1000229.
A multicountry cohort study in sub-Saharan Africa by Landon Myer and colleagues reveals higher pregnancy rates in HIV-infected women on antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Background
With the rapid expansion of antiretroviral therapy (ART) services in sub-Saharan Africa there is growing recognition of the importance of fertility and childbearing among HIV-infected women. However there are few data on whether ART initiation influences pregnancy rates.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed data from the Mother-to-Child Transmission-Plus (MTCT-Plus) Initiative, a multicountry HIV care and treatment program for women, children, and families. From 11 programs in seven African countries, women were enrolled into care regardless of HIV disease stage and followed at regular intervals; ART was initiated according to national guidelines on the basis of immunological and/or clinical criteria. Standardized forms were used to collect sociodemographic and clinical data, including incident pregnancies. Overall 589 incident pregnancies were observed among the 4,531 women included in this analysis (pregnancy incidence, 7.8/100 person-years [PY]). The rate of new pregnancies was significantly higher among women receiving ART (9.0/100 PY) compared to women not on ART (6.5/100 PY) (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.74; 95% confidence interval, 1.19–2.54). Other factors independently associated with increased risk of incident pregnancy included younger age, lower educational attainment, being married or cohabiting, having a male partner enrolled into the program, failure to use nonbarrier contraception, and higher CD4 cell counts.
Conclusions
ART use is associated with significantly higher pregnancy rates among HIV-infected women in sub-Saharan Africa. While the possible behavioral or biomedical mechanisms that may underlie this association require further investigation, these data highlight the importance of pregnancy planning and management as a critical but neglected component of HIV care and treatment services.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which is a major global cause of disease and death. More than 33 million people around the world are infected with HIV, with nearly 5,500 dying daily from HIV and AIDS-related complications. HIV/AIDS is especially problematic in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is the leading cause of death. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but medicines known as “antiretroviral therapy” (ART) can prolong life and reduce complications in patients infected with HIV. 97% of patients with HIV/AIDS live in low- and middle-income countries. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 10 million of these patients need ART. As patients' access to treatment is often hindered by the high cost and low availability of ART, global health efforts have focused on promoting ART use in resource-limited nations. Such efforts also increase awareness of how HIV is spread (contact with blood or semen, in sexual intercourse, sharing needles, or from mother to child during childbirth). ART reduces, but does not remove, the chance of a mother's passing HIV to her child during birth.
Why Was This Study Done?
By the end of 2007, 3 million HIV-infected patients in poor countries were receiving ART. Many of those treated with ART are young women of child-bearing age. Childbirth is an important means of spreading HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, where 60% of all HIV patients are women. This study questions whether the improved health and life expectancy that results from treatment with ART affects pregnancy rates of HIV-infected patients. The study explores this question in seven African countries, by examining the rates of pregnancy in HIV-infected women before and after they started ART.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The authors looked at the records of 4,531 HIV-infected women enrolled in the Mother-to-Child-Transmission-Plus (MTCT-Plus) Initiative in seven African countries. MTCT -Plus, begun in 2002, is a family-centered treatment program that offers regular checkups, blood tests, counseling, and ART treatment (if appropriate) to women and their families. At each checkup, women's CD4+ cell counts and World Health Organization guidelines were used to determine their eligibility for starting ART. Over a 4-year period, nearly a third of the women starting ART experienced a pregnancy: 244 pregnancies occurred in the “pre-ART” group (women not receiving ART) compared to 345 pregnancies in the “on-ART” group (women receiving ART). The chance of pregnancy increased over time in the on-ART group to almost 80% greater than the pre-ART group, while remaining relatively low and constant in the pre-ART group. The authors noted that, as expected, other factors also increased the chances of pregnancy, including younger age, lower educational status, and use of nonbarrier contraception such as injectable hormones.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This study suggests that starting ART is associated with higher pregnancy rates in sub-Saharan Africa, nearly doubling the chances of a woman becoming pregnant. The reasons for this link are unclear. One possible explanation is behavioral: women receiving ART may feel more motivated to have children as their health and quality of life improve. However, the study did not examine how pregnancy desires and sexual activity of women changed while on ART, and cannot discern why ART is linked to increased pregnancy. By using pregnancy data gathered from patient questionnaires rather than laboratory tests, the study is limited by the possibility of inaccurate patient reporting. Understanding how pregnancy rates vary in HIV-infected women receiving ART helps support the formation of responsive, effective HIV programs. Female HIV patients of child-bearing age, who form the majority of patients receiving ART in sub-Saharan Africa, would benefit from programs that combine starting HIV treatment with ART with education and contraception counseling and pregnancy-related care.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000229.
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 articles and other sources of information about the primary care of adolescents with HIV
A UNAIDS 2008 report is available on the global AIDS epidemic
The International Planned Parenthood Foundation provides information on sexual and reproductive health and HIV
The International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public health provides information to assist HIV care and treatment programs in resource-limited settings
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000229
PMCID: PMC2817715  PMID: 20161723
13.  Pharmacy Refill Adherence Compared with CD4 Count Changes for Monitoring HIV-Infected Adults on Antiretroviral Therapy 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(5):e109.
Background
World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for monitoring HIV-infected individuals taking combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) in resource-limited settings recommend using CD4+ T cell (CD4) count changes to monitor treatment effectiveness. In practice, however, falling CD4 counts are a consequence, rather than a cause, of virologic failure. Adherence lapses precede virologic failure and, unlike CD4 counts, data on adherence are immediately available to all clinics dispensing cART. However, the accuracy of adherence assessments for predicting future or detecting current virologic failure has not been determined. The goal of this study therefore was to determine the accuracy of adherence assessments for predicting and detecting virologic failure and to compare the accuracy of adherence-based monitoring approaches with approaches monitoring CD4 count changes.
Methodology and Findings
We conducted an observational cohort study among 1,982 of 4,984 (40%) HIV-infected adults initiating non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor-based cART in the Aid for AIDS Disease Management Program, which serves nine countries in southern Africa. Pharmacy refill adherence was calculated as the number of months of cART claims submitted divided by the number of complete months between cART initiation and the last refill prior to the endpoint of interest, expressed as a percentage. The main outcome measure was virologic failure defined as a viral load > 1,000 copies/ml (1) at an initial assessment either 6 or 12 mo after cART initiation and (2) after a previous undetectable (i.e., < 400 copies/ml) viral load (breakthrough viremia). Adherence levels outperformed CD4 count changes when used to detect current virologic failure in the first year after cART initiation (area under the receiver operating characteristic [ROC] curves [AUC] were 0.79 and 0.68 [difference = 0.11; 95% CI 0.06 to 0.16; χ2 = 20.1] respectively at 6 mo, and 0.85 and 0.75 [difference = 0.10; 95% CI 0.05 to 0.14; χ2 = 20.2] respectively at 12 mo; p < 0.001 for both comparisons). When used to detect current breakthrough viremia, adherence and CD4 counts were equally accurate (AUCs of 0.68 versus 0.67, respectively [difference = 0.01; 95% CI −0.06 to 0.07]; χ2 = 0.1, p > 0.5). In addition, adherence levels assessed 3 mo prior to viral load assessments were as accurate for virologic failure occurring approximately 3 mo later as were CD4 count changes calculated from cART initiation to the actual time of the viral load assessments, indicating the potential utility of adherence assessments for predicting future, rather than simply detecting current, virologic failure. Moreover, combinations of CD4 count and adherence data appeared useful in identifying patients at very low risk of virologic failure.
Conclusions
Pharmacy refill adherence assessments were as accurate as CD4 counts for detecting current virologic failure in this cohort of patients on cART and have the potential to predict virologic failure before it occurs. Approaches to cART scale-up in resource-limited settings should include an adherence-based monitoring approach.
Analyzing pharmacy and laboratory records from 1,982 patients beginning HIV therapy in southern Africa, Gregory Bisson and colleagues find medication adherence superior to CD4 count changes in identifying treatment failure.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Globally, more than 30 million people are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Combinations of antiretroviral drugs that hold HIV in check (viral suppression) have been available since 1996. Unfortunately, most of the people affected by HIV/AIDS live in developing countries and cannot afford these expensive drugs. As a result, life expectancy has plummeted and economic growth has reversed in these poor countries since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic. Faced with this humanitarian crisis, the lack of access to HIV treatment was declared a global health emergency in 2003. Today, through the concerted efforts of governments, international organizations, and funding bodies, about a quarter of the HIV-positive people in developing and transitional countries who are in immediate need of life-saving, combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) receive the drugs they need.
Why Was This Study Done?
To maximize the benefits of cART, health-care workers in developing countries need simple, affordable ways to monitor viral suppression in their patients—a poor virologic response to cART can lead to the selection of drug-resistant HIV, rapid disease progression, and death. In developed countries, virologic response is monitored by measuring the number of viral particles in patients' blood (viral load) but this technically demanding assay is unavailable in most developing countries. Instead, the World Health Organization recommends that CD4+ T cell (CD4) counts be used to monitor patient responses to cART in resource-limited settings. HIV results in loss of CD4 cells (a type of immune system cell), so a drop in a patient's CD4 count often indicates virologic failure (failure of treatment to suppress the virus). However, falling CD4 counts are often a result of virologic failure and therefore monitoring CD4 counts for drops is unlikely to prevent virologic failure from occurring. Rather, falling CD4 counts are often used only to guide a change to new medicines, which may be even more expensive or difficult to take. On the other hand “adherence lapses”—the failure to take cART regularly—often precede virologic failure, so detecting them early provides an opportunity for improvement in adherence that could prevent virologic failure. Because clinics that dispense cART routinely collect data that can be used to calculate adherence, in this study the researchers investigate whether assessing adherence might provide an alternative, low-cost way to monitor and predict virologic failure among HIV-infected adults on cART.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The Aid for AIDS Disease Management Program provides cART to medical insurance fund subscribers in nine countries in southern Africa. Data on claims for antiretroviral drugs made through this program, plus CD4 counts assessed at about 6 or 12 months after initiating cART, and viral load measurements taken within 45 days of a CD4 count, were available for nearly 2,000 HIV-positive adults who had been prescribed a combination of HIV drugs including either efavirenz or nevirapine. The researchers defined adherence as the number of months of cART claims submitted divided by the number of complete months between cART initiation and the last pharmacy refill before a viral load assessment was performed. Virologic failure was defined in two ways: as a viral load of more than 1,000 copies per ml of blood 6 or 12 months after cART initiation, or as a rebound of viral load to similar levels after a previously very low reading (breakthrough viremia). The researchers' statistical analysis of these data shows that at 6 and 12 months after initiation of cART, adherence levels indicated virologic failure more accurately than CD4 count changes. For breakthrough viremia, both measurements were equally accurate. Adherence levels during the first 3 months of cART predicted virologic failure at 6 months as accurately as did CD4 count changes since cART initiation. Finally, the combination of adherence levels and CD4 count changes accurately identified patients at very low risk of virologic failure.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that adherence assessments (based in this study on insurance claims for pharmacy refills) can identify the patients on cART who are at high and low risk of virologic failure at least as accurately as CD4 counts. In addition, they suggest that adherence assessments could be used for early identification of patients at high risk of virologic failure, averting the health impact of treatment failure and the cost of changing to second-line drug regimens. Studies need to be done in other settings (in particular, in public clinics where cART is provided without charge) to confirm the generalizability of these findings. These finding do not change that fact that monitoring CD4 counts plays an important role in deciding when to start cART or indicating when cART is no longer protecting the immune system. But, write the researchers, systematic monitoring of adherence to cART should be considered as an alternative to CD4 count monitoring in patients who are receiving cART in resource-limited settings or as a way to direct the use of viral load testing where feasible.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050109.
This study is discussed further in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by David Bangsberg
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 an article about adherence to antiretroviral therapy
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on HIV and AIDS in Africa and on providing AIDS drug treatment for millions
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to HIV treatment (in several languages) and on its recommendations for antiretroviral therapy for HIV infection in adults and adolescents
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provides information on global efforts to deal with the HIV/AIDS pandemic (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050109
PMCID: PMC2386831  PMID: 18494555
14.  Cost-Effectiveness of Early Versus Standard Antiretroviral Therapy in HIV-Infected Adults in Haiti 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(9):e1001095.
This cost-effectiveness study comparing early versus standard antiretroviral treatment (ART) for HIV, based on randomized clinical trial data from Haiti, reveals that the new WHO guidelines for early ART initiation can be cost-effective in resource-poor settings.
Background
In a randomized clinical trial of early versus standard antiretroviral therapy (ART) in HIV-infected adults with a CD4 cell count between 200 and 350 cells/mm3 in Haiti, early ART decreased mortality by 75%. We assessed the cost-effectiveness of early versus standard ART in this trial.
Methods and Findings
Trial data included use of ART and other medications, laboratory tests, outpatient visits, radiographic studies, procedures, and hospital services. Medication, laboratory, radiograph, labor, and overhead costs were from the study clinic, and hospital and procedure costs were from local providers. We evaluated cost per year of life saved (YLS), including patient and caregiver costs, with a median of 21 months and maximum of 36 months of follow-up, and with costs and life expectancy discounted at 3% per annum. Between 2005 and 2008, 816 participants were enrolled and followed for a median of 21 months. Mean total costs per patient during the trial were US$1,381 for early ART and US$1,033 for standard ART. After excluding research-related laboratory tests without clinical benefit, costs were US$1,158 (early ART) and US$979 (standard ART). Early ART patients had higher mean costs for ART (US$398 versus US$81) but lower costs for non-ART medications, CD4 cell counts, clinically indicated tests, and radiographs (US$275 versus US$384). The cost-effectiveness ratio after a maximum of 3 years for early versus standard ART was US$3,975/YLS (95% CI US$2,129/YLS–US$9,979/YLS) including research-related tests, and US$2,050/YLS excluding research-related tests (95% CI US$722/YLS–US$5,537/YLS).
Conclusions
Initiating ART in HIV-infected adults with a CD4 cell count between 200 and 350 cells/mm3 in Haiti, consistent with World Health Organization advice, was cost-effective (US$/YLS <3 times gross domestic product per capita) after a maximum of 3 years, after excluding research-related laboratory tests.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00120510
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since 1981, and about 33 million people (most of them living in low- and middle-income countries) are now 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 infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-infected people died within 10 years of infection. Then, in 1996, highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART) became available and, for people living in affluent countries HIV/AIDS became a chronic condition. However, ART was extremely expensive and so a diagnosis of HIV infection remained a death sentence for people living in developing countries. In 2003, this situation was declared a global health emergency, and governments, international agencies, and funding bodies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in developing countries. In 2009, more than a third of people in low- and middle-income countries who needed ART were receiving it, on the basis of guidelines that were in place at that time.
Why Was This Study Done?
Until recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that all HIV-positive patients with CD4 cell count below 200/mm3 blood or an AIDS-defining illness such as Kaposi's sarcoma should be given ART. Then, in 2009, the CIPRA HT-001 randomized clinical trial, which was undertaken in Haiti, reported that patients who started ART when their CD4 cell count was between 200 and 350 cells/mm3 (“early ART”) had a higher survival rate than patients who started ART according to the WHO guidelines (“standard ART”). As a result, WHO now recommends that ART is started in HIV-infected people when their CD4 cell count falls below 350 cells/mm3. But is this new recommendation cost-effective? Do its benefits outweigh its costs? Policy-makers need to know the cost-effectiveness of interventions so that they can allocate their limited resources wisely. A medical intervention is generally considered cost-effective if it costs less than three times a country's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) per year of life saved (YLS). In this study, the researchers assess the cost-effectiveness of early versus standard ART in the CIPRA HT-001 trial.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used trial data on the use and costs of ART, other medications, laboratory tests, outpatient visits, radiography, procedures, and hospital services to evaluate the costs associated with early ART and standard ART among the 816 CIPRA HT-001 trial participants. The average total costs per patient after a maximum of 3 years treatment were US$1,381 for early ART and US$1,033 for standard ART. These figures dropped to US$1,158 and US$979, respectively, when the costs of research-related tests without clinical benefit were excluded. Patients who received early ART had higher average costs for ART but lower costs for other aspects of their treatment than patients who received standard ART. The incremental cost-effectiveness ratio after 3 years for early ART compared to standard ART was US$3,975/YLS if the costs of research-related tests were included in the calculation. That is, the cost of saving one year of life by starting ART early instead of when the CD4 cell count dropped below 200/mm3 was nearly US$4,000. Importantly, exclusion of the costs of research-related tests reduced the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of early ART compared to standard ART to US$2,050/YLS.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Because the Haitian GDP per capita is US$785, these findings suggest that, in Haiti, early ART is a cost-effective intervention over a 3-year period. That is, the incremental cost per year of life saved of early ART compared to standard ART after exclusion of research-related tests is less than three times Haiti's per capita GDP. The researchers note that their incremental cost-effectiveness ratios are likely to be conservative because they did not consider the clinical benefits of early ART that continue beyond 3 years—early ART is associated with lower longer-term mortality than standard ART—or the effect of early ART on disability and quality of life. Cost-effectiveness studies now need to be undertaken at different sites to determine whether these findings are generalizable but, for now, this cost-effectiveness study suggests that the new WHO guidelines for ART initiation can be cost-effective in resource-poor settings, information that should help policy-makers in developing countries allocate their limited resources.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001095.
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 the HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, and on HIV/AIDS treatment and care (in English and Spanish)
WHO provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment (in English, French and Spanish); its 2010 ART guidelines can be downloaded
More information about the CIPRA HT-001 clinical trial is available
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert and through the charity website Healthtalkonline
More information about GHESKIO is available from Weill Cornell Global Health
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001095
PMCID: PMC3176754  PMID: 21949643
15.  Task Shifting for Scale-up of HIV Care: Evaluation of Nurse-Centered Antiretroviral Treatment at Rural Health Centers in Rwanda 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(10):e1000163.
Fabienne Shumbusho and colleagues evaluate a task-shifting model of nurse-centered antiretroviral treatment prescribing in rural primary health centers in Rwanda and find that nurses can effectively and safely prescribe ART when given adequate training, mentoring, and support.
Background
The shortage of human resources for health, and in particular physicians, is one of the major barriers to achieve universal access to HIV care and treatment. In September 2005, a pilot program of nurse-centered antiretroviral treatment (ART) prescription was launched in three rural primary health centers in Rwanda. We retrospectively evaluated the feasibility and effectiveness of this task-shifting model using descriptive data.
Methods and Findings
Medical records of 1,076 patients enrolled in HIV care and treatment services from September 2005 to March 2008 were reviewed to assess: (i) compliance with national guidelines for ART eligibility and prescription, and patient monitoring and (ii) key outcomes, such as retention, body weight, and CD4 cell count change at 6, 12, 18, and 24 mo after ART initiation. Of these, no ineligible patients were started on ART and only one patient received an inappropriate ART prescription. Of the 435 patients who initiated ART, the vast majority had adherence and side effects assessed at each clinic visit (89% and 84%, respectively). By March 2008, 390 (90%) patients were alive on ART, 29 (7%) had died, one (<1%) was lost to follow-up, and none had stopped treatment. Patient retention was about 92% by 12 mo and 91% by 24 mo. Depending on initial stage of disease, mean CD4 cell count increased between 97 and 128 cells/µl in the first 6 mo after treatment initiation and between 79 and 129 cells/µl from 6 to 24 mo of treatment. Mean weight increased significantly in the first 6 mo, between 1.8 and 4.3 kg, with no significant increases from 6 to 24 mo.
Conclusions
Patient outcomes in our pilot program compared favorably with other ART cohorts in sub-Saharan Africa and with those from a recent evaluation of the national ART program in Rwanda. These findings suggest that nurses can effectively and safely prescribe ART when given adequate training, mentoring, and support.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a serious health problem in sub-Saharan Africa. The virus attacks white blood cells that protect against infection, most commonly a type of white blood cell called CD4. When a person has been infected with HIV for a long time, the number of CD4 cells they have goes down, resulting in acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), in which the person's immune system no longer functions effectively.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has divided the disease into four stages as it progresses, according to symptoms including weight loss and so-called opportunistic infections. These are known as clinical stage I, II, III, or IV but were revised and renamed 1, 2, 3, and 4 in September 2005. HIV infection and AIDS cannot be cured but they can be managed with antiretroviral treatment (ART). The WHO currently recommends that ART is begun when the CD4 count falls below 350.
Rwanda is a country situated in the central Africa with a population of around 9 million inhabitants; over 3% of the rural population and 7% of the urban population are infected with HIV. In 2007, the WHO estimated that 220,000 Rwandan children had lost one or both parents to AIDS.
Why Was This Study Done?
The WHO estimates that 9.7 million people with HIV in low- to middle-income countries need ART but at the end of 2007, only 30% of these, including in Rwanda, had access to treatment. In many low-income countries a major factor in this is a lack of doctors. Rwanda, for example, has one doctor per 50,000 inhabitants and one nurse per 3,900 inhabitants.
This situation has led the WHO to recommend “task shifting,” i.e., that the task of prescribing ART should be shifted from doctors to nurses so that more patients can be treated. This type of reorganization is well studied in high-income countries, but the researchers wanted to help develop a system for treating AIDS that would be effective and timely in a predominantly rural, low-income setting such as Rwanda.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In conjunction with the Rwandan Ministry of Health, the researchers developed and piloted a task-shifting program, in which one nurse in each of three rural Rwandan primary health centers (PHCs) was trained to examine HIV patients and prescribe ART in simple cases. Nurses had to complete more than 50 consultations observed by the doctor before being permitted to consult patients independently. More complex cases were referred to a doctor. The authors developed standard checklists, instructions, and evaluation forms to guide nurses and the doctors who supervised them once a week.
The authors evaluated the pilot program by reviewing the records of 1,076 patients who enrolled on it between September 2005 and March 2008. They looked to see whether the nurses had followed guidelines and monitored the patients correctly. They also considered health outcomes for the patients, such as their death rate, their body weight, their CD4 cell count, and whether they maintained contact with caregivers.
They found that by March 2008, 451 patients had been eligible for ART. 435 received treatment and none of the patients were prescribed ART when they should not have been. Only one prescription did not follow national guidelines.
At every visit, nurses were supposed to assess whether patients were taking their drugs and to monitor side effects. They did this and maintained records correctly for the vast majority of the 435 patients who were prescribed ART. 390 patients (over 90%) of the 435 prescribed receiving ART continued to take it and maintain contact with the pilot PHC's program. 29 patients died. Only one was lost to follow up and the others transferred to another ART site. The majority gained weight in the first six months and their CD4 cell counts rose. Outcomes, including death rate, were similar to those treated on the (doctor-led) Rwandan national ART program and other sub-Saharan African national (doctor-led) programs.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The study suggests that nurses are able to prescribe ART safely and effectively in a rural sub-Saharan setting, given sufficient training, mentoring, and support. Nurse-led prescribing of ART could mean that timely, appropriate treatment reaches many more HIV patients. It would reduce the burden of HIV care for doctors, freeing their time for other duties, and the study is already being used by the Rwandan Ministry of Health as a basis for plans to adopt a task-shifting strategy for the national ART program.
The study does have some limitations. The pilot program was funded and designed as a health project to deliver ART in rural areas, rather than a research project to compare nurse-led and doctor-led ART programs. There was no group of equivalent patients treated by doctors rather than nurses for direct comparison, although the authors did compare outcomes with those achieved nationally for doctor-led ART. The most promising sites, nurses, and patients were selected for the pilot and careful monitoring may have been an additional motivation for the nurses and doctors taking part. Health professionals in a scaled-up program may not be as committed as those in the pilot, who were carefully monitored. In addition, the nature of the pilot, which lasted for under three years and recruited new patients throughout, meant that patients were followed up for relatively short periods.
The authors also warn that they did not consider in this study the changes task shifting will make to doctors' roles and the skills required of both doctors and nurses. They recommend that task shifting should be implemented as part of a wider investment in health systems, human resources, training, adapted medical records, tools, and protocols.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000163.
PLoS Medicine includes a page collecting together its recent articles on HIV infection and AIDS that includes research articles, perspectives, editorials, and policy forums
SciDev.net provides news, views, and information about science, technology, and the developing world, including a section specific to HIV/AIDs
The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a downloadable booklet Task Shifting to Tackle Health Worker Shortages
The WHO offers information on HIV and AIDS (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish) as well as health information and fact sheets on individual countries, including on Rwanda
The UNAIDS/WHO working group on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Surveillance gathers and publishes data on the prevalence of HIV and AIDS in individual countries, including on Rwanda
AIDS.ORG provides information to help prevent HIV infections and to improve the lives of those affected by HIV and AIDS. Factsheets on many aspects of HIV and AIDS are available. It is the official online publisher of AIDS Treatment News
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000163
PMCID: PMC2752160  PMID: 19823569
16.  Rates of inappropriate antiretroviral prescription among injection drug users 
Background
Although the survival benefits of antiretroviral therapy (ART) for the treatment of HIV infection are well established, the clinical management of HIV disease continues to present major challenges. There are particular concerns regarding access to appropriate HIV treatment among HIV-infected injection drug users (IDU).
Methods
In a prospective cohort study of HIV-infected IDU in Vancouver, Canada, we examined initial ART regimens vis-à-vis the provincial government's therapeutic guidelines at the time ART was initiated. Briefly, there have been four sets of guidelines: Era 1 (1992 to November 1995; double-drug (dual NRTIs) ART for patients with a CD4 cell count of 350 or less); Era 2 (December 1995 to May 1996; double-drug therapy for patients with a CD4+ cell count of 500 or less); Era 3 (June 1996 to June 1997; triple-drug therapy (dual NRTIs with a PI or NNRTI) for patients who had a plasma viral load of > 100,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/mL; dual therapy with two NRTIs for those with a plasma viral load of 5,000 to 100,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/mL); Era 4 (since July 1997; universal use of triple drug therapy as first-line treatment).
Results
Between May 1996 and May 2003, 431 HIV-infected individuals were enrolled into the cohort. By May 31, 2003, 291 (67.5%) individuals had initiated ART. We noted instances of inappropriate antiretroviral prescription in each guideline era, with 9 (53%) in Era 1, 3 (12%) in Era 2, 22 (28%) in Era 3, and 23 (15%) in Era 4. Of the 57 subjects who received an inappropriate ART regimen initially, 14 never received the appropriate therapy; among the remaining 43, the median time to the initiation of a guideline-appropriate ART regimen was 12 months (inter-quartile range 5 – 20).
Conclusion
The present study identified measurable rates of guideline-inappropriate ART prescription for patients who were injection drug users. Rates were highest in the era of dual therapy, although high rates persisted into the triple-therapy era. As therapeutic guidelines continue to evolve, it is critical that mechanisms be put in place to ensure prescription of ART combinations for IDU that are consistent with current expert recommendations.
doi:10.1186/1477-7517-4-2
PMCID: PMC1769364  PMID: 17204162
17.  When to Start Antiretroviral Therapy in Children Aged 2–5 Years: A Collaborative Causal Modelling Analysis of Cohort Studies from Southern Africa 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(11):e1001555.
Michael Schomaker and colleagues estimate the mortality associated with starting ART at different CD4 thresholds among children aged 2–5 years using observational data collected in cohort studies in Southern Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
There is limited evidence on the optimal timing of antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation in children 2–5 y of age. We conducted a causal modelling analysis using the International Epidemiologic Databases to Evaluate AIDS–Southern Africa (IeDEA-SA) collaborative dataset to determine the difference in mortality when starting ART in children aged 2–5 y immediately (irrespective of CD4 criteria), as recommended in the World Health Organization (WHO) 2013 guidelines, compared to deferring to lower CD4 thresholds, for example, the WHO 2010 recommended threshold of CD4 count <750 cells/mm3 or CD4 percentage (CD4%) <25%.
Methods and Findings
ART-naïve children enrolling in HIV care at IeDEA-SA sites who were between 24 and 59 mo of age at first visit and with ≥1 visit prior to ART initiation and ≥1 follow-up visit were included. We estimated mortality for ART initiation at different CD4 thresholds for up to 3 y using g-computation, adjusting for measured time-dependent confounding of CD4 percent, CD4 count, and weight-for-age z-score. Confidence intervals were constructed using bootstrapping.
The median (first; third quartile) age at first visit of 2,934 children (51% male) included in the analysis was 3.3 y (2.6; 4.1), with a median (first; third quartile) CD4 count of 592 cells/mm3 (356; 895) and median (first; third quartile) CD4% of 16% (10%; 23%). The estimated cumulative mortality after 3 y for ART initiation at different CD4 thresholds ranged from 3.4% (95% CI: 2.1–6.5) (no ART) to 2.1% (95% CI: 1.3%–3.5%) (ART irrespective of CD4 value). Estimated mortality was overall higher when initiating ART at lower CD4 values or not at all. There was no mortality difference between starting ART immediately, irrespective of CD4 value, and ART initiation at the WHO 2010 recommended threshold of CD4 count <750 cells/mm3 or CD4% <25%, with mortality estimates of 2.1% (95% CI: 1.3%–3.5%) and 2.2% (95% CI: 1.4%–3.5%) after 3 y, respectively. The analysis was limited by loss to follow-up and the unavailability of WHO staging data.
Conclusions
The results indicate no mortality difference for up to 3 y between ART initiation irrespective of CD4 value and ART initiation at a threshold of CD4 count <750 cells/mm3 or CD4% <25%, but there are overall higher point estimates for mortality when ART is initiated at lower CD4 values.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, contributes substantially to the burden of disease in children. Worldwide, more than 3 million children younger than 15 years old (90% of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa) are HIV-positive, and every year around 330,000 more children are infected with HIV. Children usually acquire HIV from their mother during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. The virus gradually destroys CD4 lymphocytes and other immune system cells, leaving infected children susceptible to other potentially life-threatening infections. HIV infection can be kept in check, with antiretroviral therapy (ART)—cocktails of drugs that have to be taken daily throughout life. ART is very effective in children but is expensive, and despite concerted international efforts over the past decade to provide universal access to ART, in 2011, less than a third of children who needed ART were receiving it.
Why Was This Study Done?
For children diagnosed as HIV-positive between the ages of two and five years, the 2010 World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for the treatment of HIV infection recommended that ART be initiated when the CD4 count dropped below 750 cells/mm3 blood or when CD4 cells represented less than 25% of the total lymphocyte population (CD4 percent). Since June 2013, however, WHO has recommended that all HIV-positive children in this age group begin ART immediately, irrespective of their CD4 values. Earlier ART initiation might reduce mortality (death) and morbidity (illness), but it could also increase the risk of toxicity and of earlier development of drug resistance. In this causal modeling analysis, the researchers estimate the mortality associated with starting ART at different CD4 thresholds among children aged 2–5 years using observational data collected in cohort studies of ART undertaken in southern Africa. Specifically, they compared the estimated mortality associated with the WHO 2010 and WHO 2013 guidelines. Observational studies compare the outcomes of groups (cohorts) with different interventions (here, the timing of ART initiation). Data from such studies are affected by time-dependent confounding: CD4 count, for example, varies with time and is a predictor of both ART initiation and the probability of death. Causal modeling techniques take time-dependent confounding into account and enable the estimation of the causal effect of an intervention on an outcome from observational data.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used g-computation (a type of causal modeling) adjusting for time-dependent confounding of CD4 percent, CD4 count, and weight-for-age z-score (a measure of whether a child is underweight for their age that provides a proxy indicator of the clinical stage of HIV infection) to estimate mortality for ART initiation at different CD4 thresholds in 2,934 ART-naïve, HIV-positive children aged 2–5 years old at their first visit to one of eight study sites in southern Africa. The average initial CD4 values of these children were a CD4 count of 592 cells/mm3 and a CD4 percent of 16%. The estimated cumulative mortality after three years was 3.4% in all children if ART was never started. If all children had started ART immediately after diagnosis irrespective of CD4 value or if the 2010 WHO-recommended threshold of a CD4 count below 750 cells/mm3 or a CD4 percent below 25% was followed, the estimated cumulative mortalities after three years were 2.1% and 2.2%, respectively (a statistically non-significant difference).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, among southern African children aged 2–5 years at HIV diagnosis, there is no difference in mortality for up to three years between children in whom ART is initiated immediately and those in whom ART initiation is deferred until their CD4 value falls below a CD4 count of 750 cells/mm3 or a CD4 percent of 25%. Although causal modeling was used in this analysis, the accuracy of these results may be affected by residual confounding. For example, the researchers were unable to adjust for the clinical stage of HIV disease at HIV diagnosis and instead had to use weight-for-age z-scores as a proxy indicator of disease severity. Other limitations of the study include the large number of children lost to follow-up and a possible lack of generalizability—most of the study participants were from urban settings in South Africa. Importantly, however, these findings suggest that the recent change in the WHO guidelines for ART initiation in young children is unlikely to increase or reduce mortality, with the proviso that the long-term effects of earlier ART initiation such as toxicity and the development of resistance to ART need to be explored further.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001555
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 Africa and on children and HIV/AIDS (in English and Spanish)
The UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report 2012 provides up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it; the 2013 Progress Report on the Global Plan provides information on progress towards eliminating new HIV infections among children by 2015
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment (in several languages); its 2010 guidelines for ART in infants and children and its 2013 consolidated guidelines on the use of ART can be downloaded
The researchers involved in this study are part of the International Epidemiologic Databases to Evaluate AIDSSouthern Africa collaboration, which develops and implements methodology to generate the large datasets needed to address high-priority research questions related to HIV/AIDS
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS, including stories from young people infected with HIV, are available through Avert, through NAM/aidsmap, and through the charity website Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001555
PMCID: PMC3833834  PMID: 24260029
18.  The feasibility of an intensive case management program for injection drug users on antiretroviral therapy in St. Petersburg, Russia 
Background
The majority of HIV-infected individuals requiring antiretroviral therapy (ART) in Russia are Injection Drug Users (IDU). Substitution therapy used as part of a comprehensive harm reduction program is unavailable in Russia. Past data shows that only 16% of IDU receiving substance abuse treatment completed the course without relapse, and only 40% of IDU on ART remained on treatment at 6 months. Our goal was to determine if it was feasible to improve these historic outcomes by adding intensive case management (ICM) to the substance abuse and ART treatment programs for IDU.
Methods
IDU starting ART and able to involve a “supporter” who would assist in their treatment plan were enrolled. ICM included opiate detoxification, bi-monthly contact and counseling with the case, weekly group sessions, monthly contact with the “supporter” and home visits as needed. Full follow- up (FFU) was 8 months. Stata v10 (College Station, TX) was used for all analysis. Descriptive statistics were calculated for all baseline demographic variables, baseline and follow-up CD4 count, and viral load. Median baseline and follow-up CD4 counts and RNA levels were compared using the Kruskal-Wallis test. The proportion of participants with RNA < 1000 copies mL at baseline and follow-up was compared using Fisher’s Exact test. McNemar’s test for paired proportions was used to compare the change in proportion of participants with RNA < 1000 copies mL from baseline to follow-up.
Results
Between November 2007 and December 2008, 60 IDU were enrolled. 34 (56.7%) were male. 54/60 (90.0%) remained in FFU. Overall, 31/60 (52%) were active IDU at enrollment and 27 (45%) were active at their last follow-up visit. 40/60 (66.7%) attended all of their ART clinic visits, 13/60 (21.7%) missed one or more visit but remained on ART, and 7/60 (11.7%) stopped ART before the end of FFU. Overall, 39/53 (74%) had a final 6–8 month HIV RNA viral load (VL) < 1000 copies/mL.
Conclusions
Despite no substitution therapy to assist IDU in substance abuse and ART treatment programs, ICM was feasible, and the retention and adherence of IDU on ART in St. Petersburg could be greatly enhanced by adding ICM to the existing treatment programs.
doi:10.1186/1477-7517-10-15
PMCID: PMC3844607  PMID: 24006958
Injection drug users; Russia; HIV/AIDS; Antiretroviral therapy; Case management
19.  Correcting Mortality for Loss to Follow-Up: A Nomogram Applied to Antiretroviral Treatment Programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(1):e1000390.
Matthias Egger and colleagues present a nomogram and a web-based calculator to correct estimates of program-level mortality for loss to follow-up, for use in antiretroviral treatment programs.
Background
The World Health Organization estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa about 4 million HIV-infected patients had started antiretroviral therapy (ART) by the end of 2008. Loss of patients to follow-up and care is an important problem for treatment programmes in this region. As mortality is high in these patients compared to patients remaining in care, ART programmes with high rates of loss to follow-up may substantially underestimate mortality of all patients starting ART.
Methods and Findings
We developed a nomogram to correct mortality estimates for loss to follow-up, based on the fact that mortality of all patients starting ART in a treatment programme is a weighted average of mortality among patients lost to follow-up and patients remaining in care. The nomogram gives a correction factor based on the percentage of patients lost to follow-up at a given point in time, and the estimated ratio of mortality between patients lost and not lost to follow-up. The mortality observed among patients retained in care is then multiplied by the correction factor to obtain an estimate of programme-level mortality that takes all deaths into account. A web calculator directly calculates the corrected, programme-level mortality with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We applied the method to 11 ART programmes in sub-Saharan Africa. Patients retained in care had a mortality at 1 year of 1.4% to 12.0%; loss to follow-up ranged from 2.8% to 28.7%; and the correction factor from 1.2 to 8.0. The absolute difference between uncorrected and corrected mortality at 1 year ranged from 1.6% to 9.8%, and was above 5% in four programmes. The largest difference in mortality was in a programme with 28.7% of patients lost to follow-up at 1 year.
Conclusions
The amount of bias in mortality estimates can be large in ART programmes with substantial loss to follow-up. Programmes should routinely report mortality among patients retained in care and the proportion of patients lost. A simple nomogram can then be used to estimate mortality among all patients who started ART, for a range of plausible mortality rates among patients lost to follow-up.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since 1981 and about 33 million people (30 million of them in low- and middle-income countries) are now infected with HIV, which causes AIDS. HIV destroys immune system cells, leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-infected people died within 10 years of infection. Then, in 1996, highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART) became available. For people living in affluent, developed countries, HIV/AIDS became a chronic condition, but for people living in low- and middle-income countries, ART was prohibitively expensive and HIV/AIDS remained a fatal illness. In 2003, this situation was declared a global health emergency and governments, international agencies, and funding bodies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in developing countries. By the end of 2009, 5.25 million of the 14.6 million people in low- and middle-income countries who needed ART (36%) were receiving it.
Why Was This Study Done?
ART program managers in developing countries need to monitor the effectiveness of their programs to ensure that their limited resources are used wisely. In particular, they need accurate records of the death (mortality) rates in their programs. However, in resource-limited countries, many patients drop out of ART programs. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, only about 60% of patients are retained in ART programs 2 years after starting therapy. In many programs, it is not known how many of the patients lost to follow-up subsequently die, but it is known that mortality is higher among these patients than among those who remain in care. Thus, in programs with high dropout rates and poor ascertainment of death in patients lost to follow-up, estimates of the mortality of all patients starting ART are underestimates. In this study, the researchers develop a simple nomogram (a graphical method for finding the value of a third variable from the values of two other variables) to correct estimates of program-level mortality for loss to follow-up.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers' nomogram uses the percentage of patients lost to follow and the estimated ratio of mortality between patients lost and not lost to follow-up to provide a correction factor that converts mortality among patients remaining in care to mortality among all the patients in a program. The researchers first applied their nomogram to the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH), a large ART program in Kenya. They used data collected by outreach teams to estimate mortality among the 40.5% of patients lost to follow-up at two AMPATH sites between 1 January 2005 and 31 January 2007. The uncorrected estimate of mortality over this period was 2.8%, whereas the corrected estimate obtained using the nomogram was 9.4%. The researchers then applied their nomogram to 11 other African ART programs. This time, the researchers used a statistical model to provide estimates of mortality among patients lost to follow-up. Mortality among patients retained in care was 1.4% to 12.0% at 1 year; loss to follow-up ranged from 2.8% to 28.7%. The nomogram provided a correction value for mortality among all patients in the ART program of 1.2 to 8.0, which resulted in absolute differences between uncorrected and corrected mortality of 1.6% to 9.8%. The largest absolute difference was in the program with the largest percentage of patients lost to follow-up.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, in ART programs where a large percentage of patients are lost to follow-up, program-level mortality estimates based on the mortality among patients retained in the program can be substantial underestimates. This bias needs to be taken into account when comparing the effectiveness of different programs, so the researchers recommend that all programs routinely report mortality among patients retained in care and the proportion of patients lost to follow-up. The nomogram developed by the researchers can then be used to estimate mortality among all patients who started ART using a range of plausible mortality rates among patients lost to follow-up. To help program managers make use of the nomogram, the researchers provide a user-friendly web calculator based on the nomogram on the International epidemiologic Databases to Evaluate AIDS (IeDEA) Southern Africa website.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000390.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Gregory Bisson
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 the HIV and AIDS in Africa, and on universal access to AIDS treatment (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment, including the 2010 progress report (in English, French and Spanish)
The International epidemiologic Databases to Evaluate Aids (IeDEA) Southern Africa website provides access to a calculator for correcting overall program-specific mortality for loss to follow-up
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000390
PMCID: PMC3022522  PMID: 21267057
20.  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
21.  Outcomes of second-line combination antiretroviral therapy for HIV-infected patients: a cohort study from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 
BMC Infectious Diseases  2014;14(1):699.
Background
World-wide, the notable expansion of HIV/AIDS treatment programs in resource-limited settings has lead to an increasing number of patients in need of second-line cART. To adequately address and prepare for this scenario, critical assessments of the outcomes of second-line cART are particularly relevant in settings where monitoring strategies may be inadequate. We evaluated virologic outcomes of second-line combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) among HIV-infected individuals from Brazil.
Methods
This study was conducted at the Instituto Nacional de Infectologia Evandro Chagas, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, at Rio de Janeiro, Brazio. For this study we included all patients who started first-line and second-line cART between 2000 and 2013. Second-line cART required a switch in the anchor drug of first-line cART. We evaluated time from second-line start to virologic failure and factors associated with increased risk of failure using multivariable Cox proportional hazards regression models.
Results
Among the 1,311 patients who started first-line cART a total of 386 patients (29.5%) initiated second-line cART, out of which 35.0% and 60.6% switched from their first-line to their second-line cART when their HIV RNA was undetectable and after documented virologic failure, respectively. At second line cART initiation, median age was 38 years [interquartile range (IQR): 31-45years]. Median CD4 count was significantly different for patients starting second-line cART undetectable [412 cells/mm3 (IQR: 240-617)] compared to those starting second-line cART after documented virologic failure [230 cells/mm3 (IQR: 118-322.5)] (p < 0.01). Median time from second-line cART initiation to failure was also significantly different for patients starting second-line cART undetectable compared to those who with documented virologic failure (log-rank test p < 0.01). Multivariable Cox models showed that younger age, lower education, and HIV RNA level were independently associated with an increased hazard of second-line failure among those with documented virologic failure at start of second-line cART.
Conclusions
We have shown that in a middle-income country with universal access to cART, having a detectable HIV RNA at the start of second-line cART as well as younger age and lower education negatively impact second-line outcomes. Our findings could guide HIV treatment efforts as to which strategies would help maximize the durability of these regimens.
doi:10.1186/s12879-014-0699-5
PMCID: PMC4297410  PMID: 25523385
cART; Second-line; Cox proportional hazards regression; HIV/AIDS; Cohort study; Brazil
22.  Pretreatment CD4 Cell Slope and Progression to AIDS or Death in HIV-Infected Patients Initiating Antiretroviral Therapy—The CASCADE Collaboration: A Collaboration of 23 Cohort Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(2):e1000239.
Analyzing data from several thousand cohort study participants, Marcel Wolbers and colleagues find that the rate of CD4 T cell decline is not useful in deciding when to start HIV treatment.
Background
CD4 cell count is a strong predictor of the subsequent risk of AIDS or death in HIV-infected patients initiating combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). It is not known whether the rate of CD4 cell decline prior to therapy is related to prognosis and should, therefore, influence the decision on when to initiate cART.
Methods and Findings
We carried out survival analyses of patients from the 23 cohorts of the CASCADE (Concerted Action on SeroConversion to AIDS and Death in Europe) collaboration with a known date of HIV seroconversion and with at least two CD4 measurements prior to initiating cART. For each patient, a pre-cART CD4 slope was estimated using a linear mixed effects model. Our primary outcome was time from initiating cART to a first new AIDS event or death. We included 2,820 treatment-naïve patients initiating cART with a median (interquartile range) pre-cART CD4 cell decline of 61 (46–81) cells/µl per year; 255 patients subsequently experienced a new AIDS event or death and 125 patients died. In an analysis adjusted for established risk factors, the hazard ratio for AIDS or death was 1.01 (95% confidence interval 0.97–1.04) for each 10 cells/µl per year reduction in pre-cART CD4 cell decline. There was also no association between pre-cART CD4 cell slope and survival. Alternative estimates of CD4 cell slope gave similar results. In 1,731 AIDS-free patients with >350 CD4 cells/µl from the pre-cART era, the rate of CD4 cell decline was also not significantly associated with progression to AIDS or death (hazard ratio 0.99, 95% confidence interval 0.94–1.03, for each 10 cells/µl per year reduction in CD4 cell decline).
Conclusions
The CD4 cell slope does not improve the prediction of clinical outcome in patients with a CD4 cell count above 350 cells/µl. Knowledge of the current CD4 cell count is sufficient when deciding whether to initiate cART in asymptomatic patients.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
More than 30 million people are currently infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Most people who become infected with HIV do not become ill immediately although some develop a short flu-like illness shortly after infection. This illness is called “seroconversion” illness because it coincides with the appearance of antibodies to HIV in the blood. The next stage of HIV infection has no major symptoms and may last up to 10 years. During this time, HIV slowly destroys immune system cells (including CD4 cells, a type of lymphocyte). Without treatment, the immune system loses the ability to fight off infections by other disease-causing organisms and HIV-positive people then develop so-called opportunistic infections, Kaposi sarcoma (a skin cancer), or non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a cancer of the lymph nodes) that determine the diagnosis of AIDS. Although HIV-positive people used to die within 10 years of infection on average, the development in 1996 of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART; cocktails of powerful antiretroviral drugs) means that, at least for people living in developed countries, HIV/AIDS is now a chronic, treatable condition.
Why Was This Study Done?
The number of CD4 cells in the blood is a strong predictor of the likelihood of AIDS or death in untreated HIV-positive individuals and in people starting cART. Current guidelines recommend, therefore, that cART is started in HIV-positive patients without symptoms when their CD4 cell count drops below a specified cutoff level (typically 350 cells/µl.) In addition, several guidelines suggest that clinicians should also consider cART in symptom-free HIV-positive patients with a CD4 cell count above the cutoff level if their CD4 cell count has rapidly declined. However, it is not actually known whether the rate of CD4 cell decline (so-called “CD4 slope”) before initiating cART is related to a patient's outcome, so should clinicians consider this measurement when deciding whether to initiate cART? In this study, the researchers use data from CASCADE (Concerted Action on SeroConversion to AIDS and Death in Europe), a large collaborative study of 23 groups of HIV-positive individuals whose approximate date of HIV infection is known, to answer this question.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers undertook survival analyses of patients in the CASCADE collaboration for whom at least two CD4 cell counts had been recorded before starting cART. They calculated a pre-cART CD4 cell count slope from these counts and used statistical methods to investigate whether there was an association between the rate of decline in CD4 cell count and the time from initiating cART to the primary outcome—a first new AIDS-defining event or death. 2820 HIV-positive patients initiating cART were included in the study; the average pre-cART CD4 cell decline among them was 61 cells/µl/year. 255 of the patients experienced a new AIDS-related event or died after starting cART but the researchers found no evidence for an association between the primary outcome and the pre-cART CD4 slope or between survival and this slope. In addition, the rate of CD4 cell count decline was not significantly associated with progression to AIDS or death among 1731 HIV-positive, symptom-free patients with CD4 cell counts above 350 cells/µl who were studied before cART was developed.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that knowledge of the rate of CD4 cell count decline will not improve the prediction of clinical outcome in HIV-positive patients with a CD4 cell count above 350 cells/µl. Indeed, the findings show that the rate of CD4 cell decline in individual patients is highly variable over time. Consequently, a rate measured at one time cannot be used to reliably predict a patient's future CD4 cell count. Because this was an observational study, patients with the greatest rate of decline in their CD4 cell count might have received better care than other patients, a possibility that would lessen the effect of the rate of CD4 cell count decline on outcomes. Nevertheless, the findings of this study strongly suggest that knowledge of the current CD4 cell count and an assessment of other established risk factors for progression to AIDS are sufficient when deciding whether to initiate cART in symptom-free HIV-positive patients.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000239.
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 treatments and treatment guidelines
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on treatments for HIV and AIDS, when to start treatment, and the stages of HIV infection (in English and Spanish)
Information on CASCADE is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000239
PMCID: PMC2826377  PMID: 20186270
23.  Female gender predicts lower access and adherence to antiretroviral therapy in a setting of free healthcare 
Background
Barriers to HIV treatment among injection drug users (IDU) are a major public health concern. However, there remain few long-term studies investigating key demographic and behavioral factors - and gender differences in particular - that may pose barriers to antiretroviral therapy (ART), especially in settings with universal healthcare. We evaluated access and adherence to ART in a long-term cohort of HIV-positive IDU in a setting where medical care and antiretroviral therapy are provided free of charge through a universal healthcare system.
Methods
We evaluated baseline antiretroviral use and subsequent adherence to ART among a Canadian cohort of HIV-positive IDU. We used generalized estimating equation logistic regression to evaluate factors associated with 95% adherence to antiretroviral therapy estimated based on prescription refill compliance.
Results
Between May 1996 and April 2008, 545 IDU participants were followed for a median of 23.8 months (Inter-quartile range: 8.5 - 91.6), among whom 341 (63%) were male and 204 (37%) were female. Within the six-month period prior to the baseline interview, 133 (39%) men and 62 (30%) women were on ART (p = 0.042). After adjusting for clinical characteristics as well as drug use patterns measured longitudinally throughout follow-up, female gender was independently associated with a lower likelihood of being 95% adherent to ART (Odds Ratio [OR] = 0.70; 95% Confidence Interval: 0.53-0.93).
Conclusions
Despite universal access to free HIV treatment and medical care, female IDU were less likely to access and adhere to antiretroviral therapy, a finding that was independent of drug use and clinical characteristics. These data suggest that interventions to improve access to HIV treatment among IDU must be tailored to address unique barriers to antiretroviral therapy faced by female IDU.
doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-86
PMCID: PMC3080305  PMID: 21466704
24.  Cost-Effectiveness of Preventing Loss to Follow-up in HIV Treatment Programs: A Côte d'Ivoire Appraisal 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(10):e1000173.
Based on data from West Africa, Elena Losina and colleagues predict that interventions to reduce dropout rates from HIV treatment programs (such as eliminating copayments) will be cost-effective.
Background
Data from HIV treatment programs in resource-limited settings show extensive rates of loss to follow-up (LTFU) ranging from 5% to 40% within 6 mo of antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation. Our objective was to project the clinical impact and cost-effectiveness of interventions to prevent LTFU from HIV care in West Africa.
Methods and Findings
We used the Cost-Effectiveness of Preventing AIDS Complications (CEPAC) International model to project the clinical benefits and cost-effectiveness of LTFU-prevention programs from a payer perspective. These programs include components such as eliminating ART co-payments, eliminating charges to patients for opportunistic infection-related drugs, improving personnel training, and providing meals and reimbursing for transportation for participants. The efficacies and costs of these interventions were extensively varied in sensitivity analyses. We used World Health Organization criteria of <3× gross domestic product per capita (3× GDP per capita = US$2,823 for Côte d'Ivoire) as a plausible threshold for “cost-effectiveness.” The main results are based on a reported 18% 1-y LTFU rate. With full retention in care, projected per-person discounted life expectancy starting from age 37 y was 144.7 mo (12.1 y). Survival losses from LTFU within 1 y of ART initiation ranged from 73.9 to 80.7 mo. The intervention costing US$22/person/year (e.g., eliminating ART co-payment) would be cost-effective with an efficacy of at least 12%. An intervention costing US$77/person/year (inclusive of all the components described above) would be cost-effective with an efficacy of at least 41%.
Conclusions
Interventions that prevent LTFU in resource-limited settings would substantially improve survival and would be cost-effective by international criteria with efficacy of at least 12%–41%, depending on the cost of intervention, based on a reported 18% cumulative incidence of LTFU at 1 y after ART initiation. The commitment to start ART and treat HIV in these settings should include interventions to prevent LTFU.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed more than 25 million people since the first reported case in 1981. Currently, about 33 million people are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. Two-thirds of people infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV infects and destroys immune system cells, thereby weakening the immune system and rendering infected individuals susceptible to infection. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Combination antiretroviral therapy (ART), a mixture of antiretroviral drugs that suppress the replication of the virus in the body, is used to treat and prevent HIV infection. ART is expensive but major international efforts by governments, international organizations, and funding bodies have increased ART availability. According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, at least 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries need ART and as of 2007, 3 million of those people had reliable access to the drugs.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although ART is an effective treatment for HIV, a large number of individuals who initiate ART do not receive long-term follow-up care. These patients are generally sicker and have a worse long-term outcome than those who receive follow-up care. Loss to follow up (LTFU) is a significant problem that can undermine the benefits of expanding ART availability. Strategies to improve follow up concentrate on bringing lost patients back into the health care system, but such patients often die before they can be contacted. Prevention of LTFU might be a better strategy to improve HIV care after ART initiation, but there is little information available on which specific interventions might best accomplish this goal.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Given the lack of reported data on the actual costs and effectiveness of LTFU prevention, the researchers used a model to estimate the clinical impact and cost-effectiveness of several possible strategies to prevent LTFU in HIV-infected persons receiving ART in Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa. The researchers used the previously developed Cost-Effectiveness of Preventing AIDS Complications (CEPAC) computer simulation model and combined it with data from a program of ART delivery in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. They then projected the clinical benefits and the cost required to attain a given level of benefit (cost-effectiveness ratio) of different LTFU-prevention strategies from the perspective of the payer (the organization that pays all the medical costs to provide care). Several interventions were considered, including reducing costs to patients (eliminating patient co-payments and paying for transportation) and increasing services to patients at their visits (improving staff training in HIV care, and providing meals at clinic times). LTFU was predicted to cause a 54.3%–58.3% reduction in the estimated life expectancy beyond age 37; patients continuing HIV care were predicted to live a further 144.7 months whie those lost to follow up by 1 year after ART initiation were predicted to live only for a further 73.9–80.7 months. LTFU-prevention strategies in the Côte d'Ivoire were deemed to be cost-effective if they cost less than $2,823 (which is 3× gross domestic product per capita) per year of life saved. The efficacy and cost of the different LTFU-prevention strategies varied in the analyses; stopping ART co-payment alone would be cost-effective at a cost of $22/person/year if it reduced LTFU rates by 12%, while including all the LTFU-prevention strategies described would be cost-effective at $77/person/year if they reduced LTFU-rates by 41%.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings suggest that moderately effective strategies for preventing LTFU in resource-limited settings would improve survival, provide good value for money, and should be used to improve HIV treatment programs. Although modeling is valuable to explore the costs and effectiveness of LTFU-prevention strategies it cannot replace the need for more reported data to shed light on problems leading to LTFU and the prevention strategies required to combat it. Also, Côte d'Ivoire might not be representative of all West African countries or resource-limited settings. A similar analysis using data from other ART programs in different countries would be useful to provide better understanding of the impact of LTFU in HIV treatment programs. Finally, the research highlights the cost of second-line ART (a new antiretroviral drug combination for patients in whom first-line treatment fails) as a crucial issue. It is estimated that 5% of all people receiving ART in low- and middle-income countries receive second-line ART and these numbers are expected to increase. Second-line ART had major effects on cost-effectiveness, and a reduction in the cost of this treatment is critical in order to guarantee continued access to HIV treatment.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000173.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Gregory Bisson and Jeffrey Stringer
WHO provides information on disease prevention, treatment, and HIV/AIDS programs and projects
The UN Millennium Development Goals project site contains information on worldwide efforts to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS
aidsmap, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, provides information on HIV and supporting those living with HIV
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000173
PMCID: PMC2762030  PMID: 19859538
25.  Antiretroviral Therapy for Prevention of Tuberculosis in Adults with HIV: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(7):e1001270.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Amitabh Suthar and colleagues investigate the association between antiretroviral therapy and the reduction in the incidence of tuberculosis in adults with HIV infection.
Background
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is the strongest risk factor for developing tuberculosis and has fuelled its resurgence, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2010, there were an estimated 1.1 million incident cases of tuberculosis among the 34 million people living with HIV worldwide. Antiretroviral therapy has substantial potential to prevent HIV-associated tuberculosis. We conducted a systematic review of studies that analysed the impact of antiretroviral therapy on the incidence of tuberculosis in adults with HIV infection.
Methods and Findings
PubMed, Embase, African Index Medicus, LILACS, and clinical trial registries were systematically searched. Randomised controlled trials, prospective cohort studies, and retrospective cohort studies were included if they compared tuberculosis incidence by antiretroviral therapy status in HIV-infected adults for a median of over 6 mo in developing countries. For the meta-analyses there were four categories based on CD4 counts at antiretroviral therapy initiation: (1) less than 200 cells/µl, (2) 200 to 350 cells/µl, (3) greater than 350 cells/µl, and (4) any CD4 count.
Eleven studies met the inclusion criteria. Antiretroviral therapy is strongly associated with a reduction in the incidence of tuberculosis in all baseline CD4 count categories: (1) less than 200 cells/µl (hazard ratio [HR] 0.16, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.07 to 0.36), (2) 200 to 350 cells/µl (HR 0.34, 95% CI 0.19 to 0.60), (3) greater than 350 cells/µl (HR 0.43, 95% CI 0.30 to 0.63), and (4) any CD4 count (HR 0.35, 95% CI 0.28 to 0.44). There was no evidence of hazard ratio modification with respect to baseline CD4 count category (p = 0.20).
Conclusions
Antiretroviral therapy is strongly associated with a reduction in the incidence of tuberculosis across all CD4 count strata. Earlier initiation of antiretroviral therapy may be a key component of global and national strategies to control the HIV-associated tuberculosis syndemic.
Review Registration
International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews CRD42011001209
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
Tuberculosis—a contagious bacterial infection— is a global public-health problem. In 2010, 8.8 million people developed active tuberculosis and 1.4 million people died from the disease. Tuberculosis can be cured by taking powerful antibiotics regularly for several months, and between 1995 and 2010, 46 million people with tuberculosis were successfully treated using DOTS—a directly observed antibiotic regimen designed by the World Health Organization (WHO). Now, though, the HIV epidemic is compromising global tuberculosis control efforts. HIV-positive people are very susceptible to tuberculosis because HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, destroys the immune system cells (including CD4 lymphocytes) that normally combat tuberculosis. In 2010, 1.1 million of the new (incident) cases of tuberculosis were among the 34 million people living with HIV, and 350,000 people died of HIV-associated tuberculosis, making tuberculosis the leading cause of death among HIV-positive people. To tackle HIV-associated tuberculosis, which occurs mainly in developing countries, WHO now recommends that HIV and tuberculosis programs use collaborative approaches such as the Three I's for HIV/TB strategy—intensified tuberculosis case-finding among HIV-positive people, isoniazid preventative therapy for HIV-positive people without active tuberculosis, and (tuberculosis) infection control in healthcare facilities, social settings, and households.
Why Was This Study Done?
Despite progress in scaling up the Three I's for HIV/TB strategy, complementary interventions are still needed to prevent tuberculosis in HIV-positive people. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) lowers the viral load of people infected with HIV and restores their immune system function and could, therefore, prevent HIVassociated tuberculosis, in addition to treating HIV infection. WHO recommends ART for all HIV-positive adults with a CD4 count of less than 350 cells/μl of blood and for all HIVpositive, tuberculosis-positive individuals irrespective of their CD4 count. However, the evidence for ART's preventative impact on tuberculosis has not been systematically examined. Here, the researchers undertake a systematic review (a search that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) and a meta-analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of studies) to investigate the impact of ART initiated at various CD4 counts on the development of tuberculosis in HIV-positive adults in developing countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers found 11 studies that compared tuberculosis incidence by ART status in HIV-infected adults over periods longer than six months on average in developing countries and undertook meta-analyses of these studies based on four categories of CD4 count at ART initiation (less than 200 cells/μl, 200–350 cells/μl, greater than 350 cells/μl, and any CD4 count). For all these categories, ART was strongly associated with a reduction in the incidence of tuberculosis. For example, the meta-analysis of the two studies that reported on participants in whom ART was initiated at a CD4 count less than 200 cells/μl yielded a hazard ratio (HR) of 0.16. That is, study participants starting ART when their CD4 count was below 200 cells/μl were about one-sixth as likely to develop tuberculosis as participants not receiving ART. In the metaanalysis of all 11 studies, study participants receiving ART were about one-third as likely to develop tuberculosis as study participants receiving no ART, irrespective of their CD4 count (HR 0.35). Importantly, the CD4 count at which ART was initiated did not significantly alter the magnitude of ART's preventive effect on tuberculosis development.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that ART is strongly associated with a reduction in the incidence of tuberculosis in HIV-positive adults in developing countries, whatever the CD4 count at ART initiation. Because most of the studies in this meta-analysis were observational, these results do not show that ART causes a reduction in tuberculosis incidence—other unknown factors shared by the study participants who received ART may be responsible for their lower tuberculosis incidence. Moreover, factors such as variations in diagnostic methods among the studies included in this meta-analysis may have affected the accuracy of these findings. Nevertheless, the key finding that ART is associated with a significant reduction in tuberculosis cases among adults with CD4 counts greater than 350 cells//μl should be considered by healthcare providers, policymakers, and people living with HIV when weighing the benefits and risks of early ART initiation. It also suggests that early ART initiation (in combination with expanded HIV testing) could be a key component of future global and national strategies to control HIV-associated tuberculosis.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001270.
WHO provides information on all aspects of tuberculosis, including information on tuberculosis and HIV, on the Three I's for HIV/TB, and on ART for tuberculosis prevention (some information is in several languages)
The TB/HIV Working Group is part of the Stop TB Partnership, which is working toward tuberculosis elimination; patient stories about tuberculosis/HIV co-infection are also available on their site
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about tuberculosis and about tuberculosis and HIV co-infection
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also has detailed information on all aspects of tuberculosis including HIV-associated tuberculosis
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on HIV-related tuberculosis (in English and Spanish), and from Aidsmap, a non-governmental organization, on HIV-associated tuberculosis
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001270
PMCID: PMC3404110  PMID: 22911011

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