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1.  Effects of an evidence service on health-system policy makers' use of research evidence: A protocol for a randomised controlled trial 
Background
Health-system policy makers need timely access to synthesised research evidence to inform the policy-making process. No efforts to address this need have been evaluated using an experimental quantitative design. We developed an evidence service that draws inputs from Health Systems Evidence, which is a database of policy-relevant systematic reviews. The reviews have been (a) categorised by topic and type of review; (b) coded by the last year searches for studies were conducted and by the countries in which included studies were conducted; (c) rated for quality; and (d) linked to available user-friendly summaries, scientific abstracts, and full-text reports. Our goal is to evaluate whether a "full-serve" evidence service increases the use of synthesized research evidence by policy analysts and advisors in the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) as compared to a "self-serve" evidence service.
Methods/design
We will conduct a two-arm randomized controlled trial (RCT), along with a follow-up qualitative process study in order to explore the findings in greater depth. For the RCT, all policy analysts and policy advisors (n = 168) in a single division of the MOHLTC will be invited to participate. Using a stratified randomized design, participants will be randomized to receive either the "full-serve" evidence service (database access, monthly e-mail alerts, and full-text article availability) or the "self-serve" evidence service (database access only). The trial duration will be ten months (two-month baseline period, six-month intervention period, and two month cross-over period). The primary outcome will be the mean number of site visits/month/user between baseline and the end of the intervention period. The secondary outcome will be participants' intention to use research evidence. For the qualitative study, 15 participants from each trial arm (n = 30) will be purposively sampled. One-on-one semi-structured interviews will be conducted by telephone on their views about and their experiences with the evidence service they received, how helpful it was in their work, why it was helpful (or not helpful), what aspects were most and least helpful and why, and recommendations for next steps.
Discussion
To our knowledge, this will be the first RCT to evaluate the effects of an evidence service specifically designed to support health-system policy makers in finding and using research evidence.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT01307228
doi:10.1186/1748-5908-6-51
PMCID: PMC3123565  PMID: 21619621
2.  Implementation of an efficacious intervention for high risk women in Mexico: protocol for a multi-site randomized trial with a parallel study of organizational factors 
Background
Studies of implementation of efficacious human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention interventions are rare, especially in resource-poor settings, but important, because they have the potential to increase the impact of interventions by improving uptake and sustainability. Few studies have focused on provider and organizational factors that may influence uptake and fidelity to core intervention components. Using a hybrid design, we will study the implementation of an efficacious intervention to reduce sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among female sex workers (FSWs) in 12 cities across Mexico. Our protocol will test a ‘train-the-trainer’ implementation model for transporting the Mujer Segura (Healthy Woman) intervention into community-based organizations (CBOs).
Methods
We have partnered with Mexican Foundation for Family Planning (Mexfam), a non-governmental organization that has CBOs throughout Mexico. At each CBO, trained ethnographers will survey CBO staff on characteristics of their organization and on their attitudes toward their CBO and toward the implementation of evidence-based interventions (EBIs). Then, after CBO staff recruit a sample of 80 eligible FSWs and deliver a standard-care, didactic intervention to 40 women randomly selected from that pool, a Mexfam staff person will be trained in the Mujer Segura intervention and will then train other counselors to deliver Mujer Segura to the 40 remaining participating FSWs. FSW participants will receive a baseline behavioral assessment and be tested for HIV and STIs (syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia); they will be reassessed at six months post-intervention to measure for possible intervention effects. At the same time, both qualitative and quantitative data will be collected on the implementation process, including measures of counselors’ fidelity to the intervention model. After data collection at each CBO is complete, the relative efficacy of the Mujer Segura intervention will be analyzed, and across CBOs, correlations will be examined between individual and organizational provider characteristics and intervention efficacy.
Discussion
This cooperative, bi-national research study will provide critical insights into barriers and facilitating factors associated with implementing interventions in CBOs using the ‘train the trainer’ model. Our work builds on similar scale-up strategies that have been effective in the United States. This study has the potential to increase our knowledge of the generalizability of such strategies across health issues, national contexts, and organizational contexts.
Trial registration
NCT01465607
doi:10.1186/1748-5908-7-105
PMCID: PMC3503741  PMID: 23107285
Implementation; Dissemination; HIV; Evidence-based intervention; Female sex workers
3.  Community-based knowledge transfer and exchange: Helping community-based organizations link research to action 
Background
Community-based organizations (CBOs) are important stakeholders in health systems and are increasingly called upon to use research evidence to inform their advocacy, program planning, and service delivery efforts. CBOs increasingly turn to community-based research (CBR) given its participatory focus and emphasis on linking research to action. In order to further facilitate the use of research evidence by CBOs, we have developed a strategy for community-based knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) that helps CBOs more effectively link research evidence to action. We developed the strategy by: outlining the primary characteristics of CBOs and why they are important stakeholders in health systems; describing the concepts and methods for CBR and for KTE; comparing the efforts of CBR to link research evidence to action to those discussed in the KTE literature; and using the comparison to develop a framework for community-based KTE that builds on both the strengths of CBR and existing KTE frameworks.
Discussion
We find that CBR is particularly effective at fostering a climate for using research evidence and producing research evidence relevant to CBOs through community participation. However, CBOs are not always as engaged in activities to link research evidence to action on a larger scale or to evaluate these efforts. Therefore, our strategy for community-based KTE focuses on: an expanded model of 'linkage and exchange' (i.e., producers and users of researchers engaging in a process of asking and answering questions together); a greater emphasis on both producing and disseminating systematic reviews that address topics of interest to CBOs; developing a large-scale evidence service consisting of both 'push' efforts and efforts to facilitate 'pull' that highlight actionable messages from community relevant systematic reviews in a user-friendly way; and rigorous evaluations of efforts for linking research evidence to action.
Summary
Through this type of strategy, use of research evidence for CBO advocacy, program planning, and service delivery efforts can be better facilitated and continually refined through ongoing evaluations of its impact.
doi:10.1186/1748-5908-5-33
PMCID: PMC2873302  PMID: 20423486
4.  Community capacity to acquire, assess, adapt, and apply research evidence: a survey of Ontario's HIV/AIDS sector 
Background
Community-based organizations (CBOs) are important stakeholders in health systems and are increasingly called upon to use research evidence to inform their advocacy, program planning, and service delivery. To better support CBOs to find and use research evidence, we sought to assess the capacity of CBOs in the HIV/AIDS sector to acquire, assess, adapt, and apply research evidence in their work.
Methods
We invited executive directors of HIV/AIDS CBOs in Ontario, Canada (n = 51) to complete the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation's "Is Research Working for You?" survey.
Findings
Based on responses from 25 organizations that collectively provide services to approximately 32,000 clients per year with 290 full-time equivalent staff, we found organizational capacity to acquire, assess, adapt, and apply research evidence to be low. CBO strengths include supporting a culture that rewards flexibility and quality improvement, exchanging information within their organization, and ensuring that their decision-making processes have a place for research. However, CBO Executive Directors indicated that they lacked the skills, time, resources, incentives, and links with experts to acquire research, assess its quality and reliability, and summarize it in a user-friendly way.
Conclusion
Given the limited capacity to find and use research evidence, we recommend a capacity-building strategy for HIV/AIDS CBOs that focuses on providing the tools, resources, and skills needed to more consistently acquire, assess, adapt, and apply research evidence. Such a strategy may be appropriate in other sectors and jurisdictions as well given that CBO Executive Directors in the HIV/AIDS sector in Ontario report low capacity despite being in the enviable position of having stable government infrastructure in place to support them, benefiting from long-standing investment in capacity building, and being part of an active provincial network. CBOs in other sectors and jurisdictions that have fewer supports may have comparable or lower capacity. Future research should examine a larger sample of CBO Executive Directors from a range of sectors and jurisdictions.
doi:10.1186/1748-5908-6-54
PMCID: PMC3123230  PMID: 21619682
5.  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
6.  Impact and Process Evaluation of Integrated Community and Clinic-Based HIV-1 Control: A Cluster-Randomised Trial in Eastern Zimbabwe 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(3):e102.
Background
HIV-1 control in sub-Saharan Africa requires cost-effective and sustainable programmes that promote behaviour change and reduce cofactor sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at the population and individual levels.
Methods and Findings
We measured the feasibility of community-based peer education, free condom distribution, income-generating projects, and clinic-based STI treatment and counselling services and evaluated their impact on the incidence of HIV-1 measured over a 3-y period in a cluster-randomised controlled trial in eastern Zimbabwe. Analysis of primary outcomes was on an intention-to-treat basis. The income-generating projects proved impossible to implement in the prevailing economic climate. Despite greater programme activity and knowledge in the intervention communities, the incidence rate ratio of HIV-1 was 1.27 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.92–1.75) compared to the control communities. No evidence was found for reduced incidence of self-reported STI symptoms or high-risk sexual behaviour in the intervention communities. Males who attended programme meetings had lower HIV-1 incidence (incidence rate ratio 0.48, 95% CI 0.24–0.98), and fewer men who attended programme meetings reported unprotected sex with casual partners (odds ratio 0.45, 95% CI 0.28–0.75). More male STI patients in the intervention communities reported cessation of symptoms (odds ratio 2.49, 95% CI 1.21–5.12).
Conclusions
Integrated peer education, condom distribution, and syndromic STI management did not reduce population-level HIV-1 incidence in a declining epidemic, despite reducing HIV-1 incidence in the immediate male target group. Our results highlight the need to assess the community-level impact of interventions that are effective amongst targeted population sub-groups.
In cluster-randomised trial in Zimbabwe integrated peer education, condom distribution, and management of sexually transmitted infections did not reduce incidence of population-level HIV-1.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Sub-Saharan Africa has been hit heavily by HIV/AIDS, and Zimbabwe in particular has been very badly affected, with over one-fifth of its adult population infected with HIV. However, this proportion has been declining slowly in recent years, and the same trend has also been seen in a few other African countries. It is not clear whether these trends are related to changes in the way people behave, perhaps as a result of public health and prevention campaigns, or rather are due to changes in the natural spread of the HIV epidemic. However, there is considerable uncertainty about how we should carry out campaigns that try to get people to change their behavior. One possible approach for achieving behavior change involves peer education: that is, education carried out within the community, by at-risk community members themselves. Another approach involves tying together a set of related programs that deliver information and education through health clinics and directly in the community. Such programs are termed “integrated community and clinic-based HIV prevention.”
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers wanted to find out whether providing integrated community and clinic-based strategies for HIV prevention in Eastern Zimbabwe could reduce the proportion of people within the community infected with HIV. If successful, then the strategies could be effective elsewhere, for example in other African countries where behavior patterns and the HIV epidemic are similar to the situation studied here.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The research was done as a cluster-randomized trial. This means that different communities were assigned by chance to one of two trial arms, either an “intervention arm”, where the community and clinic-based strategies would be delivered, or a “control” arm which would not have additional services. Six pairs of communities in Eastern Zimbabwe were compared, each of which had its own health center. Control communities received the standard government services for preventing HIV. The other communities received a package of various additional strategies. These included education and condom distribution amongst sex workers and their clients; better services at sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinics (STIs can increase the risk of HIV infection); and educational HIV/AIDS open days at health centers. The researchers planned to compare, between the two arms, the number of people who became infected with HIV over the course of the trial. They found that there was no statistical difference in the number of people in the intervention arm who became infected with HIV over the course of the trial, as compared to people in the control arm. Men in the intervention communities were more likely to have effective treatment for STIs, but women were more likely to show risky behaviors, such as having sex at a younger age, and having unprotected sex. However, men in the intervention communities were more knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS than men in the control communities. One strategy in the intervention arm (delivery of education and condom distribution among sex workers and their clients) may have been less successful because of the economic situation at the time, which meant that the income-generating projects that were supposed to support this initiative were impossible.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Some of the results from this trial are encouraging, for example an improvement in male participants' knowledge and behavior. However, overall, the intervention did not have an impact on the HIV infection rate in the community. Some other trials have also shown similar results. These results mean that other strategies need to be developed, and tested, which will encourage people to change their behavior patterns and reduce the risk of getting HIV. However, trials such as this are very difficult to design, carry out, and interpret. In particular, if a complex intervention such as this fails, it is often hard to tell whether it did so because the intervention was not delivered successfully, or because it did not work.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040102.
Information from Avert, an international HIV/AIDS charity, on HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe
Information from UNAIDS, the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, on strategies for HIV prevention
HIV/AIDS minisite from the World Health Organization
The Web site of the Manicaland HIV/STD Prevention Project discusses this project
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040102
PMCID: PMC1831737  PMID: 17388666
7.  It takes a village: Community-based organizations and the availability and utilization of HIV/AIDS-related services in Nigeria 
AIDS Care  2013;25(Suppl 1):S78-S87.
Community-based organizations (CBOs) have emerged as a vital part of the response to HIV/AIDs in Nigeria. The evaluation, on which this article is based, conducted in 28 communities in 6 states and the Federal capital Territory in Nigeria, assessed the effects of the CBO engagement on a set of outcomes related to HIV/AIDS knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and practices, stigma, service availably and utilization and social capital. It consisted of three components: a household survey conducted in all 28 communities, qualitative data collected from CBO staff and key informants (KIs), and a funding allocation study (qualitative interviews and the funding allocation study were conducted in a subset of 14 communities). This article focuses on the association between CBO engagement and reported availability and utilization of HIV/AIDS-related services. It shows that CBO engagement has a potential to add value to the national response to HIV/AIDS by increasing the awareness, availability, and utilization of HIV/AIDS-related services, especially in the area of prevention, care and support. The CBOs in the evaluation communities focused on prevention activities as well as on providing support for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and prevention and care and support were the highest expenditure categories reported by CBOs. Respondents in communities with a stronger CBO engagement were more likely to: (1) be aware of any HIV/AIDs-related services, (2) report that prevention and care services were available in their communities, and (3) have used any HIV/AIDS related services, prevention-related and care-related services than respondents in communities where CBO engagement was weaker. The association between service awareness and service use and CBO engagement was stronger in rural than in urban areas.
doi:10.1080/09540121.2012.740158
PMCID: PMC4003581  PMID: 23745634
HIV; community; community-based organization (CBO); prevention; treatment; Nigeria
8.  An Intervention to Reduce HIV Risk Behavior of Substance-Using Men Who Have Sex with Men: A Two-Group Randomized Trial with a Nonrandomized Third Group 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(8):e1000329.
In a randomized trial of a behavioral intervention among substance-using men who have sex with men, aimed at reducing sexual risk behavior, Mansergh and colleagues fail to find evidence of a reduction in risk from the intervention.
Background
Substance use during sex is associated with sexual risk behavior among men who have sex with men (MSM), and MSM continue to be the group at highest risk for incident HIV in the United States. The objective of this study is to test the efficacy of a group-based, cognitive-behavioral intervention to reduce risk behavior of substance-using MSM, compared to a randomized attention-control group and a nonrandomized standard HIV-testing group.
Methods and Findings
Participants (n = 1,686) were enrolled in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco and randomized to a cognitive-behavioral intervention or attention-control comparison. The nonrandomized group received standard HIV counseling and testing. Intervention group participants received six 2-h group sessions focused on reducing substance use and sexual risk behavior. Attention-control group participants received six 2-h group sessions of videos and discussion of MSM community issues unrelated to substance use, sexual risk, and HIV/AIDS. All three groups received HIV counseling and testing at baseline. The sample reported high-risk behavior during the past 3 mo prior to their baseline visit: 67% reported unprotected anal sex, and 77% reported substance use during their most recent anal sex encounter with a nonprimary partner. The three groups significantly (p<0.05) reduced risk behavior (e.g., unprotected anal sex reduced by 32% at 12-mo follow-up), but were not different (p>0.05) from each other at 3-, 6-, and 12-mo follow-up. Outcomes for the 2-arm comparisons were not significantly different at 12-mo follow-up (e.g., unprotected anal sex, odds ratio = 1.14, confidence interval = 0.86–1.51), nor at earlier time points. Similar results were found for each outcome variable in both 2- and 3-arm comparisons.
Conclusions
These results for reducing sexual risk behavior of substance-using MSM are consistent with results of intervention trials for other populations, which collectively suggest critical challenges for the field of HIV behavioral interventions. Several mechanisms may contribute to statistically indistinguishable reductions in risk outcomes by trial group. More explicit debate is needed in the behavioral intervention field about appropriate scientific designs and methods. As HIV prevention increasingly competes for behavior-change attention alongside other “chronic” diseases and mental health issues, new approaches may better resonate with at-risk groups.
Trial Registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00153361
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
AIDS first emerged in the early 1980s among gay men living in the US. As the disease spread around the world, it became clear that AIDS also affects heterosexual men and women. Now, three decades on, more than 30 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV is most often spread by having unprotected sex with an infected partner and, globally, most sexual transmission of HIV now occurs during heterosexual sex. However, 5%–10% of all new HIV infections still occur in men who have sex with men (MSM, a term that encompasses gay, bisexual, transgendered, and heterosexual men who sometimes have sex with men) and, in several high-income countries, male-to-male sexual contact remains the most important HIV transmission route. In the US, for example, more than half of the approximately 50,000 people who become infected with HIV every year do so through male-to-male sexual contact.
Why Was This Study Done?
In countries where MSM are the group at highest risk of HIV infection, any intervention that reduces HIV transmission in MSM should have a major effect on the overall HIV infection rate. Among MSM, sexual behaviors that increase the risk of HIV infection (for example, not using a condom, having anal sex, having sex with a partner of unknown HIV status, and having sex with many partners) are associated with the use of alcohol and noninjection drugs (for example, inhaled amyl nitrite or poppers) during or shortly before sexual encounters. In this study (Project MIX), the researchers investigate whether a group-based behavioral intervention reduces sexual risk behavior in substance-using MSM.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers recruited substance-using MSM from four US cities who had had risky sex at least once in the past 6 months. Participants were randomized to a cognitive-behavioral intervention or to an attention-control group; a third, nonrandomized group of MSM formed a standard HIV counseling and testing only group. All the groups had HIV counseling and testing at the start of the study and completed a questionnaire about their substance use and sexual risk behavior during their most recent anal sex encounter. The cognitive-behavior group then received six weekly 2-hour group sessions focused on reducing substance use and sexual risk behavior by helping the men change their thinking (cognition) and behavior regarding sexual risk taking. The attention-control group received six group sessions about general MSM issues such as relationships, excluding discussion of substance use, and sexual risk behavior. The participants in both of these groups completed the questionnaire about their substance use and sexual risk behavior again at 3, 6, and 12 months after the group sessions; the participants in the standard HIV counseling and testing group completed the questionnaire again about 5 months after completing the first questionnaire (to control for the time taken by the other two groups to complete the intervention). At baseline, about 67% of the participants reported unprotected anal sex and 77% reported substance use during their most recent anal sex encounter with a nonprimary partner. At the 3-month follow-up, the incidence of sexual risk behavior had fallen to about 43% in all three groups; the incidence of substance use during sex had fallen to about 50%. Risk taking and substance use remained at these levels in the intervention and attention-control groups at the later follow-up time points.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that this cognitive-behavioral intervention is no better at reducing sexual risk taking among substance-using MSM than is an unrelated video-discussion group or standard HIV counseling and testing. One explanation for this negative result might be that brief counseling is especially effective with people who are ready for a change such as MSM willing to enroll in an intervention trial of this type. Alternatively, just being in the trial might have encouraged all the participants to self-report reduced risk behavior. Thus, alternative scientific designs and methods might be needed to find behavioral interventions that can effectively reduce HIV transmission among substance-using MSM and other people at high risk of HIV infection. Importantly, however, these findings raise the question of whether more extensive, multilevel interventions or broader lifestyle and positive health approaches (rather than single-level or single-subject behavioral interventions) might be needed to reduce sexual risk behavior among substance-using MSM.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000329.
Information is available from the US Department of Health and Human Services on HIV prevention programs, research, and policy
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV transmission and transmission in gay men and other MSM, on substance abuse and HIV/AIDS, and on safer sex
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS nonprofit, on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV, AIDS, and men who have sex with men and on drink, drugs, and sex (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also have information for the public and for professionals about HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with men (in English and Spanish)
The US National Institute on Drug Abuse has information on HIV/AIDS and drug abuse, including a resource aimed at educating teenagers about the link between drug abuse and the spread of HIV in the US (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000329
PMCID: PMC2927550  PMID: 20811491
9.  The Increased Effectiveness of HIV Preventive Intervention among Men Who Have Sex with Men and of Follow-Up Care for People Living with HIV after ‘Task-Shifting’ to Community-Based Organizations: A ‘Cash on Service Delivery’ Model in China 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e103146.
Background
A large number of men who have sex with men (MSM) and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) are underserved despite increased service availability from government facilities while many community based organizations (CBOs) are not involved. We aimed to assess the feasibility and effectiveness of the task shifting from government facilities to CBOs in China.
Methods
HIV preventive intervention for MSM and follow-up care for PLHA were shifted from government facilities to CBOs. Based on ‘cash on service delivery’ model, 10 USD per MSM tested for HIV with results notified, 82 USD per newly HIV cases diagnosed, and 50 USD per PLHA received a defined package of follow-up care services, were paid to the CBOs. Cash payments were made biannually based on the verified results in the national web-based HIV/AIDS information system.
Findings
After task shifting, CBOs gradually assumed preventive intervention for MSM and follow-up care for PLHA from 2008 to 2012. HIV testing coverage among MSM increased from 4.1% in 2008 to 22.7% in 2012. The baseline median CD4 counts of newly diagnosed HIV positive MSM increased from 309 to 397 cells/µL. HIV tests among MSM by CBOs accounted for less than 1% of the total HIV tests in Nanjing but the share of HIV cases detected by CBOs was 12.4% in 2008 and 43.6% in 2012. Unit cost per HIV case detected by CBOs was 47 times lower than that by government facilities. The coverage of CD4 tests and antiretroviral therapy increased from 71.1% and 78.6% in 2008 to 86.0% and 90.1% in 2012, respectively.
Conclusion
It is feasible to shift essential HIV services from government facilities to CBOs, and to verify independently service results to adopt ‘cash on service delivery’ model. Services provided by CBOs are cost-effective, as compared with that by government facilities.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103146
PMCID: PMC4106873  PMID: 25050797
10.  Organizational characteristics of HIV/syphilis testing services for men who have sex with men in South China: a social entrepreneurship analysis and implications for creating sustainable service models 
BMC Infectious Diseases  2014;14(1):601.
Background
UNAIDS has called for greater HIV/syphilis testing worldwide just as local HIV/syphilis testing programs are cut or altered. New models are needed to make HIV/syphilis testing services sustainable while retaining their essential public health function. Social entrepreneurship, using business principles to promote a social cause, provides a framework to pilot programs that sustainably expand testing. Drawing on fieldwork in two South Chinese cities, we examined organizational and financial characteristics of current HIV/syphilis testing systems for men who have sex with men (MSM) in addition to new pilot programs focused on revenue-generation for sustainability.
Methods
We undertook a qualitative study to explore organizational and financial characteristics of HIV/syphilis testing for MSM. Data were collected from men who have sex with men and policy stakeholders in Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Framework analysis was used to identify themes and then code the data.
Results
Our qualitative research study included MSM and policy stakeholders (n = 84). HIV/syphilis testing services were implemented at a wide range of organizations which we grouped broadly as independent community-based organizations (CBOs), independent clinics, and hybrid CBO-clinic sites. From an organizational perspective, hybrid CBO-clinic sites offered the inclusive environment of an MSM CBO linked to the technical capacity and trained staff of a clinic. From a financial perspective, stakeholders expressed concern about the sustainability and effectiveness of sexual health services reliant on external funding. We identified four hybrid CBO-clinic organizations that launched pilot testing programs in order to generate revenue while expanding HIV testing.
Conclusion
Many MSM CBOs are searching for new organizational models to account for decreased external support. Hybrid CBO-clinic organizations create a strong foundation to increase HIV/syphilis testing using social entrepreneurship models in China.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12879-014-0601-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/s12879-014-0601-5
PMCID: PMC4247875  PMID: 25422065
China; HIV; Syphilis; MSM; Social entrepreneurship; Social enterprise
11.  Community Perspectives on Factors That Influence Collaboration in Public Health Research 
Community collaboration in research may lead to better methods, results, and dissemination of interventions. Little systematic research has examined specific factors that influence community-based organizations (CBOs) to collaborate in public health research. There is an urgent need to advance knowledge on this topic so that together, researchers and CBOs can minimize barriers to collaboration. This study advances a CBO-focused characterization of collaboration in HIV-prevention research. By focusing on the perspectives of 20 key informants in 10 HIV-prevention CBOs, qualitative data revealed factors that influenced their collaborations in four domains: (a) Researchers’ Characteristics (expertise, availability), (b) Collaborative Research Characteristics (ought to improve services and CBO infrastructure); (c) Community Partner–Researcher Relationships (resolving social and professional issues); and (d) Barriers to HIV-Prevention Research Collaboration (cultural and social disconnect between CBO and academia). To reduce barriers, researchers ought to enhance motivators that facilitate collaboration. To use the advantages of community-based research, prevention scientists and policy makers ought to embrace CBOs’ characterization of what makes health research genuinely collaborative.
doi:10.1177/1090198108328328
PMCID: PMC2757482  PMID: 19196863
collaboration; public health research; HIV prevention; community-based organizations
12.  Uptake of Home-Based Voluntary HIV Testing in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(12):e1001351.
Kalpana Sabapathy and colleagues conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the acceptability of home-based voluntary counseling and testing for HIV in sub-Saharan Africa with some encouraging results.
Introduction
Improving access to HIV testing is a key priority in scaling up HIV treatment and prevention services. Home-based voluntary counselling and testing (HBT) as an approach to delivering wide-scale HIV testing is explored here.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a systematic review and random-effects meta-analysis of studies published between 1 January 2000 and 24 September 2012 that reported on uptake of HBT in sub-Saharan Africa, to assess the proportion of individuals accepting HBT and receiving their test result.
Our initial search yielded 1,199 articles; 114 were reviewed as full-text articles, and 19 publications involving 21 studies (n = 524,867 individuals offered HBT) were included for final review and meta-analysis. The studies came from five countries: Uganda, Malawi, Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia.
The proportion of people who accepted HBT (n = 474,377) ranged from 58.1% to 99.8%, with a pooled proportion of 83.3% (95% CI: 80.4%–86.1%). Heterogeneity was high (τ2 = 0.11). Sixteen studies reported on the number of people who received the result of HBT (n = 432,835). The proportion of individuals receiving their results out of all those offered testing ranged from 24.9% to 99.7%, with a pooled proportion of 76.7% (95% CI: 73.4%–80.0%) (τ2 = 0.12). HIV prevalence ranged from 2.9% to 36.5%. New diagnosis of HIV following HBT ranged from 40% to 79% of those testing positive. Forty-eight percent of the individuals offered testing were men, and they were just as likely to accept HBT as women (pooled odds ratio = 0.84; 95% CI: 0.56–1.26) (τ2 = 0.33). The proportion of individuals previously tested for HIV among those offered a test ranged from 5% to 66%. Studies in which <30% of individuals had been previously tested, local HIV prevalence was <10%, incentives were provided, or HBT was offered to household members of HIV-positive individuals showed higher uptake of testing. No evidence was reported of negative consequences of HBT.
Conclusions
HBT could substantially increase awareness of HIV status in previously undiagnosed individuals in sub-Saharan Africa, with over three-quarters of the studies in this review reporting >70% uptake. It could be a valuable tool for treatment and prevention efforts.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Knowledge of HIV status is crucial for both the prevention and treatment of HIV. However, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (the UN agency responsible for HIV/AIDS), in low-and-middle-income countries only ten percent of those who need voluntary counseling and testing, because they may have been exposed to HIV infection, have access to this service. Even in health care settings in which voluntary counseling and HIV testing is routinely offered, such as to pregnant women, the number of people who use these services is low. This situation is partly because of the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV, which makes people reluctant to volunteer to come forward to be tested for HIV. To help overcome this problem, one important strategy in encouraging people to be tested for HIV is to offer them the opportunity to be counseled and tested at home—home-based voluntary counseling and testing (HBT). Using the HBT approach, people are visited in their home by health workers regardless of their perceived risk of HIV. HBT has obvious advantages and upholds the “3 Cs” principles of HIV testing: that testing is confidential, accompanied by counseling, and conducted only with informed consent.
Why Was This Study Done?
The HBT approach has received widespread international support, and the World Health Organization has recently published guidance to service providers and policy makers about the delivery of HBT. However, the acceptability of HBT, that is, whether those offered HBT actually take up the offer and are tested, remains unknown, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the world region with the highest prevalence of HIV. So, in this study, the researchers systematically compiled all of the available studies on this topic from sub-Saharan Africa to determine the acceptability of HBT and also to and identify any factors associated with the uptake of HBT.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers searched several databases to identify suitable peer-reviewed studies from Africa published between January 2000 and September 2012. The researchers included studies that described any intervention to provide HIV testing at home and also reported the proportions of participants accepting HIV testing out of all individuals offered a home-based HIV test. Because different types of studies were included (such as randomized controlled trials, observational cohort studies, and cross-sectional surveys), the researchers tested the quality of included studies. Then they pooled all of the studies together to calculate the overall proportion of people who accepted HIV testing at home and the proportion who received their result.
Using these methods, the researchers included 21 studies from five African countries: Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia, comprising a total of 524,867 people. Overall, the proportion of people who accepted HBT ranged from 58.1% to 99.7%, with a pooled proportion of 83.3% accepting HBT (474,377 people). In the eight studies that separated data by gender, men were as likely as women to accept testing (78.5% versus 81.5%). Over three-quarters of everyone who accepted HBT received their result (77% in 16 studies reporting on this), and, importantly, the proportion of people with previously undiagnosed HIV was high (40%–79% of those diagnosed HIV-positive), emphasizing the value of HBT. The researchers also found that providing incentives, local HIV prevalence being less than 10%, and targeting HBT to household members of HIV-positive individuals may be factors associated with increased uptake of HBT, but further research is needed to verify the results of this subgroup analysis.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that voluntary counseling and testing for HIV at home is highly acceptable in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with the majority of those tested receiving their test result, highlighting the importance of this approach in the diagnosis of HIV. Therefore, by increasing uptake of testing, HBT may provide an effective tool for governments and health service providers to increase access to HIV treatment and prevention. However, testing is just the first step in the management of HIV, and this study does not address the follow-up of those who tested positive using the home-based approach, such as access to treatment, as well as repeated HBT for ongoing knowledge of HIV status. The option of self-testing was examined in only one of the studies included in this review, but the researchers identify that self-testing at home with the support HBT staff is an important area of future research. Overall, HBT has the potential to substantially increase awareness of HIV status in previously undiagnosed men and women in sub-Saharan Africa.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001351.
The World Health Organization provides extensive information on HIV testing and counseling, and the World Health Organization's guidance on home-based testing mentioned in this summary is also available
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS gives the latest facts and figures about the global status of HIV and about reducing stigma and discrimination around HIV
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001351
PMCID: PMC3514284  PMID: 23226107
13.  How Evidence-Based Are the Recommendations in Evidence-Based Guidelines? 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(8):e250.
Background
Treatment recommendations for the same condition from different guideline bodies often disagree, even when the same randomized controlled trial (RCT) evidence is cited. Guideline appraisal tools focus on methodology and quality of reporting, but not on the nature of the supporting evidence. This study was done to evaluate the quality of the evidence (based on consideration of its internal validity, clinical relevance, and applicability) underlying therapy recommendations in evidence-based clinical practice guidelines.
Methods and Findings
A cross-sectional analysis of cardiovascular risk management recommendations was performed for three different conditions (diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, and hypertension) from three pan-national guideline panels (from the United States, Canada, and Europe). Of the 338 treatment recommendations in these nine guidelines, 231 (68%) cited RCT evidence but only 105 (45%) of these RCT-based recommendations were based on high-quality evidence. RCT-based evidence was downgraded most often because of reservations about the applicability of the RCT to the populations specified in the guideline recommendation (64/126 cases, 51%) or because the RCT reported surrogate outcomes (59/126 cases, 47%).
Conclusions
The results of internally valid RCTs may not be applicable to the populations, interventions, or outcomes specified in a guideline recommendation and therefore should not always be assumed to provide high-quality evidence for therapy recommendations.
From an analysis of cardiovascular risk-management recommendations in guidelines produced by pan-national panels, McAlister and colleagues concluded that fewer than half were based on high-quality evidence.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Until recently, doctors largely relied on their own experience to choose the best treatment for their patients. Faced with a patient with high blood pressure (hypertension), for example, the doctor had to decide whether to recommend lifestyle changes or to prescribe drugs to reduce the blood pressure. If he or she chose the latter, he or she then had to decide which drug to prescribe, set a target blood pressure, and decide how long to wait before changing the prescription if this target was not reached. But, over the past decade, numerous clinical practice guidelines have been produced by governmental bodies and medical associations to help doctors make treatment decisions like these. For each guideline, experts have searched the medical literature for the current evidence about the diagnosis and treatment of a disease, evaluated the quality of that evidence, and then made recommendations based on the best evidence available.
Why Was This Study Done?
The recommendations made in different clinical practice guidelines vary, in part because they are based on evidence of varying quality. To help clinicians decide which recommendations to follow, some guidelines indicate the strength of their recommendations by grading them, based on the methods used to collect the underlying evidence. Thus, a randomized clinical trial (RCT)—one in which patients are randomly allocated to different treatments without the patient or clinician knowing the allocation—provides higher-quality evidence than a nonrandomized trial. Similarly, internally valid trials—in which the differences between patient groups are solely due to their different treatments and not to other aspects of the trial—provide high-quality evidence. However, grading schemes rarely consider the size of studies and whether they have focused on clinical or so-called “surrogate” measures. (For example, an RCT of a treatment to reduce heart or circulation [“cardiovascular”] problems caused by high blood pressure might have death rate as a clinical measure; a surrogate endpoint would be blood pressure reduction.) Most guidelines also do not consider how generalizable (applicable) the results of a trial are to the populations, interventions, and outcomes specified in the guideline recommendation. In this study, the researchers have investigated the quality of the evidence underlying recommendations for cardiovascular risk management in nine evidence-based clinical practice guides using these additional criteria.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers extracted the recommendations for managing cardiovascular risk from the current US, Canadian, and European guidelines for the management of diabetes, abnormal blood lipid levels (dyslipidemia), and hypertension. They graded the quality of evidence for each recommendation using the Canadian Hypertension Education Program (CHEP) grading scheme, which considers the type of study, its internal validity, its clinical relevance, and how generally applicable the evidence is considered to be. Of 338 evidence-based recommendations, two-thirds were based on evidence collected in internally valid RCTs, but only half of these RCT-based recommendations were based on high-quality evidence. The evidence underlying 64 of the guideline recommendations failed to achieve a high CHEP grade because the RCT data were collected in a population of people with different characteristics to those covered by the guideline. For example, a recommendation to use spironolactone to reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension was based on an RCT in which the participants initially had congestive heart failure with normal blood pressure. Another 59 recommendations were downgraded because they were based on evidence from RCTs that had not focused on clinical measures of effectiveness.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that although most of the recommendations for cardiovascular risk management therapies in the selected guidelines were based on evidence collected in internally valid RCTs, less than one-third were based on high-quality evidence applicable to the populations, treatments, and outcomes specified in guideline recommendations. A limitation of this study is that it analyzed a subset of recommendations in only a few guidelines. Nevertheless, the findings serve to warn clinicians that evidence-based guidelines are not necessarily based on high-quality evidence. In addition, they emphasize the need to make the evidence base underlying guideline recommendations more transparent by using an extended grading system like the CHEP scheme. If this were done, the researchers suggest, it would help clinicians apply guideline recommendations appropriately to their individual patients.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040250.
• Wikipedia contains pages on evidence-based medicine and on clinical practice guidelines (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
• The National Guideline Clearinghouse provides information on US national guidelines
• The Guidelines International Network promotes the systematic development and application of clinical practice guidelines
• Information is available on the Canadian Hypertension Education Program (CHEP) (in French and English)
• See information on the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) working group, an organization that has developed an grading scheme similar to the CHEP scheme (in English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040250
PMCID: PMC1939859  PMID: 17683197
14.  Funding and expenditure of a sample of community-based organizations in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe 
AIDS Care  2013;25(Suppl 1):S20-S29.
Over the last decade, international donors, technical specialists, and governments have come to recognize the potential of community-based organizations (CBOs) in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Recent empirical studies suggest that community engagement, including the involvement of CBOs, adds value to the national response to HIV/AIDS. With the emerging evidence of the effectiveness of engaging communities in the fight against AIDS, it is crucial to understand the economic dimension of community engagement. This article provides an analysis of funding and expenditure data collected from CBOs in three African countries: Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. It presents descriptive information regarding CBO funding and expenditure and examines the factors associated with the total amount of funds received and with the proportions of the funds allocated to programmatic activities and program management and administration. An average CBO in the sample received US$29,800 annually or about US$2480 per month. The highest percentage of CBO funding (37%) came from multilateral organizations. CBOs in the sample spent most of their funds (71%) on programmatic activities including provision of treatment, support, care, impact mitigation, and treatment services.
doi:10.1080/09540121.2013.764390
PMCID: PMC4003578  PMID: 23745626
HIV; AIDS; community-based organizations; funding; expenditure; Africa
15.  Inflammatory and Coagulation Biomarkers and Mortality in Patients with HIV Infection 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(10):e203.
Background
In the Strategies for Management of Anti-Retroviral Therapy trial, all-cause mortality was higher for participants randomized to intermittent, CD4-guided antiretroviral treatment (ART) (drug conservation [DC]) than continuous ART (viral suppression [VS]).
We hypothesized that increased HIV-RNA levels following ART interruption induced activation of tissue factor pathways, thrombosis, and fibrinolysis.
Methods and Findings
Stored samples were used to measure six biomarkers: high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6), amyloid A, amyloid P, D-dimer, and prothrombin fragment 1+2. Two studies were conducted: (1) a nested case–control study for studying biomarker associations with mortality, and (2) a study to compare DC and VS participants for biomarker changes. For (1), markers were determined at study entry and before death (latest level) for 85 deaths and for two controls (n = 170) matched on country, age, sex, and date of randomization. Odds ratios (ORs) were estimated with logistic regression. For each biomarker, each of the three upper quartiles was compared to the lowest quartile. For (2), the biomarkers were assessed for 249 DC and 250 VS participants at study entry and 1 mo following randomization. Higher levels of hsCRP, IL-6, and D-dimer at study entry were significantly associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality. Unadjusted ORs (highest versus lowest quartile) were 2.0 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.0–4.1; p = 0.05), 8.3 (95% CI, 3.3–20.8; p < 0.0001), and 12.4 (95% CI, 4.2–37.0; p < 0.0001), respectively. Associations were significant after adjustment, when the DC and VS groups were analyzed separately, and when latest levels were assessed. IL-6 and D-dimer increased at 1 mo by 30% and 16% in the DC group and by 0% and 5% in the VS group (p < 0.0001 for treatment difference for both biomarkers); increases in the DC group were related to HIV-RNA levels at 1 mo (p < 0.0001). In an expanded case–control analysis (four controls per case), the OR (DC/VS) for mortality was reduced from 1.8 (95% CI, 1.1–3.1; p = 0.02) to 1.5 (95% CI, 0.8–2.8) and 1.4 (95% CI, 0.8–2.5) after adjustment for latest levels of IL-6 and D-dimer, respectively.
Conclusions
IL-6 and D-dimer were strongly related to all-cause mortality. Interrupting ART may further increase the risk of death by raising IL-6 and D-dimer levels. Therapies that reduce the inflammatory response to HIV and decrease IL-6 and D-dimer levels may warrant investigation.
Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT00027352).
Analyzing biomarker data from participants in a previous randomized controlled trial of continuous versus interrupted HIV treatment (the SMART trial), James Neaton and colleagues find that mortality was related to IL-6 and fibrin D-dimers.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Globally, more than 30 million people are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV infects and destroys immune system cells (including CD4 cells, a type of lymphocyte). The first stage of HIV infection can involve a short flu-like illness but in the second stage, which can last many years, HIV replicates in the lymph glands (small immune system organs throughout the body) without causing any symptoms. Eventually, however, the immune system becomes so damaged that HIV-infected individuals begin to succumb to “opportunistic” infections (for example, bacterial pneumonia) and cancers (in particular, Karposi sarcoma) that the immune system would normally prevent. AIDS itself is characterized by one or more severe opportunistic infections or cancers (so-called AIDS-related diseases) and by a low blood CD4 cell count. HIV infections cannot be cured but antiretroviral therapy (ART)—combinations of powerful antiretroviral drugs—can keep them in check, so many HIV-positive people now have substantially improved life expectancy.
Why Was This Study Done?
Unfortunately, the effectiveness of ART sometimes wanes over time and prolonged ART can cause unpleasant side effects. Consequently, alternative ART regimens are continually being tested in clinical trials. In the Strategies for Management of Anti-Retroviral Therapy (SMART) trial, for example, HIV-positive patients received either continuous ART (the viral suppression or VS arm), or ART only when their CD4 cell counts were below 250 cells/mm3 (the drug conservation or DC arm; the normal adult CD4 cell count is about 1,000 cells/mm3). Unexpectedly, more people died in the DC arm than in the VS arm from non-AIDS diseases (including heart and circulation problems), a result that led to the trial being stopped early. One possible explanation for these excess deaths is that increased HIV levels following ART interruption might have induced an inflammatory response (a non-specific immune response that occurs with infection or wounding) and/or a hypercoagulable state (a condition in which blood clots form inside undamaged blood vessels) and that these changes increased the risk of death from non-AIDS diseases. In this study, the researchers test this hypothesis.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers measured the levels of proteins that indicate the presence of inflammation or increased coagulation (biomarkers) in stored blood samples from the 85 people who died during the SMART trial (55 and 30 of the participants assigned to receive DC and VS, respectively) and from 170 survivors who served as comparison (control) participants. (Two control participants were “matched” to each participant who had died (cases). In this “case-control” study, an increased risk of death was associated with higher levels at study entry of the inflammation biomarkers high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) and interleukin 6 (IL-6) and of the coagulation biomarker D-dimer. The risk of death among people with hsCRP values in the highest quarter of measured values was twice that among people with hsCRP values in the lowest quarter (this is expressed as an odds ratio of 2). For IL-6 and D-dimer, the equivalent odds ratios were 8.3 and 12.4, respectively. Furthermore, increases in hsCRP, IL-6 and D-dimer after study entry were associated with an increased risk of death. The researchers also measured blood levels of the same biomarkers in 250 randomly chosen patients from each of the two treatment arms. IL-6 levels increased by 30% over the first month of the trial in the DC arm but were unchanged in the VS arm. Over the same period, D-dimer levels increased by 16% and 5% in the DC and VS arms, respectively. Increases in both markers in the DC arm were related to HIV RNA levels after one month.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Taken together, these findings suggest that HIV-induced activation of inflammation and coagulation increases the risk of death among HIV-positive patients and that interrupting ART further increases this risk, possibly by increasing IL-6 and D-dimer levels. Because only a small number of people died in this study, the relationship between these biomarkers and death and illness among treated and untreated HIV-positive individuals needs to be confirmed in further studies. However, these findings suggest that the development of therapies that reduce the effect that HIV replication has on inflammation and blood coagulation, or that reduce IL-6 and D-dimer levels, might extend the life-expectancy of HIV-positive people.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050203.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS and about the SMART trial
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS
Information is also available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on HIV/AIDS
More information about the SMART trial is available on ClinicalTrials.gov, a database of clinical trials maintained by the US National Institutes of Health
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050203
PMCID: PMC2570418  PMID: 18942885
16.  Timing and Completeness of Trial Results Posted at ClinicalTrials.gov and Published in Journals 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(12):e1001566.
Agnes Dechartres and colleagues searched ClinicalTrials.gov for completed drug RCTs with results reported and then searched for corresponding studies in PubMed to evaluate timeliness and completeness of reporting.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
The US Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act requires results from clinical trials of Food and Drug Administration–approved drugs to be posted at ClinicalTrials.gov within 1 y after trial completion. We compared the timing and completeness of results of drug trials posted at ClinicalTrials.gov and published in journals.
Methods and Findings
We searched ClinicalTrials.gov on March 27, 2012, for randomized controlled trials of drugs with posted results. For a random sample of these trials, we searched PubMed for corresponding publications. Data were extracted independently from ClinicalTrials.gov and from the published articles for trials with results both posted and published. We assessed the time to first public posting or publishing of results and compared the completeness of results posted at ClinicalTrials.gov versus published in journal articles. Completeness was defined as the reporting of all key elements, according to three experts, for the flow of participants, efficacy results, adverse events, and serious adverse events (e.g., for adverse events, reporting of the number of adverse events per arm, without restriction to statistically significant differences between arms for all randomized patients or for those who received at least one treatment dose).
From the 600 trials with results posted at ClinicalTrials.gov, we randomly sampled 50% (n = 297) had no corresponding published article. For trials with both posted and published results (n = 202), the median time between primary completion date and first results publicly posted was 19 mo (first quartile = 14, third quartile = 30 mo), and the median time between primary completion date and journal publication was 21 mo (first quartile = 14, third quartile = 28 mo). Reporting was significantly more complete at ClinicalTrials.gov than in the published article for the flow of participants (64% versus 48% of trials, p<0.001), efficacy results (79% versus 69%, p = 0.02), adverse events (73% versus 45%, p<0.001), and serious adverse events (99% versus 63%, p<0.001).
The main study limitation was that we considered only the publication describing the results for the primary outcomes.
Conclusions
Our results highlight the need to search ClinicalTrials.gov for both unpublished and published trials. Trial results, especially serious adverse events, are more completely reported at ClinicalTrials.gov than in the published article.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
When patients consult a doctor, they expect to be recommended what their doctor believes is the most effective treatment with the fewest adverse effects. To determine which treatment to recommend, clinicians rely on sources that include research studies. Among studies, the best evidence is generally agreed to come from systematic reviews and randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs), studies that test the efficacy and safety of medical interventions by comparing clinical outcomes in groups of patients randomly chosen to receive different interventions. Decision-making based on the best available evidence is called evidence-based medicine. However, evidence-based medicine can only guide clinicians if trial results are published in a timely and complete manner. Unfortunately, underreporting of trials is common. For example, an RCT in which a new drug performs better than existing drugs is more likely to be published than one in which the new drug performs badly or has unwanted adverse effects (publication bias). There can also be a delay in publishing the results of negative trials (time-lag bias) or a failure to publish complete results for all the prespecified outcomes of a trial (reporting bias). All three types of bias threaten informed medical decision-making and the health of patients.
Why Was This Study Done?
One initiative that aims to prevent these biases was included in the 2007 US Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act (FDAAA). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for approving drugs and devices that are marketed in the US. The FDAAA requires that results from clinical trials of FDA-approved drugs and devices conducted in the United States be made publicly available at ClinicalTrials.gov within one year of trial completion. ClinicalTrials.gov—a web-based registry that includes US and international clinical trials—was established in 2000 in response to the 1997 FDA Modernization Act, which required mandatory registration of trial titles and designs and of the conditions and interventions under study. The FDAAA expanded these mandatory requirements by requiring researchers studying FDA-approved drugs and devices to report additional information such as the baseline characteristics of the participants in each arm of the trial and the results of primary and secondary outcome measures (the effects of the intervention on predefined clinical measurements) and their statistical significance (an indication of whether differences in outcomes might have happened by chance). Researchers of other trials registered in ClinicalTrials.gov are welcome to post trial results as well. Here, the researchers compare the timing and completeness (i.e., whether all relevant information was fully reported) of results of drug trials posted at ClinicalTrials.gov with those published in medical journals.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers searched ClinicalTrials.gov for reports of completed phase III and IV (late-stage) RCTs of drugs with posted results. For a random sample of 600 eligible trials, they searched PubMed (a database of biomedical publications) for corresponding publications. Only 50% of trials with results posted at ClinicalTrials.gov had a matching published article. For 202 trials with both posted and published results, the researchers compared the timing and completeness of the results posted at ClinicalTrials.gov and of results reported in the corresponding journal publication. The median time between the study completion date and the first results being publicly posted at ClinicalTrials.gov was 19 months, whereas the time between completion and publication in a journal was 21 months. The flow of participants through trials was completely reported in 64% of the ClinicalTrials.gov postings but in only 48% of the corresponding publications. Results for the primary outcome measure were completely reported in 79% and 69% of the ClinicalTrials.gov postings and corresponding publications, respectively. Finally, adverse events were completely reported in 73% of the ClinicalTrials.gov postings but in only 45% of the corresponding publications, and serious adverse events were reported in 99% and 63% of the ClinicalTrials.gov postings and corresponding publications, respectively.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the reporting of trial results is significantly more complete at ClinicalTrials.gov than in published journal articles reporting the main trial results. Certain aspects of this study may affect the accuracy of this conclusion. For example, the researchers compared the results posted at ClinicalTrials.gov only with the results in the publication that described the primary outcome of each trial, even though some trials had multiple publications. Importantly, these findings suggest that, to enable patients and physicians to make informed treatment decisions, experts undertaking assessments of drugs should consider seeking efficacy and safety data posted at ClinicalTrials.gov, both for trials whose results are not published yet and for trials whose results are published. Moreover, they suggest that the use of templates to guide standardized reporting of trial results in journals and broader mandatory posting of results may help to improve the reporting and transparency of clinical trials and, consequently, the evidence available to inform treatment of patients.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001566.
Wikipedia has pages on evidence-based medicine and on publication bias (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The US Food and Drug Administration provides information about drug approval in the US for consumers and health-care professionals, plus detailed information on the 2007 Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act
ClinicalTrials.gov provides information about the US National Institutes of Health clinical trial registry, including background information about clinical trials, and a fact sheet detailing the requirements of the 2007 Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act
PLOS Medicine recently launched a Reporting Guidelines Collection, an open access collection of reporting guidelines, commentary, and related research on guidelines from across PLOS journals that aims to help advance the efficiency, effectiveness, and equitability of the dissemination of biomedical information; a 2008 PLOS Medicine editorial discusses the 2007 Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001566
PMCID: PMC3849189  PMID: 24311990
17.  A Model for the Roll-Out of Comprehensive Adult Male Circumcision Services in African Low-Income Settings of High HIV Incidence: The ANRS 12126 Bophelo Pele Project 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(7):e1000309.
Bertrand Auvert and colleagues describe the large-scale roll-out of adult male circumcision through a program in South Africa.
Background
World Health Organization (WHO)/Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) has recommended adult male circumcision (AMC) for the prevention of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men from communities where HIV is hyperendemic and AMC prevalence is low. The objective of this study was to investigate the feasibility of the roll-out of medicalized AMC according to UNAIDS/WHO operational guidelines in a targeted African setting.
Methods and Findings
The ANRS 12126 “Bophelo Pele” project was implemented in 2008 in the township of Orange Farm (South Africa). It became functional in 5 mo once local and ethical authorizations were obtained. Project activities involved community mobilization and outreach, as well as communication approaches aimed at both men and women incorporating broader HIV prevention strategies and promoting sexual health. Free medicalized AMC was offered to male residents aged 15 y and over at the project's main center, which had been designed for low-income settings. Through the establishment of an innovative surgical organization, up to 150 AMCs under local anesthesia, with sterilized circumcision disposable kits and electrocautery, could be performed per day by three task-sharing teams of one medical circumciser and five nurses. Community support for the project was high. As of November 2009, 14,011 men had been circumcised, averaging 740 per month in the past 12 mo, and 27.5% of project participants agreed to be tested for HIV. The rate of adverse events, none of which resulted in permanent damage or death, was 1.8%. Most of the men surveyed (92%) rated the services provided positively. An estimated 39.1% of adult uncircumcised male residents have undergone surgery and uptake is steadily increasing.
Conclusion
This study demonstrates that a quality AMC roll-out adapted to African low-income settings is feasible and can be implemented quickly and safely according to international guidelines. The project can be a model for the scale-up of comprehensive AMC services, which could be tailored for other rural and urban communities of high HIV prevalence and low AMC rates in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed about 25 million people since 1981, and more than 30 million people (22 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone) are now infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Consequently, prevention of HIV infection is extremely important. Because HIV is most often spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner, individuals can reduce their risk of HIV infection by abstaining from sex, by having one or a few partners, and by always using a male or female condom. In addition, three trials in sub-Saharan Africa recently reported that medicalized adult male circumcision (AMC)—the surgical removal of the foreskin, a loose fold of skin that covers the head of the penis—can reduce HIV transmission rates in men by more than a half. Thus, AMC delivered as a catch-up campaign—in the long-term, circumcision of male infants is likely to be a more sustainable strategy—has the potential to reduce the prevalence of HIV (the proportion of the population infected with HIV) in sub-Saharan Africa.
Why Was This Study Done?
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) now recommend that AMC programs should be rolled-out wherever there is a generalized HIV epidemic and few men are circumcised. Accordingly, these organizations have defined a minimum package of AMC services and have issued guidelines and tools designed to engage communities in the roll-out and to ensure that appropriate AMC counseling and surgical facilities are available. But is rapid AMC roll-out feasible in real-life settings? Here, the researchers try to find out by studying the “Bophelo Pele” (Health First) project. This project, which follows the WHO/UNAIDS guidelines for AMC, aims to offer free, safe AMC services to all men aged 15 years or more living in the Orange Farm township in South Africa as part of a community-based intervention against HIV. Orange Farm is in a low-income region of South Africa where HIV prevalence is 15.2% and AMC prevalence is about 25%.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Before the Bophelo Pele project started in January 2008, the researchers consulted the community about the implementation of AMC, helped to create a community advisory board, organized community workshops to discuss the project, and surveyed people's knowledge about AMC and willingness to undergo AMC. These activities indicated a high level of community support for the project and a high level of willingness among men to undergo AMC. Once the project started, the researchers used multiple communication channels to tell the Orange Farm residents about AMC and broader HIV prevention strategies and provided eligible men with counseling about AMC and with voluntary HIV counseling and testing during the recruitment process. Three days after recruitment, eligible men were circumcised free-of-charge at the project's main center, where three teams of one medical circumciser and five nurses were able to complete up to 150 AMCs per day. By November 2009, 14,011 men had been circumcised (more than a third of the eligible men in the township), and AMC uptake was still increasing steadily. Nearly all the men circumcised over one 2-month period rated the AMC services positively in a survey and adverse effects (all mild) occurred after fewer than 1 in 50 circumcisions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the rapid roll-out of high-quality, free AMC as an intervention against HIV has been successful in the Orange Farm township. However, other findings highlight some of the challenges that face AMC roll-out. For example, only a quarter of the participants agreed to voluntary HIV counseling and testing, which is worrying because newly circumcised HIV-positive men have an increased risk of transmitting HIV if they resume sexual activity too soon after the operation. Similarly, only two-thirds of the participants returned for a check-up after circumcision; this proportion needs to be increased to ensure the safety and efficacy of AMC programs. Nevertheless, these findings and those from similar intervention programs in Kenya and Uganda indicate that AMC scale-up should be feasible, at least in the short term, as an HIV prevention strategy in low-income communities where there is a high HIV prevalence and a low AMC rate.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000309.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and infectious diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV and AIDS in South Africa, and on circumcision and HIV (in English and Spanish)
More information about male circumcision is available from WHO and from the Clearinghouse on Male Circumcision, including a June 2010 report from WHO/UNAIDS entitled Progress in male circumcision scale-up: country implementation and research update
More information about the Bophelo Pele project is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000309
PMCID: PMC2907271  PMID: 20652013
18.  Misrepresentation of Randomized Controlled Trials in Press Releases and News Coverage: A Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(9):e1001308.
A study conducted by Amélie Yavchitz and colleagues examines the factors associated with “spin” (specific reporting strategies, intentional or unintentional, that emphasize the beneficial effect of treatments) in press releases of clinical trials.
Background
Previous studies indicate that in published reports, trial results can be distorted by the use of “spin” (specific reporting strategies, intentional or unintentional, emphasizing the beneficial effect of the experimental treatment). We aimed to (1) evaluate the presence of “spin” in press releases and associated media coverage; and (2) evaluate whether findings of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) based on press releases and media coverage are misinterpreted.
Methods and Findings
We systematically searched for all press releases indexed in the EurekAlert! database between December 2009 and March 2010. Of the 498 press releases retrieved and screened, we included press releases for all two-arm, parallel-group RCTs (n = 70). We obtained a copy of the scientific article to which the press release related and we systematically searched for related news items using Lexis Nexis.
“Spin,” defined as specific reporting strategies (intentional or unintentional) emphasizing the beneficial effect of the experimental treatment, was identified in 28 (40%) scientific article abstract conclusions and in 33 (47%) press releases. From bivariate and multivariable analysis assessing the journal type, funding source, sample size, type of treatment (drug or other), results of the primary outcomes (all nonstatistically significant versus other), author of the press release, and the presence of “spin” in the abstract conclusion, the only factor associated, with “spin” in the press release was “spin” in the article abstract conclusions (relative risk [RR] 5.6, [95% CI 2.8–11.1], p<0.001). Findings of RCTs based on press releases were overestimated for 19 (27%) reports. News items were identified for 41 RCTs; 21 (51%) were reported with “spin,” mainly the same type of “spin” as those identified in the press release and article abstract conclusion. Findings of RCTs based on the news item was overestimated for ten (24%) reports.
Conclusion
“Spin” was identified in about half of press releases and media coverage. In multivariable analysis, the main factor associated with “spin” in press releases was the presence of “spin” in the article abstract conclusion.
Editors' Summary
Background
The mass media play an important role in disseminating the results of medical research. Every day, news items in newspapers and magazines and on the television, radio, and internet provide the general public with information about the latest clinical studies. Such news items are written by journalists and are often based on information in “press releases.” These short communications, which are posted on online databases such as EurekAlert! and sent directly to journalists, are prepared by researchers or more often by the drug companies, funding bodies, or institutions supporting the clinical research and are designed to attract favorable media attention to newly published research results. Press releases provide journalists with the information they need to develop and publish a news story, including a link to the peer-reviewed journal (a scholarly periodical containing articles that have been judged by independent experts) in which the research results appear.
Why Was This Study Done?
In an ideal world, journal articles, press releases, and news stories would all accurately reflect the results of health research. Unfortunately, the findings of randomized controlled trials (RCTs—studies that compare the outcomes of patients randomly assigned to receive alternative interventions), which are the best way to evaluate new treatments, are sometimes distorted in peer-reviewed journals by the use of “spin”—reporting that emphasizes the beneficial effects of the experimental (new) treatment. For example, a journal article may interpret nonstatistically significant differences as showing the equivalence of two treatments although such results actually indicate a lack of evidence for the superiority of either treatment. “Spin” can distort the transposition of research into clinical practice and, when reproduced in the mass media, it can give patients unrealistic expectations about new treatments. It is important, therefore, to know where “spin” occurs and to understand the effects of that “spin”. In this study, the researchers evaluate the presence of “spin” in press releases and associated media coverage and analyze whether the interpretation of RCT results based on press releases and associated news items could lead to the misinterpretation of RCT results.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 70 press releases indexed in EurekAlert! over a 4-month period that described two-arm, parallel-group RCTs. They used Lexis Nexis, a database of news reports from around the world, to identify associated news items for 41 of these press releases and then analyzed the press releases, news items, and abstracts of the scientific articles related to each press release for “spin”. Finally, they interpreted the results of the RCTs using each source of information independently. Nearly half the press releases and article abstract conclusions contained “spin” and, importantly, “spin” in the press releases was associated with “spin” in the article abstracts. The researchers overestimated the benefits of the experimental treatment from the press release as compared to the full-text peer-reviewed article for 27% of reports. Factors that were associated with this overestimation of treatment benefits included publication in a specialized journal and having “spin” in the press release. Of the news items related to press releases, half contained “spin”, usually of the same type as identified in the press release and article abstract. Finally, the researchers overestimated the benefit of the experimental treatment from the news item as compared to the full-text peer-reviewed article in 24% of cases.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that “spin” in press releases and news reports is related to the presence of “spin” in the abstract of peer-reviewed reports of RCTs and suggest that the interpretation of RCT results based solely on press releases or media coverage could distort the interpretation of research findings in a way that favors experimental treatments. This interpretation shift is probably related to the presence of “spin” in peer-reviewed article abstracts, press releases, and news items and may be partly responsible for a mismatch between the perceived and real beneficial effects of new treatments among the general public. Overall, these findings highlight the important role that journal reviewers and editors play in disseminating research findings. These individuals, the researchers conclude, have a responsibility to ensure that the conclusions reported in the abstracts of peer-reviewed articles are appropriate and do not over-interpret the results of clinical research.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001308.
The PLOS Hub for Clinical Trials, which collects PLOS journals relating to clinical trials, includes some other articles on “spin” in clinical trial reports
EurekAlert is an online free database for science press releases
The UK National Health Service Choices website includes Beyond the Headlines, a resource that provides an unbiased and evidence-based analysis of health stories that make the news for both the public and health professionals
The US-based organization HealthNewsReview, a project supported by the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, also provides expert reviews of news stories
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001308
PMCID: PMC3439420  PMID: 22984354
19.  Configuring Balanced Scorecards for Measuring Health System Performance: Evidence from 5 Years' Evaluation in Afghanistan 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(7):e1001066.
Anbrasi Edward and colleagues report the results of a balanced scorecard performance system used to examine 29 key performance indicators over a 5-year period in Afghanistan, between 2004 and 2008.
Background
In 2004, Afghanistan pioneered a balanced scorecard (BSC) performance system to manage the delivery of primary health care services. This study examines the trends of 29 key performance indicators over a 5-year period between 2004 and 2008.
Methods and Findings
Independent evaluations of performance in six domains were conducted annually through 5,500 patient observations and exit interviews and 1,500 provider interviews in >600 facilities selected by stratified random sampling in each province. Generalized estimating equation (GEE) models were used to assess trends in BSC parameters. There was a progressive improvement in the national median scores scaled from 0–100 between 2004 and 2008 in all six domains: patient and community satisfaction of services (65.3–84.5, p<0.0001); provider satisfaction (65.4–79.2, p<0.01); capacity for service provision (47.4–76.4, p<0.0001); quality of services (40.5–67.4, p<0.0001); and overall vision for pro-poor and pro-female health services (52.0–52.6). The financial domain also showed improvement until 2007 (84.4–95.7, p<0.01), after which user fees were eliminated. By 2008, all provinces achieved the upper benchmark of national median set in 2004.
Conclusions
The BSC has been successfully employed to assess and improve health service capacity and service delivery using performance benchmarking during the 5-year period. However, scorecard reconfigurations are needed to integrate effectiveness and efficiency measures and accommodate changes in health systems policy and strategy architecture to ensure its continued relevance and effectiveness as a comprehensive health system performance measure. The process of BSC design and implementation can serve as a valuable prototype for health policy planners managing performance in similar health care contexts.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Traditionally, the performance of a health system (the complete network of health care agencies, facilities, and providers in a defined geographical region) has been measured in terms of health outcomes: how many people have been treated, how many got better, and how many died. But, nowadays, with increased demand for improved governance and accountability, policy makers are seeking comprehensive performance measures that show in detail how innovations designed to strengthen health systems are affecting service delivery and health outcomes. One such performance measure is the “balanced scorecard,” an integrated management and measurement tool that enables organizations to clarify their vision and strategy and translate them into action. The balanced scorecard—essentially a list of key performance indicators and performance benchmarks in several domains—was originally developed for industry but is now becoming a popular strategic management tool in the health sector. For example, balanced scorecards have been successfully integrated into the Dutch and Italian public health care systems.
Why Was This Study Done?
Little is known about the use of balanced scorecards in the national public health care systems of developing countries but the introduction of performance management into health system reform in fragile states in particular (developing countries where the state fails to perform the fundamental functions necessary to meet its citizens' basic needs and expectations) could help to promote governance and leadership, and facilitate essential policy changes. One fragile state that has introduced the balanced scorecard system for public health care management is Afghanistan, which emerged from decades of conflict in 2002 with some of the world's worst health indicators. To deal with an extremely high burden of disease, the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) designed a Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS), which is delivered by nongovernmental organizations and MOPH agencies. In 2004, the MOPH introduced the National Health Service Performance Assessment (NHSPA), an annual country-wide assessment of service provision and patient satisfaction and pioneered a balanced scorecard, which uses data collected in the NHSPA, to manage the delivery of primary health care services. In this study, the researchers examine the trends between 2004 and 2008 of the 29 key performance indicators in six domains included in this balanced scorecard, and consider the potential and limitations of the scorecard as a management tool to measure and improve health service delivery in Afghanistan and other similar countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Each year of the study, a random sample of 25 facilities (district hospitals and comprehensive and basic health centers) in 28 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces was chosen (one province did not have functional facilities in 2004 and the other five missing provinces were inaccessible because of ongoing conflicts). NHSPA surveyors collected approximately 5,000 patient observations, 5,000 exit interviews with patients or their caregivers, and 1,500 health provider interviews by observing consultations involving five children under 5 years old and five patients over 5 years old in each facility. The researchers then used this information to evaluate the key performance indicators in the balanced scorecard and a statistical method called generalized estimating equation modeling to assess trends in these indicators. They report that there was a progressive improvement in national average scores in all six domains (patients and community satisfaction with services, provider satisfaction, capacity for service provision, quality of services, overall vision for pro-poor and pro-female health services, and financial systems) between 2004 and 2008.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the balanced scorecard was successfully used to improve health system capacity and service delivery through performance benchmarking over the 5-year study period. Importantly, the use of the balanced scorecard helped to show the effects of investments, facilitate policy change, and create a more evidence-based decision-making culture in Afghanistan's primary health care system. However, the researchers warn that the continuing success of the balanced scorecard in Afghanistan will depend on its ability to accommodate changes in health systems policy. Furthermore, reconfigurations of the scorecard are needed to include measures of the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the health system such as mortality rates. More generally, the researchers conclude that the balanced scorecard offers a promising measure of health system performance that could be used to examine the effectiveness of health care strategies and innovations in other fragile and developing countries.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001066.
A 2010 article entitled An Afghan Success Story: The Balanced Scorecard and Improved Health Services in The Globe, a newsletter produced by the Department of International Health at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, provides a detailed description of the balanced scorecard used in this study
Wikipedia has a page on health systems and on balanced scorecards (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The World Health Organization country profile of Afghanistan provides information on the country's health system and burden of disease (in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001066
PMCID: PMC3144209  PMID: 21814499
20.  Adherence to HAART: A Systematic Review of Developed and Developing Nation Patient-Reported Barriers and Facilitators 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(11):e438.
Background
Adherence to highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) medication is the greatest patient-enabled predictor of treatment success and mortality for those who have access to drugs. We systematically reviewed the literature to determine patient-reported barriers and facilitators to adhering to antiretroviral therapy.
Methods and Findings
We examined both developed and developing nations. We searched the following databases: AMED (inception to June 2005), Campbell Collaboration (inception to June 2005), CinAhl (inception to June 2005), Cochrane Library (inception to June 2005), Embase (inception to June 2005), ERIC (inception to June 2005), MedLine (inception to June 2005), and NHS EED (inception to June 2005). We retrieved studies conducted in both developed and developing nation settings that examined barriers and facilitators addressing adherence. Both qualitative and quantitative studies were included. We independently, in duplicate, extracted data reported in qualitative studies addressing adherence. We then examined all quantitative studies addressing barriers and facilitators noted from the qualitative studies. In order to place the findings of the qualitative studies in a generalizable context, we meta-analyzed the surveys to determine a best estimate of the overall prevalence of issues. We included 37 qualitative studies and 47 studies using a quantitative methodology (surveys). Seventy-two studies (35 qualitative) were conducted in developed nations, while the remaining 12 (two qualitative) were conducted in developing nations. Important barriers reported in both economic settings included fear of disclosure, concomitant substance abuse, forgetfulness, suspicions of treatment, regimens that are too complicated, number of pills required, decreased quality of life, work and family responsibilities, falling asleep, and access to medication. Important facilitators reported by patients in developed nation settings included having a sense of self-worth, seeing positive effects of antiretrovirals, accepting their seropositivity, understanding the need for strict adherence, making use of reminder tools, and having a simple regimen. Among 37 separate meta-analyses examining the generalizability of these findings, we found large heterogeneity.
Conclusions
We found that important barriers to adherence are consistent across multiple settings and countries. Research is urgently needed to determine patient-important factors for adherence in developing world settings. Clinicians should use this information to engage in open discussion with patients to promote adherence and identify barriers and facilitators within their own populations.
An analysis of qualitative and quantitative studies found consistent barriers to adherence to HIV therapy across multiple settings and countries, ranging from access to medication to problems with complicated regimens.
Editors' Summary
Background.
The World Health Organization has estimated that in 2005, about 38 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS; the mortality caused by HIV/AIDS is very high. Antiretroviral drugs are effective at controlling the disease and extending life span. However, it is important for people to stick to the drug regimens exactly in order to keep levels of HIV low, prevent it from becoming resistant to drugs, and stop the illness from progressing. However, many people find it very difficult to take antiretroviral drugs precisely as they should. There is already some evidence from research studies on the reasons why this is the case. There are two different research approaches taken by these studies: “qualitative” methods, which try to find out about attitudes and behaviors using focus groups, interviews, or other techniques; and “quantitative” methods, which try to find out about peoples' opinions and experience using surveys with set questions for the participants to answer, and then count the different responses.
Why Was This Study Done?
The investigators wanted to put together all of the available evidence from published research studies (called doing a “systematic review”) on which factors affected people's adherence to antiretroviral drugs. They wanted to do a systematic review because it is thought to be a very rigorous way of appraising all the available evidence (although there is considerable debate about the value of using such a method to analyze the results of qualitative research).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The study team searched biomedical literature databases as well as conference abstracts and research registries using a defined set of search queries. They screened all the scientific papers they found; those reporting results of original research into factors affecting antiretroviral adherence were then analyzed in more detail. 84 relevant studies were identified, of which 37 used “qualitative” methods (focus groups, interviews, open-ended questioning) and 47 used “quantitative” methods (surveys). Most of these studies had been carried out in the developed world. Then, the researchers extracted the factors affecting adherence from the original studies, which could be either “positive” factors (helping adherence) or “negative” ones (making adherence more difficult). They classified the factors into four key themes: “patient related” (e.g., seeing positive results, fear of disclosure, being depressed); “beliefs about medication” (e.g., faith in how well the drugs worked, side effects); “daily schedules” (e.g., using reminder tools, disruptions to routine); and “interpersonal relationships” (e.g., trusting relations with health-care provider; social isolation).
  Many barriers to adherence were common to both developed and developing settings. Some factors were unique to the studies conducted in the developing world, such as financial constraints and problems with traveling to get access to treatment. Fear of disclosure was an important barrier identified in many of the studies.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The researchers combined the results of many different studies and identified factors that help or obstruct adherence to antiretroviral treatment. By identifying influences common to the different settings, greater weight can be placed on the factors that were identified. Only 12 of the studies included in this research were from the developing world, where the majority of HIV/AIDS patients live; hence more work is needed to examine and address the factors influencing antiretroviral adherence in these parts of the world. This study provides researchers and health policy makers with a starting point for changes that might help to ensure greater adherence to antiretroviral treatment.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030438.
Medline Plus information on AIDS medicines (Medline Plus is a service of the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health)
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS has information about the state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic worldwide
The World Health Organization has an HIV/AIDS program site providing comprehensive information on the HIV/AIDS epidemic worldwide
The World Health Organization pages on antiretroviral therapy
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030438
PMCID: PMC1637123  PMID: 17121449
21.  Community-based implementation and effectiveness in a randomized trial of a risk reduction intervention for HIV-serodiscordant couples: study protocol 
Background
The HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to disproportionately affect African American communities in the US, particularly those located in urban areas. Despite the fact that HIV is often transmitted from one sexual partner to another, most HIV prevention interventions have focused only on individuals, rather than couples. This five-year study investigates community-based implementation, effectiveness, and sustainability of ‘Eban II,’ an evidence-based risk reduction intervention for African-American heterosexual, serodiscordant couples.
Methods/design
This hybrid implementation/effectiveness implementation study is guided by organizational change theory as conceptualized in the Texas Christian University Program Change Model (PCM), a model of phased organizational change from exposure to adoption, implementation, and sustainability. The primary implementation aims are to assist 10 community-based organizations (CBOs) to implement and sustain Eban II; specifically, to partner with CBOs to expose providers to the intervention; facilitate its adoption, implementation and sustainment; and to evaluate processes and determinants of implementation, effectiveness, fidelity, and sustainment. The primary effectiveness aim is to evaluate the effect of Eban II on participant (n = 200 couples) outcomes, specifically incidents of protected sex and proportion of condom use. We will also determine the cost-effectiveness of implementation, as measured by implementation costs and potential cost savings. A mixed methods evaluation will examine implementation at the agency level; staff members from the CBOs will complete baseline measures of organizational context and climate, while key stakeholders will be interviewed periodically throughout implementation. Effectiveness of Eban II will be assessed using a randomized delayed enrollment (waitlist) control design to evaluate the impact of treatment on outcomes at posttest and three-month follow-up. Multi-level hierarchical modeling with a multi-level nested structure will be used to evaluate the effects of agency- and couples-level characteristics on couples-level outcomes (e.g., condom use).
Discussion
This study will produce important information regarding the value of the Eban II program and a theory-guided implementation process and tools designed for use in implementing Eban II and other evidence-based programs in demographically diverse, resource-constrained treatment settings.
Trial registration
NCT00644163
doi:10.1186/1748-5908-9-79
PMCID: PMC4085467  PMID: 24950708
Implementation science; Hybrid design; HIV prevention; Serodiscordance; Couples; African Americans; Behavioral intervention; Sustainability
22.  No Treatment versus 24 or 60 Weeks of Antiretroviral Treatment during Primary HIV Infection: The Randomized Primo-SHM Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(3):e1001196.
In a three-arm randomized trial conducted among adult patients in HIV treatment centers in The Netherlands, Marlous Grijsen and colleagues examine the effects of temporary combination antiretroviral therapy during primary HIV infection.
Background
The objective of this study was to assess the benefit of temporary combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) during primary HIV infection (PHI).
Methods and Findings
Adult patients with laboratory evidence of PHI were recruited in 13 HIV treatment centers in the Netherlands and randomly assigned to receive no treatment or 24 or 60 wk of cART (allocation in a 1∶1∶1 ratio); if therapy was clinically indicated, participants were randomized over the two treatment arms (allocation in a 1∶1 ratio). Primary end points were (1) viral set point, defined as the plasma viral load 36 wk after randomization in the no treatment arm and 36 wk after treatment interruption in the treatment arms, and (2) the total time that patients were off therapy, defined as the time between randomization and start of cART in the no treatment arm, and the time between treatment interruption and restart of cART in the treatment arms. cART was (re)started in case of confirmed CD4 cell count <350 cells/mm3 or symptomatic HIV disease. In total, 173 participants were randomized. The modified intention-to-treat analysis comprised 168 patients: 115 were randomized over the three study arms, and 53 randomized over the two treatment arms. Of the 115 patients randomized over the three study arms, mean viral set point was 4.8 (standard deviation 0.6) log10 copies/ml in the no treatment arm, and 4.0 (1.0) and 4.3 (0.9) log10 copies/ml in the 24- and 60-wk treatment arms (between groups: p<0.001). The median total time off therapy in the no treatment arm was 0.7 (95% CI 0.0–1.8) y compared to 3.0 (1.9–4.2) and 1.8 (0.5–3.0) y in the 24- and 60-wk treatment arms (log rank test, p<0.001). In the adjusted Cox analysis, both 24 wk (hazard ratio 0.42 [95% CI 0.25–0.73]) and 60 wk of early treatment (hazard ratio 0.55 [0.32–0.95]) were associated with time to (re)start of cART.
Conclusions
In this trial, temporary cART during PHI was found to transiently lower the viral set point and defer the restart of cART during chronic HIV infection.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN59497461
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, nearly three million people become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The first stage of HIV infection—primary HIV infection—lasts a few weeks and often goes undetected, although most individuals develop a short, flu-like illness. During this stage of infection, the immune system begins to make antibodies to HIV. The second stage of HIV infection, which lasts many years, also has no major symptoms but, during this stage, HIV slowly destroys immune system cells, including CD4 cells, a type of lymphocyte. Eventually, the immune system is unable to fight off other infections and patients enter the third phase of HIV infection—symptomatic HIV infection. The final stage—AIDS—is characterized by the occurrence of one or more AIDS-defining conditions, which include severe but unusual infections and several types of cancer. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-positive people died within ten years of infection. Nowadays, although there is still no cure for HIV infection, HIV has become a chronic disease because of the availability of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART; cocktails of several powerful drugs). This means that many HIV-positive people have a near-normal life span.
Why Was This Study Done?
It is currently recommended that people start cART when their CD4 count falls below 350 CD4 cells per cubic milliliter (cells/mm3) of blood, when they develop severe constitutional symptoms such as fever lasting longer than a month, or when they develop an AIDS-defining condition. But could a short course of cART during primary HIV infection be clinically beneficial? Some, but not all, nonrandomized studies have shown that such treatment reduces the viral set point (the stabilized viral load that is reached after the immune system begins to make antibodies to HIV; the viral load is the amount of virus in the blood) and slows the decline of CD4 cell count in patients. In this randomized trial (the Primo-SHM trial), the researchers assess the clinical benefit of temporary cART initiated during primary HIV infection by measuring its effects on the viral set point and on when patients have to restart cART during chronic HIV infection. In a randomized controlled trial, patients are assigned by the play of chance to receive different treatments and then followed to compare the effects of these treatments.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers assigned 168 patients with primary HIV infection to receive no treatment, 24 weeks of cART, or 60 weeks of cART. They measured the viral set point (the viral load in the blood 36 weeks after randomization in the no treatment arm and 36 weeks after cART interruption in the treatment arms) and determined the time off therapy (the time between randomization and the start of cART in the no treatment arm, and the time between treatment interruption and restart of cART in the treatment arms) for each patient. cART was (re)started following two consecutive CD4 counts below 350 cells/mm3 or when symptomatic HIV disease developed. The average viral set point was lower in the patients who received early cART than in those who had no treatment. Moreover, on average, the patients in the no treatment arm started cART 0.7 years after randomization whereas those in the 24- and 60-week treatment arms restarted cART after 3.0 and 1.8 years, respectively. There was no statistically significant difference between the 24-week and 60-week treatment arms in time off therapy.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that temporary cART during primary HIV infection can transiently lower the viral set point and can delay the need to restart cART during chromic HIV infection. They also suggest that 24 weeks of cART during primary HIV is as effective as 60 weeks of treatment. These findings need to be confirmed in other settings, and follow-up studies are needed to evaluate the long-term benefits of early temporary cART, but given the short time between cART interruption and treatment restart, the researchers suggest that not interrupting early cART, but instead continuing it for life, should be considered. However, they add, because patients are often physically and emotionally distressed at this stage of HIV infection, adherence to cART during primary HIV infection may be suboptimal, and so patients with primary HIV infection should be advised to start cART only when they feel ready to start treatment.
Additional Information
Please access these web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001196.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and infectious diseases on HIV infection and AIDS, including information on the clinical progression of HIV infection
NAM/aidsmap provides information about HIV/AIDS, including a factsheet on primary infection
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including detailed information on HIV treatment and care and on the stages of HIV infection (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization's 2010 antiretroviral therapy guidelines provide recommendations on when to initiate cART
Information about Primo-SHM is available
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert and through the charity website Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001196
PMCID: PMC3313945  PMID: 22479156
23.  Are HIV Epidemics among Men Who Have Sex with Men Emerging in the Middle East and North Africa?: A Systematic Review and Data Synthesis 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(8):e1000444.
A systematic review by Laith Abu-Raddad and colleagues collates and analyzes the epidemiology of HIV among men who have sex with men in Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Background
Men who have sex with men (MSM) bear a disproportionately higher burden of HIV infection than the general population. MSM in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are a largely hidden population because of a prevailing stigma towards this type of sexual behavior, thereby limiting the ability to assess infection transmission patterns among them. It is widely perceived that data are virtually nonexistent on MSM and HIV in this region. The objective of this review was to delineate, for the first time, the evidence on the epidemiology of HIV among MSM in MENA.
Methods and Findings
This was a systematic review of all biological, behavioral, and other related data on HIV and MSM in MENA. Sources of data included PubMed (Medline), international organizations' reports and databases, country-level reports and databases including governmental and nongovernmental organization publications, and various other institutional documents. This review showed that onsiderable data are available on MSM and HIV in MENA. While HIV prevalence continues at low levels among different MSM groups, HIV epidemics appear to be emerging in at least few countries, with a prevalence reaching up to 28% among certain MSM groups. By 2008, the contribution of MSM transmission to the total HIV notified cases increased and exceeded 25% in several countries. The high levels of risk behavior (4–14 partners on average in the last six months among different MSM populations) and of biomarkers of risks (such as herpes simplex virus type 2 at 3%–54%), the overall low rate of consistent condom use (generally below 25%), the relative frequency of male sex work (20%–76%), and the substantial overlap with heterosexual risk behavior and injecting drug use suggest potential for further spread.
Conclusions
This systematic review and data synthesis indicate that HIV epidemics appear to be emerging among MSM in at least a few MENA countries and could already be in a concentrated state among several MSM groups. There is an urgent need to expand HIV surveillance and access to HIV testing, prevention, and treatment services in a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to prevent the worst of HIV transmission among MSM in the Middle East and North Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
AIDS first emerged in the early 1980s among gay men living in the US. But, as the disease rapidly spread, it became clear that AIDS also affects heterosexual men and women. Now three decades on, more than 30 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV is most often spread by having unprotected sex with an infected partner and, globally, most sexual transmission of HIV now occurs during heterosexual sex. However, 5%–10% of all new HIV infections still occur in men who have sex with men (MSM, a term that encompasses homosexual, bisexual, and transgender men, and heterosexual men who sometimes have sex with men). In some countries, male-to-male sexual contact remains the most important transmission route. Moreover, although the global prevalence of HIV infection (the proportion the world's population infected with HIV) has stabilized, the prevalence of HIV infection among MSM seems to be increasing in multiple countries and new and resurgent HIV epidemics among MSM populations are being frequently reported.
Why Was This Study Done?
In the US and the UK, the MSM population is visible and has helped to raise awareness about the risks of HIV transmission through male-to-male sexual contact. In many other countries, MSM are much less visible, fearing discrimination, stigmatization (being considered socially unacceptable) or arrest. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA, a geographical region that encompasses countries that share historical, socio-cultural, linguistic and religious characteristics), MSM are the most hidden HIV risk group. Consequently, very little is known about HIV transmission patterns among MSM in MENA. Indeed, it is widely thought that there is virtually no information available on the epidemiology (causes, distribution, and control) of HIV among MSM in this region. In this systematic review and data synthesis, the researchers use predefined search criteria to identify all the published and unpublished data on the epidemiology of HIV among MSM in MENA and combine (synthesize) these data to produce a coherent picture of the HIV epidemic in this potentially key group of people for HIV transmission in this region.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 26 articles and 51 other country-level reports and sources of data that included data on the prevalence of male-to-male sexual contact, HIV transmission, levels of high-risk behavior, and the extent of knowledge about HIV among MSM in MENA. The prevalence of HIV infection among MSM was low in most countries but high in others. For example, the infection rate in Pakistan was 27.6% among one MSM group. Importantly, there was some evidence of increasing HIV prevalence and emerging epidemics among MSM in the region. Thus, by 2008, MSM transmission was responsible for more than a quarter of notified cases of HIV in several countries. Worryingly, MSM were involved in several types of HIV-related high risk behavior. For example, they had, on average, between 4 and 14 sexual partners in the past six months, their rates of consistent condom use were generally below 25% and, in some countries, MSM frequently reported injecting drug use, another common mode of HIV transmission. In addition, 20%–75.5% of MSM exchanged sex for money and contact between MSM and female sex workers and other female sexual partners was often common. Finally, although the level of basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS was high, the level of comprehensive knowledge was limited with a high proportion of MSM perceiving their risk of contracting HIV as low.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that there is considerable and increasing data about HIV transmission and risk behavior among MSM in MENA. However, the quality of this evidence varies greatly. Little has been collected over time in individual populations and, because only the visible part of the MSM populations in many MENA countries has been sampled, these findings may not be representative of all MSM in this region. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that HIV epidemics are emerging among MSM in several MENA countries. Importantly, the high levels of risk behaviors practiced by many MSM in MENA mean that MSM could become the pivotal risk group for HIV transmission in this region in the next decade. There is, therefore, an urgent need to expand HIV surveillance and access to HIV testing, prevention and treatment services among MSM in this region to limit the size of the HIV epidemic.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000444.
Information about the status of the HIV epidemic in the Middle East and North Africa can be found in the World Bank/UNAIDS/WHO report Characterizing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Middle East and North Africa: Time for strategic action
Information about the global HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men can be found in the World Bank report The Global HIV Epidemics among Men Who Have Sex with Men
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV transmission and transmission in gay men and other MSM and on safer sex
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV, AIDS and men who have sex with men and on HIV and AIDS prevention (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also have information about HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with men (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000444
PMCID: PMC3149074  PMID: 21829329
24.  The Role of Community Advisory Boards in Project Eban 
Objective
To describe the theoretical principles that guided the establishment of Project Eban’s Community Advisory Boards (CABs), their functions, and composition; the selection and recruitment processes; lessons learned; and recommendations on the use of CABs in multisite HIV clinical trial studies.
Methods
In the first year of Project Eban’s implementation, each of the 4 sites formed a local CAB. Member recruitment took place during the first 6 months of the study. On average, each site’s CAB consisted of 13–19 stakeholders, with a total of 62 members for the multisite study, including leaders of HIV/AIDS-related CBOs, hospital-based HIV/AIDS service providers, HIV/AIDS network leaders in minority communities, CBOs that serve predominantly black communities, and consumers.
Results
Each of the CAB members has expressed a strong commitment to assisting in the conduct of the research. CABs are integral to the success of the study, and their input is highly respected and used to improve the quality of the research.
Conclusions
This article highlights the importance of CABs in the conduct of HIV clinical trials and their roles in making the study culturally congruent to meet the needs of the black community in dealing with the HIV epidemic.
doi:10.1097/QAI.0b013e31818447f5
PMCID: PMC2853920  PMID: 18724193
25.  The Effectiveness of Mobile-Health Technology-Based Health Behaviour Change or Disease Management Interventions for Health Care Consumers: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(1):e1001362.
Caroline Free and colleagues systematically review a fast-moving field, that of the effectiveness of mobile technology interventions delivered to healthcare consumers, and conclude that high-quality, adequately powered trials of optimized interventions are required to evaluate effects on objective outcomes.
Background
Mobile technologies could be a powerful media for providing individual level support to health care consumers. We conducted a systematic review to assess the effectiveness of mobile technology interventions delivered to health care consumers.
Methods and Findings
We searched for all controlled trials of mobile technology-based health interventions delivered to health care consumers using MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, Global Health, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, UK NHS HTA (Jan 1990–Sept 2010). Two authors extracted data on allocation concealment, allocation sequence, blinding, completeness of follow-up, and measures of effect. We calculated effect estimates and used random effects meta-analysis. We identified 75 trials. Fifty-nine trials investigated the use of mobile technologies to improve disease management and 26 trials investigated their use to change health behaviours. Nearly all trials were conducted in high-income countries. Four trials had a low risk of bias. Two trials of disease management had low risk of bias; in one, antiretroviral (ART) adherence, use of text messages reduced high viral load (>400 copies), with a relative risk (RR) of 0.85 (95% CI 0.72–0.99), but no statistically significant benefit on mortality (RR 0.79 [95% CI 0.47–1.32]). In a second, a PDA based intervention increased scores for perceived self care agency in lung transplant patients. Two trials of health behaviour management had low risk of bias. The pooled effect of text messaging smoking cessation support on biochemically verified smoking cessation was (RR 2.16 [95% CI 1.77–2.62]). Interventions for other conditions showed suggestive benefits in some cases, but the results were not consistent. No evidence of publication bias was demonstrated on visual or statistical examination of the funnel plots for either disease management or health behaviours. To address the limitation of the older search, we also reviewed more recent literature.
Conclusions
Text messaging interventions increased adherence to ART and smoking cessation and should be considered for inclusion in services. Although there is suggestive evidence of benefit in some other areas, high quality adequately powered trials of optimised interventions are required to evaluate effects on objective outcomes.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors’ Summary
Background
Every year, millions of people die from cardiovascular diseases (diseases of the heart and circulation), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (a long-term lung disease), lung cancer, HIV infection, and diabetes. These diseases are increasingly important causes of mortality (death) in low- and middle-income countries and are responsible for nearly 40% of deaths in high-income countries. For all these diseases, individuals can adopt healthy behaviors that help prevent disease onset. For example, people can lower their risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease by maintaining a healthy body weight, and, if they are smokers, they can reduce their risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease by giving up cigarettes. In addition, optimal treatment of existing diseases can reduce mortality and morbidity (illness). Thus, in people who are infected with HIV, antiretroviral therapy delays the progression of HIV infection and the onset of AIDS, and in people who have diabetes, good blood sugar control can prevent retinopathy (a type of blindness) and other serious complications of diabetes.
Why Was This Study Done?
Health-care providers need effective ways to encourage "health-care consumers" to make healthy lifestyle choices and to self-manage chronic diseases. The amount of information, encouragement and support that can be conveyed to individuals during face-to-face consultations or through traditional media such as leaflets is limited, but mobile technologies such as mobile phones and portable computers have the potential to transform the delivery of health messages. These increasingly popular technologies—more than two-thirds of the world's population now owns a mobile phone—can be used to deliver health messages to people anywhere and at the most relevant times. For example, smokers trying to quit smoking can be sent regular text messages to sustain their motivation, but can also use text messaging to request extra support when it is needed. But is "mHealth," the provision of health-related services using mobile communication technology, an effective way to deliver health messages to health-care consumers? In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the researchers assess the effectiveness of mobile technology-based health behavior change interventions and disease management interventions delivered to health-care consumers.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 75 controlled trials (studies that compare the outcomes of people who do and do not receive an intervention) of mobile technology-based health interventions delivered to health-care consumers that met their predefined criteria. Twenty-six trials investigated the use of mobile technologies to change health behaviors, 59 investigated their use in disease management, most were of low quality, and nearly all were undertaken in high-income countries. In one high-quality trial that used text messages to improve adherence to antiretroviral therapy among HIV-positive patients in Kenya, the intervention significantly reduced the patients’ viral load but did not significantly reduce mortality (the observed reduction in deaths may have happened by chance). In two high-quality UK trials, a smoking intervention based on text messaging (txt2stop) more than doubled biochemically verified smoking cessation. Other lower-quality trials indicated that using text messages to encourage physical activity improved diabetes control but had no effect on body weight. Combined diet and physical activity text messaging interventions also had no effect on weight, whereas interventions for other conditions showed suggestive benefits in some but not all cases.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide mixed evidence for the effectiveness of health intervention delivery to health-care consumers using mobile technologies. Moreover, they highlight the need for additional high-quality controlled trials of this mHealth application, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Specifically, the demonstration that text messaging interventions increased adherence to antiretroviral therapy in a low-income setting and increased smoking cessation in a high-income setting provides some support for the inclusion of these two interventions in health-care services in similar settings. However, the effects of these two interventions need to be established in other settings and their cost-effectiveness needs to be measured before they are widely implemented. Finally, for other mobile technology–based interventions designed to change health behaviors or to improve self-management of chronic diseases, the results of this systematic review suggest that the interventions need to be optimized before further trials are undertaken to establish their clinical benefits.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001362.
A related PLOS Medicine Research Article by Free et al. investigates the ability of mHealth technologies to improve health-care service delivery processes
Wikipedia has a page on mHealth (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
mHealth: New horizons for health through mobile technologies is a global survey of mHealth prepared by the World Health Organization’s Global Observatory for eHealth (eHealth is health-care practice supported by electronic processes and communication)
The mHealth in Low-Resource Settings website, which is maintained by the Netherlands Royal Tropical Institute, provides information on the current use, potential, and limitations of mHealth in low-resource settings
More information about Txt2stop is available, the UK National Health Service Choices website provides an analysis of the Txt2stop trial and what its results mean, and the UK National Health Service Smokefree website provides a link to a Quit App for the iPhone
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a text messaging service that delivers regular health tips and alerts to mobile phones
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001362
PMCID: PMC3548655  PMID: 23349621

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