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1.  Determinants for acceptance of preventive treatment against heart disease – a web-based population survey 
BMC Public Health  2014;14(1):783.
Background
Patients’ perception of risk and their lifestyle choices are of major importance in the treatment of common chronic diseases. This study reveals determinants for and knowledge about why people accept or reject preventive medical interventions against heart disease.
Methods
A representative sample of 40-60-year-old Danish inhabitants was invited to participate in a web-based survey. The respondents were presented with a hypothetical scenario and asked to imagine that they were at an increased risk of heart disease, and subsequently presented with an offer of a preventive medical intervention. The aim was to elicit preference structures when potential patients are presented with different treatment conditions.
Results
About one third of the respondents were willing to accept preventive medical treatment. Respondents with personal experience with heart disease were more likely to accept treatment than respondents with family members with heart disease or no prior experience with heart disease. The willingness to accept treatment was similar for both genders, and when adjusting for experience with heart disease, age was not associated with willingness to accept treatment. Socioeconomic status in terms of lower education was positively associated with acceptance. The price of treatment reduced willingness to accept for the lower income groups, whereas it had no effect in the highest income group. Some 57% of respondents who were willing to accept treatment changed their decision following information on potential side effects.
Conclusions
In accordance with our pre-study hypothesis, individuals with low income were more sensitive to price than individuals with high income. Thus, if the price of preventive medication increases above certain limits, a substantial proportion of the population may refrain from treatment. More than half of the respondents who were initially willing to accept treatment changed their decision when informed about the presence of potential side effects. This is an important observation in relation to risk communication, since most side effects occur very seldom, and a skewed assessment of treatment efficacy compared to risk of side effects may refrain some patients from treatment. Thus, more research is needed to better allow patients to compare treatment efficacy with risk of side effects in quantitative terms.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-783
PMCID: PMC4137069  PMID: 25086654
Acceptance; Preventive treatment; Heart disease; Determinants; Population survey; Risk communication; Socioeconomics; Side effects; Cost of treatment
2.  The Effect of Alternative Summary Statistics for Communicating Risk Reduction on Decisions about Taking Statins: A Randomized Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(8):e1000134.
Carling and colleagues carry out a trial evaluating different methods of communicating information to people regarding the risks and benefits of taking statins. They suggest that natural frequencies are likely to be the most appropriate summary statistic for presenting the effects of treatment.
Background
While different ways of presenting treatment effects can affect health care decisions, little is known about which presentations best help people make decisions consistent with their own values. We compared six summary statistics for communicating coronary heart disease (CHD) risk reduction with statins: relative risk reduction and five absolute summary measures—absolute risk reduction, number needed to treat, event rates, tablets needed to take, and natural frequencies.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a randomized trial to determine which presentation resulted in choices most consistent with participants' values. We recruited adult volunteers who participated through an interactive Web site. Participants rated the relative importance of outcomes using visual analogue scales (VAS). We then randomized participants to one of the six summary statistics and asked them to choose whether to take statins based on this information. We calculated a relative importance score (RIS) by subtracting the VAS scores for the downsides of taking statins from the VAS score for CHD. We used logistic regression to determine the association between participants' RIS and their choice. 2,978 participants completed the study. Relative risk reduction resulted in a 21% higher probability of choosing to take statins over all values of RIS compared to the absolute summary statistics. This corresponds to a number needed to treat (NNT) of 5; i.e., for every five participants shown the relative risk reduction one additional participant chose to take statins, compared to the other summary statistics. There were no significant differences among the absolute summary statistics in the association between RIS and participants' decisions whether to take statins. Natural frequencies were best understood (86% reported they understood them well or very well), and participants were most satisfied with this information.
Conclusions
Presenting the benefits of taking statins as a relative risk reduction increases the likelihood of people accepting treatment compared to presenting absolute summary statistics, independent of the relative importance they attach to the consequences. Natural frequencies may be the most suitable summary statistic for presenting treatment effects, based on self-reported preference, understanding of and satisfaction with the information, and confidence in the decision.
Clinical Trials Registration
ISRCTN85194921
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
People often have to make decisions about their health care. Ideally, all the health care decisions that a person makes should be those best suited to his or her personal circumstances and expectations. Take, for example, someone with a high amount of cholesterol (a type of fat) in his or her blood. Because this condition increases the chances of developing potentially fatal coronary heart disease (CHD), such a person will often be advised by his or her doctor to take statins to reduce blood cholesterol levels. However, the person needs to consider both the benefits and downsides of this course of action. Can he or she afford to pay for statins, if their health care system requires him or her to? Does the person want to take a pill every day that might cause some side effects? That is, the person has to consider his or her “values”—the relative desirability of all the possible outcomes of taking statins—before deciding whether to follow his or her doctor's advice.
Why Was This Study Done?
It is well known that how information is presented to patients about treatment options and their consequences affects the choices that they make. For example, patients who are told that a drug will halve their chances of developing a disease (a 50% relative risk reduction) are more likely to decide to take that drug than those who are told it will reduce their absolute (actual) risk of developing the disease from 4% to 2%. Less is known, however, about which presentations of treatment effects best help people to make decisions that are consistent with their own values. In 2002, therefore, a series of internet-based randomized trials (studies in which participants are randomly allocated to different “treatment” groups) called the Health Information Project: Presentation Online (HIPPO) was initiated. Here, the researchers describe HIPPO 2, a trial that investigates how alternative summary statistics for communicating the reduction of CHD risk with statins affect people's decisions to take statins.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Nearly 3,000 adults in Norway and North America rated the relative importance to them of CHD risk reduction, the cost of statins, and the need to take a daily pill through an interactive Web site. The researchers used these data to calculate a “relative importance score” (RIS), an indicator of each participant's values. Each participant then decided whether or not to take statins after being shown one of six summary statistics about the effect of statins on CHD risk (relative risk reduction and five indicators of absolute risk reduction). The presentation of the effect of statins as a relative risk reduction resulted in more people deciding to take statins over the whole RIS range than any of the absolute summary statistics. For every five participants shown the relative risk reduction statistic, an extra participant chose to take statins compared to the other summary statistics. When asked to compare the six summary statistics, the statistic that most people preferred and understood best was the “natural frequency,” an absolute summary statistic that gave the number of people likely to develop CHD with and without statin treatment.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although these findings may not be generalizable to other populations or to other medical decisions, they provide new insights into how the presentation of information can affect the choices people make about health care. Specifically, these findings indicate that the presentation of the reduced risk of getting CHD as a result of taking stains as a relative amount is more likely to persuade people to take statins than several absolute summary statistics. They also suggest that the persuasive effect of the relative risk reduction summary statistic is not affected by the relative importance attached to the consequences of taking statins by individuals. That is, people shown the relative risk reduction statistic may be more likely to start statins to reduce their CHD risk (or a drug that reduces the risk of developing another disease) whatever their personal values than people shown absolute summary statistics. Finally, the findings on participant preferences suggest that natural frequencies may be the best summary statistic to include in tools designed to help people make decisions about their healthcare.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000134.
A PLoS Medicine Editorial discusses this trial and the results of another HIPPO trial that are presented in a separate PLoS Medicine Research Article by Carling and colleagues; details of a pilot HIPPO trial are also available
The Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making (a US-based non-profit organization) provides information on many aspects of medical decision making
The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center provides information to help people make health care decisions through its Center for Shared Decision Making
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute provides also information on patient decision aids, including an inventory of decision aids available on the Web (in English and French)
MedlinePlus provides links to information and advice about statins and about coronary heart disease (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000134
PMCID: PMC2724738  PMID: 19707575
3.  Mortality in Pharmacologically Treated Older Adults with Diabetes: The Cardiovascular Health Study, 1989–2001 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(10):e400.
Background
Diabetes mellitus (DM) confers an increased risk of mortality in young and middle-aged individuals and in women. It is uncertain, however, whether excess DM mortality continues beyond age 75 years, is related to type of hypoglycemic therapy, and whether women continue to be disproportionately affected by DM into older age.
Methods and Findings
From the Cardiovascular Health Study, a prospective study of 5,888 adults, we examined 5,372 participants aged 65 y or above without DM (91.2%), 322 with DM treated with oral hypoglycemic agents (OHGAs) (5.5%), and 194 with DM treated with insulin (3.3%). Participants were followed (1989–2001) for total, cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD), and non-CVD/noncancer mortality. Compared with non-DM participants, those treated with OHGAs or insulin had adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) for total mortality of 1.33 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.10 to 1.62) and 2.04 (95% CI, 1.62 to 2.57); CVD mortality, 1.99 (95% CI, 1.54 to 2.57) and 2.16 (95% CI, 1.54 to 3.03); CHD mortality, 2.47 (95% CI, 1.89 to 3.24) and 2.75 (95% CI, 1.95 to 3.87); and infectious and renal mortality, 1.35 (95% CI, 0.70 to 2.59) and 6.55 (95% CI, 4.18 to 10.26), respectively. The interaction of age (65–74 y versus ≥75 y) with DM was not significant. Women treated with OHGAs had a similar HR for total mortality to men, but a higher HR when treated with insulin.
Conclusions
DM mortality risk remains high among older adults in the current era of medical care. Mortality risk and type of mortality differ between OHGA and insulin treatment. Women treated with insulin therapy have an especially high mortality risk. Given the high absolute CVD mortality in older people, those with DM warrant aggressive CVD risk factor reduction.
The negative impact on mortality of diabetes persists into old age. Elderly people with diabetes might be twice as likely to die from CVD as people without diabetes. More aggressive treatment of CVD risk factors in older patients should be considered.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Diabetes is a growing global health problem. By 2030, 300 million people worldwide may have this chronic, incurable disorder, double the current number. People with diabetes have dangerously high amounts of sugar in their blood. Blood-sugar levels are normally controlled by insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas that tells cells to absorb sugar from the blood. This control fails in people with diabetes, either because they make no insulin (type 1 diabetes) or because their cells are insensitive to insulin (type 2 diabetes). Type 1 diabetes is controlled with insulin injections; type 2 diabetes is controlled with diet, exercise, and pills that reduce blood-sugar levels. Long-term complications of diabetes include kidney failure, blindness, and nerve damage. Individuals with diabetes also have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD)—heart problems, strokes, and poor circulation—because of damage to their blood vessels.
Why Was This Study Done?
Epidemiological studies (investigations of disease patterns, causes, and control in populations) have indicated that diabetes increases the risk of death (mortality) from CVD in young and middle-aged people, but it is not known whether this is also true for old people. It is also not known what effect long-term treatment for diabetes has on mortality or whether the risk of death from CVD is decreasing in diabetic people as it is in the general US population. This information would help physicians provide health care and lifestyle advice to people with diabetes. In this study, the researchers have investigated mortality patterns in elderly diabetic people by looking at data collected between 1989 and 2001 by the US Cardiovascular Health Study, an observational study of nearly 6,000 people aged over 65 years (in this type of study participants are observed without imposing any specific changes to their lifestyle, behavior, medical care, or treatments).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Participants were screened at the start of the Cardiovascular Health Study for CVD and diabetes (defined as drug-treated disease), for established CVD risk factors such as high blood pressure and smoking, for recently recognized CVD risk factors (for example, subclinical CVD), and for psychosocial factors associated with diabetes that might influence mortality, such as frailty and depression. At this time, about 5% of the participants were taking oral hypoglycemic agents for diabetes and about 3% were taking insulin. During the 11-year study, 40% of the participants died. After adjusting for CVD risk factors and psychosocial factors, the researchers calculated that people treated with oral hypoglycemic agents were 1.3 times as likely to die from all causes and people treated with insulin were twice as likely to die as people without diabetes. The risk of death from CVD was about twice as high in both groups of diabetic participants as in non-diabetic participants; the risk of death from coronary heart disease was increased about 2.5-fold. These adjusted relative risks are very similar to those found in previous studies. The researchers also report that participants treated with insulin were six times more likely to die from infectious diseases or renal failure than nondiabetic participants, and women treated with insulin had a particularly high mortality risk.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that the negative impact on mortality of diabetes persists into old age and that death from CVD is currently declining in both older diabetic people and nondiabetic people. In addition, they show that diabetic people treated with insulin are at a greater risk of dying relative to people without diabetes and those taking oral hypoglycemic agents. This might reflect the type of diabetes that these people had, but this was not investigated. How long participants had had diabetes was also not considered, nor how many people developed diabetes during the study. These and other limitations might mean that the reported excess mortality due to diabetes is an underestimate. Nevertheless, the estimate that elderly people with diabetes are twice as likely to die from CVD as people without diabetes is important. Many elderly people die anyway because of CVD, so this increased risk represents many more deaths than the similar increased risk in younger diabetic populations. Yet, elderly people often receive less-intensive management of CVD risk factors than younger people. The results of this study suggest that rectifying this situation could prolong the lives of many elderly people with diabetes.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030400.
MedlinePlus encyclopedia has pages on diabetes, heart disease, stroke and poor circulation
The US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provides patient information on diabetes
Information for patients on prevention, diagnosis, and management of diabetes is available from the America Diabetes Association
Patient information is available from the American Heart Association on all aspects of heart disease, including its association with diabetes
Wikipedia pages on diabetes and cardiovascular disease (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
Further information is available about the Cardiovascular Health Study
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030400
PMCID: PMC1609124  PMID: 17048978
4.  The Effect of Alternative Graphical Displays Used to Present the Benefits of Antibiotics for Sore Throat on Decisions about Whether to Seek Treatment: A Randomized Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(8):e1000140.
In a randomized trial, Cheryl Carling and colleagues evaluate how people respond to different statistical presentations regarding the consequences of taking antibiotic treatment for sore throat.
Background
We conducted an Internet-based randomized trial comparing four graphical displays of the benefits of antibiotics for people with sore throat who must decide whether to go to the doctor to seek treatment. Our objective was to determine which display resulted in choices most consistent with participants' values.
Methods and Findings
This was the first of a series of televised trials undertaken in cooperation with the Norwegian Broadcasting Company. We recruited adult volunteers in Norway through a nationally televised weekly health program. Participants went to our Web site and rated the relative importance of the consequences of treatment using visual analogue scales (VAS). They viewed the graphical display (or no information) to which they were randomized and were asked to decide whether to go to the doctor for an antibiotic prescription. We compared four presentations: face icons (happy/sad) or a bar graph showing the proportion of people with symptoms on day three with and without treatment, a bar graph of the average duration of symptoms, and a bar graph of proportion with symptoms on both days three and seven. Before completing the study, all participants were shown all the displays and detailed patient information about the treatment of sore throat and were asked to decide again. We calculated a relative importance score (RIS) by subtracting the VAS scores for the undesirable consequences of antibiotics from the VAS score for the benefit of symptom relief. We used logistic regression to determine the association between participants' RIS and their choice. 1,760 participants completed the study. There were statistically significant differences in the likelihood of choosing to go to the doctor in relation to different values (RIS). Of the four presentations, the bar graph of duration of symptoms resulted in decisions that were most consistent with the more fully informed second decision. Most participants also preferred this presentation (38%) and found it easiest to understand (37%). Participants shown the other three presentations were more likely to decide to go to the doctor based on their first decision than everyone based on the second decision. Participants preferred the graph using faces the least (14.4%).
Conclusions
For decisions about going to the doctor to get antibiotics for sore throat, treatment effects presented by a bar graph showing the duration of symptoms helped people make decisions more consistent with their values than treatment effects presented as graphical displays of proportions of people with sore throat following treatment.
Clinical Trials Registration
ISRCTN58507086
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In the past, patients usually believed that their doctor knew what was best for them and that they had little say in deciding what treatment they would receive. But many modern interventions have complex trade-offs. Patients' opinions about the relative desirability of the possible outcomes of health care interventions depend on their lifestyle and expectations, and these “values” need to be considered when making decisions about medical treatments. Consequently, shared decision-making is increasingly superseding the traditional, paternalistic approach to medical decision-making. In shared decision-making, health care professionals talk to their patients about the risks and benefits of the various treatment options, and patients tell the health care professionals what they expect and/or require from their treatment.
Why Was This Study Done?
Shared decision-making can only succeed if patients know about the treatment options that are available for their medical condition and understand the consequences of each option. But how does the presentation of information about treatment options to patients affect their decisions? In 2002, a series of internet-based randomized trials (studies in which participants are randomly allocated to different “treatment” groups) called the Health Information Project: Presentation Online (HIPPO) was initiated to answer this question. Here, the researchers describe HIPPO 3, a trial that investigates how alternative graphical displays of the benefits of antibiotics for the treatment of sore throat affect whether people decide to seek treatment. In particular, the researchers ask which display results in people making a treatment decision most consistent with their values, i.e., in terms of the relative importance to them of the treatment's desirable and undesirable outcomes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Adult Norwegians recruited through a television health program numerically rated the importance of symptom relief and of several negative consequences (for example, side effects) of antibiotic treatment for sore throat on the trial's Web site. Relative importance scores (which indicate the participants' values) were calculated for each participant by subtracting their ratings for the importance of the negative consequences of seeking antibiotic treatment from his or her rating for the importance of symptom relief. The participants were then asked to decide whether to visit a doctor for antibiotics without receiving any further information or after being shown one of four graphical displays illustrating the benefits of antibiotic treatment. Two bar charts and one display of happy- and sad-face icons showed the proportion of people with symptoms at specific times after sore throat onset with and without treatment. A third bar chart indicated symptom duration with and without antibiotics. Finally, all the participants were shown all the displays and other information about sore throat and were asked to decide again about seeking treatment. The researchers found a clear association between the participants' values and the likelihood of their deciding to go to the doctor, and this likelihood depended on which graphical display the participants saw. People shown information on the proportion of patients with symptoms were more likely to decide to visit a doctor than those shown information on symptom duration. Furthermore, first decisions reached after being given information on symptom duration or no information were more consistent with the fully informed second decision than first decisions reached after seeing the other displays.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, for people considering whether to seek antibiotic treatment for sore throat, a bar graph showing the duration of symptoms is more likely to help them make a decision that is consistent with their own values than a bar chart showing the proportions of people with sore throat following treatment. The researchers also found that the bar chart showing symptom duration was preferred by more of the participants than any of the other representations. Whether these results can be applied to other health care decisions or in other settings is not known. However, the researchers suggest that these findings may be most relevant to treatments that, like antibiotic treatment of sore throat, have a short-lived benefit and relatively important downsides.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000140.
A PLoS Medicine Editorial discusses this trial and the results of another HIPPO trial that are presented in a separate PLoS Medicine Research Article by Carling et al.; details of a pilot HIPPO trial are also available
The Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making (a US-based nonprofit organization) provides information on many aspects of medical decision making
The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center provides information to help people make health care decisions through its Center for Shared Decision Making
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute provides information on patient decision aids, including an inventory of decision aids available on the Web (in English and French)
MedlinePlus provides links to information and advice about sore throat (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000140
PMCID: PMC2726763  PMID: 19707579
5.  Risk Models to Predict Chronic Kidney Disease and Its Progression: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(11):e1001344.
A systematic review of risk prediction models conducted by Justin Echouffo-Tcheugui and Andre Kengne examines the evidence base for prediction of chronic kidney disease risk and its progression, and suitability of such models for clinical use.
Background
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is common, and associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and end-stage renal disease, which are potentially preventable through early identification and treatment of individuals at risk. Although risk factors for occurrence and progression of CKD have been identified, their utility for CKD risk stratification through prediction models remains unclear. We critically assessed risk models to predict CKD and its progression, and evaluated their suitability for clinical use.
Methods and Findings
We systematically searched MEDLINE and Embase (1 January 1980 to 20 June 2012). Dual review was conducted to identify studies that reported on the development, validation, or impact assessment of a model constructed to predict the occurrence/presence of CKD or progression to advanced stages. Data were extracted on study characteristics, risk predictors, discrimination, calibration, and reclassification performance of models, as well as validation and impact analyses. We included 26 publications reporting on 30 CKD occurrence prediction risk scores and 17 CKD progression prediction risk scores. The vast majority of CKD risk models had acceptable-to-good discriminatory performance (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve>0.70) in the derivation sample. Calibration was less commonly assessed, but overall was found to be acceptable. Only eight CKD occurrence and five CKD progression risk models have been externally validated, displaying modest-to-acceptable discrimination. Whether novel biomarkers of CKD (circulatory or genetic) can improve prediction largely remains unclear, and impact studies of CKD prediction models have not yet been conducted. Limitations of risk models include the lack of ethnic diversity in derivation samples, and the scarcity of validation studies. The review is limited by the lack of an agreed-on system for rating prediction models, and the difficulty of assessing publication bias.
Conclusions
The development and clinical application of renal risk scores is in its infancy; however, the discriminatory performance of existing tools is acceptable. The effect of using these models in practice is still to be explored.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Chronic kidney disease (CKD)—the gradual loss of kidney function—is increasingly common worldwide. In the US, for example, about 26 million adults have CKD, and millions more are at risk of developing the condition. Throughout life, small structures called nephrons inside the kidneys filter waste products and excess water from the blood to make urine. If the nephrons stop working because of injury or disease, the rate of blood filtration decreases, and dangerous amounts of waste products such as creatinine build up in the blood. Symptoms of CKD, which rarely occur until the disease is very advanced, include tiredness, swollen feet and ankles, puffiness around the eyes, and frequent urination, especially at night. There is no cure for CKD, but progression of the disease can be slowed by controlling high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which cause CKD, and by adopting a healthy lifestyle. The same interventions also reduce the chances of CKD developing in the first place.
Why Was This Study Done?
CKD is associated with an increased risk of end-stage renal disease, which is treated with dialysis or by kidney transplantation (renal replacement therapies), and of cardiovascular disease. These life-threatening complications are potentially preventable through early identification and treatment of CKD, but most people present with advanced disease. Early identification would be particularly useful in developing countries, where renal replacement therapies are not readily available and resources for treating cardiovascular problems are limited. One way to identify people at risk of a disease is to use a “risk model.” Risk models are constructed by testing the ability of different combinations of risk factors that are associated with a specific disease to identify those individuals in a “derivation sample” who have the disease. The model is then validated on an independent group of people. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the researchers critically assess the ability of existing CKD risk models to predict the occurrence of CKD and its progression, and evaluate their suitability for clinical use.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 26 publications reporting on 30 risk models for CKD occurrence and 17 risk models for CKD progression that met their predefined criteria. The risk factors most commonly included in these models were age, sex, body mass index, diabetes status, systolic blood pressure, serum creatinine, protein in the urine, and serum albumin or total protein. Nearly all the models had acceptable-to-good discriminatory performance (a measure of how well a model separates people who have a disease from people who do not have the disease) in the derivation sample. Not all the models had been calibrated (assessed for whether the average predicted risk within a group matched the proportion that actually developed the disease), but in those that had been assessed calibration was good. Only eight CKD occurrence and five CKD progression risk models had been externally validated; discrimination in the validation samples was modest-to-acceptable. Finally, very few studies had assessed whether adding extra variables to CKD risk models (for example, genetic markers) improved prediction, and none had assessed the impact of adopting CKD risk models on the clinical care and outcomes of patients.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the development and clinical application of CKD risk models is still in its infancy. Specifically, these findings indicate that the existing models need to be better calibrated and need to be externally validated in different populations (most of the models were tested only in predominantly white populations) before they are incorporated into guidelines. The impact of their use on clinical outcomes also needs to be assessed before their widespread use is recommended. Such research is worthwhile, however, because of the potential public health and clinical applications of well-designed risk models for CKD. Such models could be used to identify segments of the population that would benefit most from screening for CKD, for example. Moreover, risk communication to patients could motivate them to adopt a healthy lifestyle and to adhere to prescribed medications, and the use of models for predicting CKD progression could help clinicians tailor disease-modifying therapies to individual patient needs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001344.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Maarten Taal
The US National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse provides information about all aspects of kidney disease; the US National Kidney Disease Education Program provides resources to help improve the understanding, detection, and management of kidney disease (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information for patients on chronic kidney disease, including some personal stories
The US National Kidney Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, provides information about chronic kidney disease (in English and Spanish)
The not-for-profit UK National Kidney Federation support and information for patients with kidney disease and for their carers, including a selection of patient experiences of kidney disease
World Kidney Day, a joint initiative between the International Society of Nephrology and the International Federation of Kidney Foundations, aims to raise awareness about kidneys and kidney disease
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001344
PMCID: PMC3502517  PMID: 23185136
6.  Guidelines, Editors, Pharma And The Biological Paradigm Shift 
Mens Sana Monographs  2007;5(1):27-30.
Private investment in biomedical research has increased over the last few decades. At most places it has been welcomed as the next best thing to technology itself. Much of the intellectual talent from academic institutions is getting absorbed in lucrative positions in industry. Applied research finds willing collaborators in venture capital funded industry, so a symbiotic growth is ensured for both.
There are significant costs involved too. As academia interacts with industry, major areas of conflict of interest especially applicable to biomedical research have arisen. They are related to disputes over patents and royalty, hostile encounters between academia and industry, as also between public and private enterprise, legal tangles, research misconduct of various types, antagonistic press and patient-advocate lobbies and a general atmosphere in which commercial interest get precedence over patient welfare.
Pharma image stinks because of a number of errors of omission and commission. A recent example is suppression of negative findings about Bayer's Trasylol (Aprotinin) and the marketing maneuvers of Eli Lilly's Xigris (rhAPC). Whenever there is a conflict between patient vulnerability and profit motives, pharma often tends to tilt towards the latter. Moreover there are documents that bring to light how companies frequently cross the line between patient welfare and profit seeking behaviour.
A voluntary moratorium over pharma spending to pamper drug prescribers is necessary. A code of conduct adopted recently by OPPI in India to limit pharma company expenses over junkets and trinkets is a welcome step.
Clinical practice guidelines (CPG) are considered important as they guide the diagnostic/therapeutic regimen of a large number of medical professionals and hospitals and provide recommendations on drugs, their dosages and criteria for selection. Along with clinical trials, they are another area of growing influence by the pharmaceutical industry. For example, in a relatively recent survey of 2002, it was found that about 60% of 192 authors of clinical practice guidelines reported they had financial connections with the companies whose drugs were under consideration. There is a strong case for making CPGs based not just on effectivity but cost effectivity. The various ramifications of this need to be spelt out. Work of bodies like the Appraisal of Guidelines Research and Evaluation (AGREE) Collaboration and Guidelines Advisory Committee (GAC) are also worth a close look.
Even the actions of Foundations that work for disease amelioration have come under scrutiny. The process of setting up ‘Best Practices’ Guidelines for interactions between the pharmaceutical industry and clinicians has already begun and can have important consequences for patient care. Similarly, Good Publication Practice (GPP) for pharmaceutical companies have also been set up aimed at improving the behaviour of drug companies while reporting drug trials
The rapidly increasing trend toward influence and control by industry has become a concern for many. It is of such importance that the Association of American Medical Colleges has issued two relatively new documents - one, in 2001, on how to deal with individual conflicts of interest; and the other, in 2002, on how to deal with institutional conflicts of interest in the conduct of clinical research. Academic Medical Centers (AMCs), as also medical education and research institutions at other places, have to adopt means that minimize their conflicts of interest.
Both medical associations and research journal editors are getting concerned with individual and institutional conflicts of interest in the conduct of clinical research and documents are now available which address these issues. The 2001 ICMJE revision calls for full disclosure of the sponsor's role in research, as well as assurance that the investigators are independent of the sponsor, are fully accountable for the design and conduct of the trial, have independent access to all trial data and control all editorial and publication decisions. However the findings of a 2002 study suggest that academic institutions routinely participate in clinical research that does not adhere to ICMJE standards of accountability, access to data and control of publication.
There is an inevitable slant to produce not necessarily useful but marketable products which ensure the profitability of industry and research grants outflow to academia. Industry supports new, not traditional, therapies, irrespective of what is effective. Whatever traditional therapy is supported is most probably because the company concerned has a product with a big stake there, which has remained a ‘gold standard’ or which that player thinks has still some ‘juice’ left.
Industry sponsorship is mainly for potential medications, not for trying to determine whether there may be non-pharmacological interventions that may be equally good, if not better. In the paradigm shift towards biological psychiatry, the role of industry sponsorship is not overt but probably more pervasive than many have realised, or the right thinking may consider good, for the health of the branch in the long run.
An issue of major concern is protection of the interests of research subjects. Patients agree to become research subjects not only for personal medical benefit but, as an extension, to benefit the rest of the patient population and also advance medical research.
We all accept that industry profits have to be made, and investment in research and development by the pharma industry is massive. However, we must also accept there is a fundamental difference between marketing strategies for other entities and those for drugs.
The ultimate barometer is patient welfare and no drug that compromises it can stand the test of time. So, how does it make even commercial sense in the long term to market substandard products? The greatest mistake long-term players in industry may make is try to adopt the shady techniques of the upstart new entrant. Secrecy of marketing/sales tactics, of the process of manufacture, of other strategies and plans of business expansion, of strategies to tackle competition are fine business tactics. But it is critical that secrecy as a tactic not extend to reporting of research findings, especially those contrary to one's product.
Pharma has no option but to make a quality product, do comprehensive adverse reaction profiles, and market it only if it passes both tests.
Why does pharma adopt questionable tactics? The reasons are essentially two:
What with all the constraints, a drug comes to the pharmacy after huge investments. There are crippling overheads and infrastructure costs to be recovered. And there are massive profit margins to be maintained. If these were to be dependent only on genuine drug discoveries, that would be taking too great a risk.Industry players have to strike the right balance between profit making and credibility. In profit making, the marketing champions play their role. In credibility ratings, researchers and paid spokes-persons play their role. All is hunky dory till marketing is based on credibility. When there is nothing available to make for credibility, something is projected as one and marketing carried out, in the calculated hope that profits can accrue, since profit making must continue endlessly. That is what makes pharma adopt even questionable means to make profits.
Essentially, there are four types of drugs. First, drugs that work and have minimal side-effects; second, drugs which work but have serious side-effects; third, drugs that do not work and have minimal side-effects; and fourth, drugs which work minimally but have serious side-effects. It is the second and fourth types that create major hassles for industry. Often, industry may try to project the fourth type as the second to escape censure.
The major cat and mouse game being played by conscientious researchers is in exposing the third and fourth for what they are and not allowing industry to palm them off as the first and second type respectively. The other major game is in preventing the second type from being projected as the first. The third type are essentially harmless, so they attract censure all right and some merriment at the antics to market them. But they escape anything more than a light rap on the knuckles, except when they are projected as the first type.
What is necessary for industry captains and long-term players is to realise:
Their major propelling force can only be producing the first type. 2. They accept the second type only till they can lay their hands on the first. 3. The third type can be occasionally played around with to shore up profits, but never by projecting them as the first type. 4. The fourth type are the laggards, real threat to credibility and therefore do not deserve any market hype or promotion.
In finding out why most pharma indulges in questionable tactics, we are lead to some interesting solutions to prevent such tactics with the least amount of hassles for all concerned, even as both profits and credibility are kept intact.
doi:10.4103/0973-1229.32176
PMCID: PMC3192391  PMID: 22058616
Academia; Pharmaceutical Industry; Clinical Practice Guidelines; Best Practice Guidelines; Academic Medical Centers; Medical Associations; Research Journals; Clinical Research; Public Welfare; Pharma Image; Corporate Welfare; Biological Psychiatry; Law Suits Against Industry
7.  Neural mechanisms of economic commitment in the human medial prefrontal cortex 
eLife  2014;3:e03701.
Neurobiologists have studied decisions by offering successive, independent choices between goods or gambles. However, choices often have lasting consequences, as when investing in a house or choosing a partner. Here, humans decided whether to commit (by acceptance or rejection) to prospects that provided sustained financial return. BOLD signals in the rostral medial prefrontal cortex (rmPFC) encoded stimulus value only when acceptance or rejection was deferred into the future, suggesting a role in integrating value signals over time. By contrast, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) encoded stimulus value only when participants rejected (or deferred accepting) a prospect. dACC BOLD signals reflected two decision biases–to defer commitments to later, and to weight potential losses more heavily than gains–that (paradoxically) maximised reward in this task. These findings offer fresh insights into the pressures that shape economic decisions, and the computation of value in the medial prefrontal cortex.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.03701.001
eLife digest
Humans, in general, are not particularly good at making economic decisions. People can be influenced by unhelpful biases: such as ‘loss aversion’ where a person views losses as more significant than gains. Sometimes these biases stop us making the decisions that offer the best reward, as such, they raise the question: why do these biases exist at all?
One way to examine this question is by looking at the brain activity of people making economic decisions. Two regions near the front of the brain are known to be involved in human decision-making in response to rewards. However, many researchers disagree as to what these two regions are actually doing when we make economic decisions.
Much of the research in this area has asked participants to essentially gamble on a series of independent events, which typically provide a one-off instant reward with no further positive consequences. However, these tasks do not accurately reflect real economic decisions. In real life situations, people tend to take time to make a decision, and weigh up the potential long-term costs and benefits of an investment. Indeed the decision itself may be deferred until enough information is gathered; for example, very few people would choose to buy a house on the spur of the moment.
Now Tsetsos et al. have attempted to bridge the gap between previous studies and everyday experiences by designing a task that encompasses many of the factors involved in real life decision-making. In this task, participants were given the option of deciding whether to commit to, or reject, an investment opportunity immediately; or to choose to defer making the decision until later—similar to how a person might wait to view different properties before deciding which house to buy. Using brain imaging, Tsetsos et al. found that one of the two brain regions (called the dorsal ACC for short) was involved in weighing up the cost of rejecting an offer, but not accepting it. The other region (called the rostromedial prefrontal cortex or rmPFC) was involved in assessing the value of an offer only when the participant decided to defer making a decision, and not when they decided to commit.
Furthermore, by using computer simulations, Tsetsos et al. found that, with this more realistic task, biases such as loss aversion were in fact beneficial and helped participants to make decisions that increased their financial payoff. This suggests that the ‘unhelpful biases’ often seen in traditional decision making tasks may be a result of participants’ real life strategies failing to work when applied to an artificial situation. In other words, perhaps humans are not so bad at economic decision-making after all.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.03701.002
doi:10.7554/eLife.03701
PMCID: PMC4227044  PMID: 25333687
decision-making; neuroeconomics; prefrontal cortex; human
8.  Barriers to Provider-Initiated Testing and Counselling for Children in a High HIV Prevalence Setting: A Mixed Methods Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(5):e1001649.
Rashida Ferrand and colleagues combine quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate HIV prevalence among older children receiving primary care in Harare, Zimbabwe, and reasons why providers did not pursue testing.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
There is a substantial burden of HIV infection among older children in sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of whom are diagnosed after presentation with advanced disease. We investigated the provision and uptake of provider-initiated HIV testing and counselling (PITC) among children in primary health care facilities, and explored health care worker (HCW) perspectives on providing HIV testing to children.
Methods and Findings
Children aged 6 to 15 y attending six primary care clinics in Harare, Zimbabwe, were offered PITC, with guardian consent and child assent. The reasons why testing did not occur in eligible children were recorded, and factors associated with HCWs offering and children/guardians refusing HIV testing were investigated using multivariable logistic regression. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with clinic nurses and counsellors to explore these factors. Among 2,831 eligible children, 2,151 (76%) were offered PITC, of whom 1,534 (54.2%) consented to HIV testing. The main reasons HCWs gave for not offering PITC were the perceived unsuitability of the accompanying guardian to provide consent for HIV testing on behalf of the child and lack of availability of staff or HIV testing kits. Children who were asymptomatic, older, or attending with a male or a younger guardian had significantly lower odds of being offered HIV testing. Male guardians were less likely to consent to their child being tested. 82 (5.3%) children tested HIV-positive, with 95% linking to care. Of the 940 guardians who tested with the child, 186 (19.8%) were HIV-positive.
Conclusions
The HIV prevalence among children tested was high, highlighting the need for PITC. For PITC to be successfully implemented, clear legislation about consent and guardianship needs to be developed, and structural issues addressed. HCWs require training on counselling children and guardians, particularly male guardians, who are less likely to engage with health care services. Increased awareness of the risk of HIV infection in asymptomatic older children is needed.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Over 3 million children globally are estimated to be living with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). While HIV infection is most commonly spread through unprotected sex with an infected person, most HIV infections among children are the result of mother-to-child HIV transmission during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. Mother-to-child transmission can be prevented by administering antiretroviral therapy to mothers with HIV during pregnancy, delivery, and breast feeding, and to their newborn babies. According to a report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS published in 2012, 92% of pregnant women with HIV were living in sub-Saharan Africa and just under 60% were receiving antiretroviral therapy. Consequently, sub-Saharan Africa is the region where most children infected with HIV live.
Why Was This Study Done?
If an opportunity to prevent mother-to-child transmission around the time of birth is missed, diagnosis of HIV infection in a child or adolescent is likely to depend on HIV testing in health care facilities. Health care provider–initiated HIV testing and counselling (PITC) for children is important in areas where HIV infection is common because earlier diagnosis allows children to benefit from care that can prevent the development of advanced HIV disease. Even if a child or adolescent appears to be in good health, access to care and antiretroviral therapy provides a health benefit to the individual over the long term. The administration of HIV testing (and counselling) to children relies not only on health care workers (HCWs) offering HIV testing but also on parents or guardians consenting for a child to be tested. However, more than 30% of children in countries with severe HIV epidemics are AIDS orphans, and economic conditions in these countries cause many adults to migrate for work, leaving children under the care of extended families. This study aimed to investigate the reasons for acceptance and rejection of PITC in primary health care settings in Harare, Zimbabwe. By exploring HCW perspectives on providing HIV testing to children and adolescents, the study also sought to gain insight into factors that could be hindering implementation of testing procedures.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified all children aged 6 to 15 years old at six primary care clinics in Harare, who were offered HIV testing as part of routine care between 22 January and 31 May 2013. Study fieldworkers collected data on numbers of child attendances, numbers offered testing, numbers who underwent HIV testing, and reasons why HIV testing did not occur. During the study 2,831 children attending the health clinics were eligible for PITC, and just over half (1,534, 54.2%) underwent HIV testing. Eighty-two children tested HIV-positive, and nearly all of them received counselling, medication, and follow-up care. HCWs offered the test to around 75% of those eligible. The most frequent explanation given by HCWs for a diagnostic test not being offered was that the child was accompanied by a guardian not appropriate for providing consent (401 occasions, 59%); Other reasons given were a lack of available counsellors or test kits and counsellors refusing to conduct the test. The likelihood of being offered the test was lower for children not exhibiting symptoms (such as persistent skin problems), older children, or those attending with a male or a younger guardian. In addition, over 100 guardians or parents provided consent but left before the child could be tested.
The researchers also conducted semi-structured interviews with 12 clinic nurses and counsellors (two from each clinic) to explore challenges to implementation of PITC. The researchers recorded the factors associated with testing not taking place, either when offered to eligible children or when HCWs declined to offer the test. The interviewees identified the frequent absence or unavailability of parents or legal guardians as an obstacle, and showed uncertainty or misconceptions around whether testing of the guardian was mandatory (versus recommended) and whether specifically a parent (if one was living) must provide consent. The interviews also revealed HCW concerns about the availability of adequate counselling and child services, and fears that a child might experience maltreatment if he or she tested positive. HCWs also noted long waiting times and test kits being out of stock as practical hindrances to testing.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Prevalence of HIV was high among the children tested, validating the need for PITC in sub-Saharan health care settings. Although 76% of eligible attendees were offered testing, the authors note that this is likely higher than in routine settings because the researchers were actively recording reasons for not offering testing and counselling, which may have encouraged heath care staff to offer PITC more often than usual. The researchers outline strategies that may improve PITC rates and testing acceptance for Zimbabwe and other sub-Saharan settings. These strategies include developing clear laws and guidance concerning guardianship and proxy consent when testing older children for HIV, training HCWs around these policies, strengthening legislation to address discrimination, and increasing public awareness about HIV infection in older children.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001649.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Davies and Kalk
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS publishes an annual report on the global AIDS epidemic, which provides information on progress towards eliminating new HIV infections
The World Health Organization has more information on mother-to-child transmission of HIV
The World Health Organization's website also has information about treatment for children living with HIV
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS, including stories from young people infected with HIV, are available through Avert, through NAM/aidsmap, and through the charity website Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001649
PMCID: PMC4035250  PMID: 24866209
9.  Evaluation of a Minimally Invasive Cell Sampling Device Coupled with Assessment of Trefoil Factor 3 Expression for Diagnosing Barrett's Esophagus: A Multi-Center Case–Control Study 
PLoS Medicine  2015;12(1):e1001780.
Background
Barrett's esophagus (BE) is a commonly undiagnosed condition that predisposes to esophageal adenocarcinoma. Routine endoscopic screening for BE is not recommended because of the burden this would impose on the health care system. The objective of this study was to determine whether a novel approach using a minimally invasive cell sampling device, the Cytosponge, coupled with immunohistochemical staining for the biomarker Trefoil Factor 3 (TFF3), could be used to identify patients who warrant endoscopy to diagnose BE.
Methods and Findings
A case–control study was performed across 11 UK hospitals between July 2011 and December 2013. In total, 1,110 individuals comprising 463 controls with dyspepsia and reflux symptoms and 647 BE cases swallowed a Cytosponge prior to endoscopy. The primary outcome measures were to evaluate the safety, acceptability, and accuracy of the Cytosponge-TFF3 test compared with endoscopy and biopsy.
In all, 1,042 (93.9%) patients successfully swallowed the Cytosponge, and no serious adverse events were attributed to the device. The Cytosponge was rated favorably, using a visual analogue scale, compared with endoscopy (p < 0.001), and patients who were not sedated for endoscopy were more likely to rate the Cytosponge higher than endoscopy (Mann-Whitney test, p < 0.001). The overall sensitivity of the test was 79.9% (95% CI 76.4%–83.0%), increasing to 87.2% (95% CI 83.0%–90.6%) for patients with ≥3 cm of circumferential BE, known to confer a higher cancer risk. The sensitivity increased to 89.7% (95% CI 82.3%–94.8%) in 107 patients who swallowed the device twice during the study course. There was no loss of sensitivity in patients with dysplasia. The specificity for diagnosing BE was 92.4% (95% CI 89.5%–94.7%). The case–control design of the study means that the results are not generalizable to a primary care population. Another limitation is that the acceptability data were limited to a single measure.
Conclusions
The Cytosponge-TFF3 test is safe and acceptable, and has accuracy comparable to other screening tests. This test may be a simple and inexpensive approach to identify patients with reflux symptoms who warrant endoscopy to diagnose BE.
Editors' Summary
Background
Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the cells lining the esophagus (the tube that transports food from the mouth to the stomach) change and begin to resemble the cells lining the intestines. Although some people with Barrett's esophagus complain of burning indigestion or acid reflux from the stomach into the esophagus, many people have no symptoms or do not seek medical advice, so the condition often remains undiagnosed. Long-term acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease), obesity, and being male are all risk factors for Barrett's esophagus, but the condition's exact cause is unclear. Importantly, people with Barrett's esophagus are more likely to develop esophageal cancer than people with a normal esophagus, especially if a long length (segment) of the esophagus is affected or if the esophagus contains abnormally growing “dysplastic” cells. Although esophageal cancer is rare in the general population, 1%–5% of people with Barrett's esophagus develop this type of cancer; about half of people diagnosed with esophageal cancer die within a year of diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Early detection and treatment of esophageal cancer increases an affected individual's chances of survival. Thus, experts recommend that people with multiple risk factors for Barrett's esophagus undergo endoscopic screening—a procedure that uses a small camera attached to a long flexible tube to look for esophageal abnormalities. Once diagnosed, patients with Barrett's esophagus generally enter an endoscopic surveillance program so that dysplastic cells can be identified as soon as they appear and removed using endoscopic surgery or “radiofrequency ablation” to prevent cancer development. However, although endoscopic screening of everyone with reflux symptoms for Barrett's esophagus could potentially reduce deaths from esophageal cancer, such screening is not affordable for most health care systems. In this case–control study, the researchers investigate whether a cell sampling device called the Cytosponge coupled with immunohistochemical staining for Trefoil Factor 3 (TFF3, a biomarker of Barrett's esophagus) can be used to identify individuals who warrant endoscopic investigation. A case–control study compares the characteristics of patients with and without a specific disease. The Cytosponge is a small capsule-encased sponge that is attached to a string. The capsule rapidly dissolves in the stomach after being swallowed, and the sponge collects esophageal cells for TFF3 staining when it is retrieved by pulling on the string.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 463 individuals attending 11 UK hospitals for investigational endoscopy for dyspepsia and reflux symptoms as controls, and 647 patients with Barrett's esophagus who were attending hospital for monitoring endoscopy. Before undergoing endoscopy, the study participants swallowed a Cytosponge so that the researchers could evaluate the safety, acceptability, and accuracy of the Cytosponge-TFF3 test for the diagnosis of Barrett's esophagus compared with endoscopy. Nearly 94% of the participants swallowed the Cytosponge successfully, there were no adverse effects attributed to the device, and those participants that swallowed the device generally rated the experience as acceptable. The overall sensitivity of the Cytosponge-TFF3 test (its ability to detect true positives) was 79.9%. That is, 79.9% of the individuals with endoscopically diagnosed Barrett's esophagus were identified as having the condition using the new test. The sensitivity of the test was greater among patients who had a longer length of affected esophagus and importantly was not reduced in patients with dysplasia. Compared to endoscopy, the specificity of the Cytosponge-TFF3 test (its ability to detect true negatives) was 92.4%. That is, 92.4% of people unaffected by Barrett's esophagus were correctly identified as being unaffected.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The case–control design of this study means that its results are not generalizable to a primary care population. Also, the study used only a single measure of the acceptability of the Cytosponge-TFF3 test, Nevertheless, these findings indicate that this minimally invasive test for Barrett's esophagus is safe and acceptable, and that its accuracy is similar to that of colorectal cancer and cervical cancer screening tests. The Cytosponge-TFF3 test might, therefore, provide a simple, inexpensive way to identify those patients with reflux symptoms who warrant endoscopy to diagnose Barrett's esophagus, although randomized controlled trials of the test are needed before its routine clinical implementation. Moreover, because most people with Barrett's esophagus never develop esophageal cancer, additional biomarkers ideally need to be added to the test before its routine implementation to identify those individuals who have the greatest risk of esophageal cancer, and thereby avoid overtreatment of Barrett's esophagus.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001780.
The US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provides detailed information about Barrett's esophagus and gastroesophageal reflux disease
The US National Cancer Institute provides information for patients and health professionals about esophageal cancer (in English and Spanish)
Cancer Research UK (a non-profit organization) provides detailed information about Barrett's esophagus (including a video about having the Cytosponge test and further information about this study, the BEST2 Study) and about esophageal cancer
The UK National Health Service Choices website has pages on the complications of gastroesophageal reflux and on esophageal cancer (including a real story)
Heartburn Cancer Awareness Support is a non-profit organization that aims to improve public awareness and provides support for people affected by Barrett's esophagus; the organization's website explains the range of initiatives to promote education and awareness as well as highlighting personal stories of those affected by Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer
The British Society of Gastroenterology has published guidelines on the diagnosis and management of Barrett's esophagus
The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published guidelines for gastroesophageal reflux
The Barrett's Esophagus Campaign is a UK-based non-profit organization that supports research into the condition and provides support for people affected by Barrett's esophagus; its website includes personal stories about the condition
In a multi-center case-control study, Rebecca Fitzgerald and colleagues examine whether a minimally invasive cell sampling device could be used to identify patients who warrant endoscopy to diagnose Barrett's esophagus.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001780
PMCID: PMC4310596  PMID: 25634542
10.  Why Reassurance Fails in Patients with Unexplained Symptoms—An Experimental Investigation of Remembered Probabilities 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(8):e269.
Background
Providing reassurance is one of physicians' most frequently used verbal interventions. However, medical reassurance can fail or even have negative effects. This is frequently the case in patients with medically unexplained symptoms. It is hypothesized that these patients are more likely than patients from other groups to incorrectly recall the likelihoods of medical explanations provided by doctors.
Methods and Findings
Thirty-three patients with medically unexplained symptoms, 22 patients with major depression, and 30 healthy controls listened to an audiotaped medical report, as well as to two control reports. After listening to the reports, participants were asked to rate what the doctor thinks the likelihood is that the complaints are caused by a specific medical condition.
Although the doctor rejected most of the medical explanations for the symptoms in his verbal report, the patients with medically unexplained complaints remembered a higher likelihood for medical explanations for their symptoms. No differences were found between patients in the other groups, and for the control conditions. When asked to imagine that the reports were applicable to themselves, patients with multiple medical complaints reported more concerns about their health state than individuals in the other groups.
Conclusions
Physicians should be aware that patients with medically unexplained symptoms recall the likelihood of medical causes for their complaints incorrectly. Therefore, physicians should verify correct understanding by using check-back questions and asking for summaries, to improve the effect of reassurance.
Those patients for whom there is no medical explanation for their symptoms are likely to have more difficulty than other patients in remembering information intended to reassure them about their condition.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Being told by the doctor that that niggling headache or persistent stomach ache is not caused by a medical condition reassures most patients. But for some—those with a history of medically unexplained complaints—being told that tests have revealed no underlying cause for their symptoms provides little or no reassurance. Such patients have what is sometimes called “somatization syndrome.” In somatization, mental factors such as stress manifest themselves as physical symptoms. Patients with somatization syndrome start to report multiple medically unexplained symptoms as young adults. These symptoms, which change over time, include pain at different sites in the body and digestive, reproductive, and nervous system problems. What causes this syndrome is unknown and there is no treatment other than helping patients to control their symptoms.
Why Was This Study Done?
Patients with medically unexplained complaints make up a substantial and expensive part of the workload of general medical staff. Part of this expense is because patients with somatization syndrome are not reassured by their medical practitioners telling them there is no physical cause for their symptoms, which leads to requests for further tests. It is unclear why medical reassurance fails in these patients, but if this puzzle could be solved, it might help doctors to deal better with them. In this study, the researchers tested the idea that these patients do not accept medical reassurance because they incorrectly remember what their doctors have told them about the likelihood that specific medical conditions could explain their symptoms.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers recruited patients with medically unexplained symptoms and, for comparison, patients with depression and healthy individuals. All the participants were assessed for somatization syndrome and their general memory tested. They then listened to three audiotapes. In one, a doctor gave test results to a patient with abdominal pain (a medical situation). The other two tapes dealt with a social situation (the lack of an invitation to a barbecue) and a neutral situation (a car breakdown). Each tape contained ten messages, including four that addressed possible explanations for the problem. Two were unambiguous and negative—for example, “the reason for your complaints is definitely not stomach flu.” Two were ambiguous but highly unlikely—“we don't think that you have bowel cancer; this is very unlikely.” The researchers then assessed how well the participants remembered the likelihood that any given explanation was responsible for the patient's symptoms, the missing invitation, or the broken-down car. The patients with somatization syndrome overestimated the likelihood of medical causes for symptoms, particularly (and somewhat surprisingly) when the doctor's assessment had been unambiguous. By contrast, the other participants correctly remembered the doctor's estimates as low. The three study groups were similar in their recall of the likelihood estimates from the social or neutral situation. Finally, when asked to imagine that the medical situation was personally applicable, the patients with unexplained symptoms reacted more emotionally than the other study participants by reporting more concerns with their health.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results support the researchers' hypothesis that people with somatization syndrome remember the chance that a given symptom has a specific medical cause incorrectly. This is not because of a general memory deficit or an inability to commit health-related facts to memory. The results also indicate that these patients react emotionally to medical situations, so they may find it hard to cope when a doctor fails to explain all their symptoms. Some of these characteristics could, of course, reflect the patients' previous experiences with medical professionals, and the experiment will need to be repeated with additional taped situations and more patients before firm recommendations can be made to help people with somatization syndrome. Nevertheless, given that medical reassurance and the presentation of negative results led to overestimates of the likelihood of medical explanations for symptoms in patients with somatization syndrome, the researchers recommend that doctors bear this bias in mind. To reduce it, they suggest, doctors could ask patients for summaries about what they have been told. This would make it possible to detect when patients have misremembered the likelihood of various medical explanations, and provide an opportunity to correct the situation.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030269.
• MedlinePlus encyclopedia entry on somatization disorder
• Wikipedia page on somatization disorder (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
• Prodigy Knowledge's information for patients on somatization and somatoform disorders
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030269
PMCID: PMC1523375  PMID: 16866576
11.  Leisure Physical Activity and the Risk of Fracture in Men 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(6):e199.
Background
Data from previous studies are inconsistent, and it is therefore uncertain whether, to what extent, and at what level leisure physical activity influences the risk of osteoporotic fractures in men.
Methods and Findings
A cohort of 2,205 men, 49–51 y of age, was enrolled in a longitudinal, population-based study. Leisure physical activity and other lifestyle habits were established at baseline and at ages 60, 70, 77, and 82 y. During 35 y of follow-up, 482 men had at least one fracture. Cox's proportional hazards regression was used to determine hazard ratios (HRs) of fracture associated with time-dependent physical activity habits and covariates. Men with a sedentary lifestyle (HR 2.56, 95% confidence interval 1.55–4.24) or men who walked or bicycled only for pleasure (HR 1.61, 95% confidence interval 1.10–2.36) had an increased adjusted risk of hip fracture compared with men who participated in regular sports activities for at least 3 h/wk. At the end of follow-up, 8.4% of the men with a high physical activity, 13.3% of the men with a medium physical activity, and 20.5% of the men with a low physical activity had suffered a hip fracture. According to the estimation of population-attributable risk, one third of all hip fractures could be prevented by participation in regular sports activities. High activity also conferred a reduced overall fracture risk.
Conclusions
Our data indicate that regular sports activities can reduce the risk of fractures in older men.
From a large cohort study with 35 years of follow-up, Michaelsson and colleagues conclude that regular sport activities can reduce the risk of fractures in older men.
Editors' Summary
Background.
One of the hazards of old age is that the bones become less dense—and therefore weaker—so when an elderly person falls, the result is often a broken bone. As many as half of all women and a quarter of men older than 50 y will break a bone because of this, and the consequences can be serious, particularly if the hip is broken. The thinning of bones, which is known as osteoporosis, does affect all people as they age, but the degree to which it occurs varies greatly between individuals. A priority area for medical research is finding ways in which osteoporosis can be reduced, with the aim of improving the lives of older people and reducing their risk of “osteoporotic fractures.” It is known that genetic and environmental factors can both play a part in how rapidly osteoporosis develops, but it is generally agreed that personal lifestyle factors are also important. Osteoporosis develops over many years; in most people bone density starts to decline after the age of about 30 y. Preventive action should therefore begin early.
Most research so far has focused on women, who are more at risk as the thinning of their bones increases after the menopause. (Indeed osteoporosis has sometimes been wrongly described as a “woman's disease.”) It is now accepted that women who are more physically active reduce the rate of decline in their bone density and, as a result, are less likely to break bones when they are elderly. There has been little research in men and the results have not been consistent.
Why Was This Study Done?
In order to provide better evidence as to whether men who do more physical activity have fewer osteoporotic fractures than those with lower activity levels, the researchers wanted to complete a study that was larger and was conducted over a longer period of time than previous research.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between 1970 and 1973, the researchers invited all those men living in Uppsala, Sweden, who were aged between 49 and 51 y to participate in a health survey. Most of them (2,205) agreed to do so. When the study began, they were asked questions about the amount of physical activity they took outside working hours. They were asked the same questions again when they were aged 60, 70, 77, and 82 y. A record was also kept of the number of fractures the men had suffered during the 35-y study period. (Although some of the men died before the end of the study, about half were still alive at the end.) On the basis of the answers to the questions on physical activity at the start of the study, the researchers divided the men into three categories: those whose lifestyle was considered to be “sedentary,” those whose leisure activities included some walking and cycling, and those who participated in sports for at least 3 h a week. These were referred to as the low, medium, and high activity groups. Over the 35-y period, 428 men had at least one fracture and 134 broke a hip, but there were big differences between the groups—20% of the low-activity men had fractures compared with 13% of those with medium activity and only 8% of those in the high-activity group. In particular, the chance of having a hip fracture was reduced by increased activity.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Taking exercise reduces the risk of an osteoporotic fracture. Participating in sports seems to be particularly effective; the researchers calculate that one-third of fractures could be prevented if men could be persuaded to take part in sports regularly. The researchers do note that the very best evidence always comes from studies where people are assigned at random to receive a particular “treatment” (in this case, it would be exercise) and are compared with others who did not receive the treatment. This is known as a “randomized controlled trial.” Such a trial would be difficult, if not impossible, to organize on this topic, and the approach adopted by the researchers, which is known as a “cohort study,” does provide very strong evidence. There are many other benefits from increased exercise (for example, in reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes), and most governments are now promoting sports and other active leisure pursuits. This study adds further weight to support such policies.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040199.g002.
There are many free sources of information about osteoporosis on the Web, and many organizations exist to support people with the condition. For example, the National Osteoporosis Society (UK) has useful information about the condition
In the USA, there is the Nationtal Osteoporosis Foundation (USA)
The equivalent organization in Australia is Osteoporosis Australia
The UK National Health Service's NHS Direct Health Encyclopedia has an entry on osteoporosis
MedlinePlus is an excellent source of information
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040199
PMCID: PMC1892039  PMID: 17579509
12.  Associations between Active Travel to Work and Overweight, Hypertension, and Diabetes in India: A Cross-Sectional Study 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(6):e1001459.
Using data from the Indian Migration Study, Christopher Millett and colleagues examine the associations between active travel to work and overweight, hypertension, and diabetes.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Increasing active travel (walking, bicycling, and public transport) is promoted as a key strategy to increase physical activity and reduce the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) globally. Little is known about patterns of active travel or associated cardiovascular health benefits in low- and middle-income countries. This study examines mode and duration of travel to work in rural and urban India and associations between active travel and overweight, hypertension, and diabetes.
Methods and Findings
Cross-sectional study of 3,902 participants (1,366 rural, 2,536 urban) in the Indian Migration Study. Associations between mode and duration of active travel and cardiovascular risk factors were assessed using random-effect logistic regression models adjusting for age, sex, caste, standard of living, occupation, factory location, leisure time physical activity, daily fat intake, smoking status, and alcohol use. Rural dwellers were significantly more likely to bicycle (68.3% versus 15.9%; p<0.001) to work than urban dwellers. The prevalence of overweight or obesity was 50.0%, 37.6%, 24.2%, 24.9%; hypertension was 17.7%, 11.8%, 6.5%, 9.8%; and diabetes was 10.8%, 7.4%, 3.8%, 7.3% in participants who travelled to work by private transport, public transport, bicycling, and walking, respectively. In the adjusted analysis, those walking (adjusted risk ratio [ARR] 0.72; 95% CI 0.58–0.88) or bicycling to work (ARR 0.66; 95% CI 0.55–0.77) were significantly less likely to be overweight or obese than those travelling by private transport. Those bicycling to work were significantly less likely to have hypertension (ARR 0.51; 95% CI 0.36–0.71) or diabetes (ARR 0.65; 95% CI 0.44–0.95). There was evidence of a dose-response relationship between duration of bicycling to work and being overweight, having hypertension or diabetes. The main limitation of the study is the cross-sectional design, which limits causal inference for the associations found.
Conclusions
Walking and bicycling to work was associated with reduced cardiovascular risk in the Indian population. Efforts to increase active travel in urban areas and halt declines in rural areas should be integral to strategies to maintain healthy weight and prevent NCDs in India.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and obesity (excessive body fat) are major threats to global health. Every year, more than 36 million people (including 29 million in LMICs) die from NCDs—nearly two-thirds of the world's annual deaths. Cardiovascular diseases (conditions that affect the heart and the circulation), diabetes, cancer, and respiratory diseases are responsible for most NCD-related deaths. Obesity is a risk factor for all these NCDs and the global prevalence of obesity (the proportion of the world's population that is obese) has nearly doubled since 1980. In 2008, 35% of adults were overweight and 11% were obese. One reason for the growing burden of both obesity and NCDs is increasing physical inactivity. Regular physical activity helps to maintain a healthy body weight and to prevent or delay the onset of NCDs. For an adult, 30 minutes of moderate physical activity—walking briskly or cycling, for example—five times a week is sufficient to promote and maintain health. But the daily lives of people in both developed and developing countries are becoming increasingly sedentary and, nowadays, at least 60% of the world's population does not do even this modest amount of exercise.
Why Was This Study Done?
Strategies to increase physical activity levels often promote active travel (walking, cycling, and using public transport). The positive impact of active travel on physical activity levels and cardiovascular health is well established in high-income countries, but little is known about the patterns of active travel or the health benefits associated with active travel in poorer countries. In this cross-sectional study (an investigation that measures population characteristics at a single time point), the researchers examine the mode and duration of travel to work in rural and urban India and associations between active travel and overweight/obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease), and diabetes. In India, a lower middle-income country, the prevalence of overweight and NCDs is projected to increase rapidly over the next two decades. Moreover, rapid unplanned urbanization and a large increase in registered motor vehicles has resulted in inadequate development of the public transport infrastructure and hazardous conditions for walking and cycling in most Indian towns and cities.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
For their study, researchers analyzed physical activity and health data collected from participants in the Indian Migration Study, which examined the association between migration from rural to urban areas and obesity and diabetes risk. People living in rural areas were more likely to cycle to work than people living in towns and cities (68.3% versus 15.9%). Among people who travelled to work by private transport, public transport, walking, and cycling, the prevalence of overweight or obesity was 50.0%, 37.6%, 24.9%, and 24.2%, respectively. Similar patterns were seen for the prevalence of hypertension and diabetes. After adjustment for factors that affect the risk of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes (for example, daily fat intake and leisure time physical activity), people walking or cycling to work were less likely to be overweight or obese than those travelling by public transport, and those cycling to walk were less likely to have hypertension or diabetes. Finally, people with long cycle rides to work had a lower risk of being overweight or having hypertension or diabetes than people with short cycle rides.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, as in high-income settings, walking and cycling to work are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in India. Because this was a cross-sectional study, these findings do not prove that active travel reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease—people who cycle to work may share other unknown characteristics that are actually responsible for their reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Moreover, this study did not consider non-cardiovascular outcomes associated with active travel that might affect health such as increased exposure to air pollution. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that programs designed to maintain healthy weight and prevent NCDs in India should endeavor to increase active travel in urban areas and to halt declines in rural areas by, for example, increasing investment in public transport and improving the safety and convenience of walking and cycling routes in urban areas.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001459.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Kavi Bhalla
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on all aspects of healthy living, on chronic diseases and health promotion, on overweight and obesity and on non-communicable diseases around the world; its Physical Activity for Everyone web pages include guidelines, instructional videos and personal success stories (some information in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information about physical activity and health, about obesity, and about non-communicable diseases (in several languages); its 2010 Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health are available in several languages; its Global Noncommunicable Disease Network (NCDnet) aims to help low- and middle- income countries reduce NCD-related illnesses and death through implementation of the 20082013 Action Plan for the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (also available in French); Face to face with chronic diseases is a selection of personal stories from around the world about dealing with NCDs
The American Heart Association provides information on many important risk factors for non-communicable diseases and provides tips for becoming more active
Information about the Indian Migration Study is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001459
PMCID: PMC3679004  PMID: 23776412
13.  Towards Universal Voluntary HIV Testing and Counselling: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Community-Based Approaches 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(8):e1001496.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Amitabh Suthar and colleagues describe the evidence base for different HIV testing and counseling services provided outside of health facilities.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Effective national and global HIV responses require a significant expansion of HIV testing and counselling (HTC) to expand access to prevention and care. Facility-based HTC, while essential, is unlikely to meet national and global targets on its own. This article systematically reviews the evidence for community-based HTC.
Methods and Findings
PubMed was searched on 4 March 2013, clinical trial registries were searched on 3 September 2012, and Embase and the World Health Organization Global Index Medicus were searched on 10 April 2012 for studies including community-based HTC (i.e., HTC outside of health facilities). Randomised controlled trials, and observational studies were eligible if they included a community-based testing approach and reported one or more of the following outcomes: uptake, proportion receiving their first HIV test, CD4 value at diagnosis, linkage to care, HIV positivity rate, HTC coverage, HIV incidence, or cost per person tested (outcomes are defined fully in the text). The following community-based HTC approaches were reviewed: (1) door-to-door testing (systematically offering HTC to homes in a catchment area), (2) mobile testing for the general population (offering HTC via a mobile HTC service), (3) index testing (offering HTC to household members of people with HIV and persons who may have been exposed to HIV), (4) mobile testing for men who have sex with men, (5) mobile testing for people who inject drugs, (6) mobile testing for female sex workers, (7) mobile testing for adolescents, (8) self-testing, (9) workplace HTC, (10) church-based HTC, and (11) school-based HTC. The Newcastle-Ottawa Quality Assessment Scale and the Cochrane Collaboration's “risk of bias” tool were used to assess the risk of bias in studies with a comparator arm included in pooled estimates.
 117 studies, including 864,651 participants completing HTC, met the inclusion criteria. The percentage of people offered community-based HTC who accepted HTC was as follows: index testing, 88% of 12,052 participants; self-testing, 87% of 1,839 participants; mobile testing, 87% of 79,475 participants; door-to-door testing, 80% of 555,267 participants; workplace testing, 67% of 62,406 participants; and school-based testing, 62% of 2,593 participants. Mobile HTC uptake among key populations (men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, female sex workers, and adolescents) ranged from 9% to 100% (among 41,110 participants across studies), with heterogeneity related to how testing was offered. Community-based approaches increased HTC uptake (relative risk [RR] 10.65, 95% confidence interval [CI] 6.27–18.08), the proportion of first-time testers (RR 1.23, 95% CI 1.06–1.42), and the proportion of participants with CD4 counts above 350 cells/µl (RR 1.42, 95% CI 1.16–1.74), and obtained a lower positivity rate (RR 0.59, 95% CI 0.37–0.96), relative to facility-based approaches. 80% (95% CI 75%–85%) of 5,832 community-based HTC participants obtained a CD4 measurement following HIV diagnosis, and 73% (95% CI 61%–85%) of 527 community-based HTC participants initiated antiretroviral therapy following a CD4 measurement indicating eligibility. The data on linking participants without HIV to prevention services were limited. In low- and middle-income countries, the cost per person tested ranged from US$2–US$126. At the population level, community-based HTC increased HTC coverage (RR 7.07, 95% CI 3.52–14.22) and reduced HIV incidence (RR 0.86, 95% CI 0.73–1.02), although the incidence reduction lacked statistical significance. No studies reported any harm arising as a result of having been tested.
Conclusions
Community-based HTC achieved high rates of HTC uptake, reached people with high CD4 counts, and linked people to care. It also obtained a lower HIV positivity rate relative to facility-based approaches. Further research is needed to further improve acceptability of community-based HTC for key populations. HIV programmes should offer community-based HTC linked to prevention and care, in addition to facility-based HTC, to support increased access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment.
Review Registration
International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews CRD42012002554
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Three decades into the AIDS epidemic, about 34 million people (most living in resource-limited countries) are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Every year another 2.2 million people become infected with HIV, usually through unprotected sex with an infected partner, and about 1.7 million people die. Infection with HIV, which gradually destroys the CD4 lymphocytes and other immune system cells that provide protection from life-threatening infections, is usually diagnosed by looking for antibodies to HIV in the blood or saliva. Disease progression is subsequently monitored in HIV-positive individuals by counting the CD4 cells in their blood. Initiation of antiretroviral drug therapy—a combination of drugs that keeps HIV replication in check but that does not cure the infection—is recommended when an individual's CD4 count falls below 500 cells/µl of blood or when he or she develops signs of severe or advanced disease, such as unusual infections.
Why Was This Study Done?
As part of intensified efforts to eliminate HIV/AIDS, United Nations member states recently set several HIV-related targets to be achieved by 2015, including reduced transmission of HIV and increased delivery of antiretroviral therapy. These targets can only be achieved if there is a large expansion in HIV testing and counseling (HTC) and increased access to HIV prevention and care services. The World Health Organization currently recommends that everyone attending a healthcare facility in regions where there is a generalized HIV epidemic (defined as when 1% or more of the general population is HIV-positive) should be offered HTC. However, many people rarely visit healthcare facilities, and others refuse “facility-based” HTC because they fear stigmatization and discrimination. Thus, facility-based HTC alone is unlikely to be sufficient to enable national and global HIV targets to be reached. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, the researchers evaluate the performance of community-based HTC approaches such as index testing (offering HTC to the sexual and injecting partners and household members of people with HIV), mobile testing (offering HTC through a service that visits shopping centers and other public facilities), and door-to-door testing (systematically offering HTC to homes in a catchment area). A systematic review uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic; meta-analysis combines the results of several studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 117 studies (most undertaken in Africa and North America) involving 864,651 participants that evaluated community-based HTC approaches. Among these studies, the percentage of people offered community-based HTC who accepted it (HTC uptake) was 88% for index testing, 87% for self-testing, 80% for door-to-door testing, 67% for workplace testing, and 62% for school-based testing. Compared to facility-based approaches, community-based approaches increased the chances of an individual's CD4 count being above 350 cells/µl at diagnosis (an important observation because early diagnosis improves subsequent outcomes) but had a lower positivity rate, possibly because people with symptoms of HIV are more likely to visit healthcare facilities than healthy individuals. Importantly, 80% of participants in the community-based HTC studies had their CD4 count measured after HIV diagnosis, and 73% of the participants initiated antiretroviral therapy after their CD4 count fell below national eligibility criteria; both these observations suggest that community-based HTC successfully linked people to care. Finally, offering community-based HTC approaches in addition to facility-based approaches increased HTC coverage seven-fold at the population level.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that community-based HTC can achieve high HTC uptake rates and can reach HIV-positive individuals earlier, when they still have high CD4 counts. Importantly, they also suggest that the level of linkage to care of community-based HTC is similar to that of facility-based HTC. Although the lower positivity rate of community-based HTC approaches means that more people need to be tested with these approaches than with facility-based HTC to identify the same number of HIV-positive individuals, this downside of community-based HTC is likely to be offset by the earlier identification of HIV-positive individuals, which should improve life expectancy and reduce HIV transmission at the population level. Although further studies are needed to evaluate community-based HTC in other regions of the world, these findings suggest that offering community-based HTC in HIV programs in addition to facility-based testing should support the increased access to HIV prevention and care that is required for the intensification of HIV/AIDS elimination efforts.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001496.
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on counseling and testing (in several languages)
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, on HIV testing, and on HIV transmission and testing (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information (including personal stories) about HIV and AIDS
The World AIDS Day Report 2012 provides up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert; the nonprofit website Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about living with HIV, including stories about getting a diagnosis
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001496
PMCID: PMC3742447  PMID: 23966838
14.  Costs and Consequences of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Recommendations for Opt-Out HIV Testing 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(6):e194.
Background
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently recommended opt-out HIV testing (testing without the need for risk assessment and counseling) in all health care encounters in the US for persons 13–64 years old. However, the overall costs and consequences of these recommendations have not been estimated before. In this paper, I estimate the costs and public health impact of opt-out HIV testing relative to testing accompanied by client-centered counseling, and relative to a more targeted counseling and testing strategy.
Methods and Findings
Basic methods of scenario and cost-effectiveness analysis were used, from a payer's perspective over a one-year time horizon. I found that for the same programmatic cost of US$864,207,288, targeted counseling and testing services (at a 1% HIV seropositivity rate) would be preferred to opt-out testing: targeted services would newly diagnose more HIV infections (188,170 versus 56,940), prevent more HIV infections (14,553 versus 3,644), and do so at a lower gross cost per infection averted (US$59,383 versus US$237,149). While the study is limited by uncertainty in some input parameter values, the findings were robust across a variety of assumptions about these parameter values (including the estimated HIV seropositivity rate in the targeted counseling and testing scenario).
Conclusions
While opt-out testing may be able to newly diagnose over 56,000 persons living with HIV in one year, abandoning client-centered counseling has real public health consequences in terms of HIV infections that could have been averted. Further, my analyses indicate that even when HIV seropositivity rates are as low as 0.3%, targeted counseling and testing performs better than opt-out testing on several key outcome variables. These analytic findings should be kept in mind as HIV counseling and testing policies are debated in the US.
Scenario and cost-effectiveness analyses found that for the same programmatic cost, targeted counseling and testing would diagnose more people living with HIV and prevent more HIV infections than opt-out testing.
Editors' Summary
Background.
About a quarter of a million people in the United States do not realize they are infected with HIV. Because they are unaware of their infection, they don't get the medicines they need to stay healthy, and they may also be transmitting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, to others unwittingly. How can public health professionals best reach such people to offer them an HIV test? There are a number of different schools of thought, the two most common of which are studied in this paper.
The first is that the best way to reach them is by simply offering every single patient in every health care setting an HIV test, but giving them the option to decline. This approach is known as “opt-out testing” (because everyone gets tested unless they choose to opt out); it has recently been recommended by the leading US government agency responsible for promoting the US public's health, an agency called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC says that there is no need for patients to give specific written permission for the HIV test to be done and that there is no need for health professionals to offer counseling of what the consequences of a positive test might mean for them before the test.
The second school of thought is that public health professionals should instead target their efforts towards those who are at increased risk of being HIV positive, such as those who inject drugs or who have had high-risk sex. Persons at risk of infection or transmission are offered counseling before the test, to assess their actual risk of HIV and to discuss what would happen in the event that the HIV test comes back positive. During counseling, people are also given advice on steps they can take to stay HIV negative if their test comes back negative, and to prevent infecting others if their test comes back positive. This approach to HIV testing is called “targeted counseling and testing.” While targeting can be done according to levels of risk behavior, counseling and testing services can also be targeted by focusing on geographic areas (e.g., cities) with high levels of HIV infection, or focusing on different types of clinics that serve persons at high risk of HIV infection and/or with little routine access to health care (such as sexually transmitted disease or drug treatment clinics, emergency rooms, or medical clinics in prison settings).
Why Was This Study Done?
The researcher, David Holtgrave, wanted to know which of these two different approaches would be better at reaching people with undiagnosed HIV infection over the course of a one-year period. He also wanted to know the costs of each approach, and which might be better at curbing the spread of HIV.
What Did the Researcher Do and Find?
He used two research techniques. One is called “scenario analysis,” which involves trying to forecast the consequences of several different possible scenarios. The other is called “cost-effectiveness analysis,” which involves comparing the costs and effects of two or more different courses of action.
According to Dr. Holtgrave's analysis, opt-out testing might reach 23% of those people who are currently unaware that they are HIV positive. The program might also prevent 9% of the 40,000 new HIV infections that occur each year in the US. The cost of averting one new infection would be US$237,149. In contrast, targeted counseling and testing might identify about 75% of people in the US now unaware they are living with HIV infection, and prevent about 36% of the new HIV infections. The cost of averting one new infection would be US$59,383. Even when the author changed several assumptions in his analysis (e.g., assumptions about levels of HIV infection or the effectiveness of counseling), he found that targeted counseling and testing still performed better (so the results are “robust” across a variety of such assumptions).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that targeted counseling and testing would be better than opt-out testing for reaching people with undiagnosed HIV infection and for helping to stop the spread of the virus. Opt-out testing, says the author, might even make some people increase their risky behavior. For example, if someone is injecting drugs, is given an opt-out HIV test, but is never questioned about substance use or counseled, and gets an HIV-negative result, they could easily conclude that their drug injecting is not putting them at risk of becoming HIV positive.
However, it is important to note that this study has a major limitation in that it tried to predict what might happen in the future—it did not study the actual impact of the two different types of testing on a group of people. Studies such as this one, which try to predict the future, are always based on a number of assumptions and these assumptions may turn out not to be true. So we should always be cautious in interpreting the results of a “scenario analysis.” In addition, because of the assumptions made in this study, these results are only directly applicable to the US population and hence the implications for other countries are not clear.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040194
In a related Perspective on this article, Ronald Valdiserri discusses the public health implications of the study
The CDC has a Web site with information on national HIV testing resources
In addition, the CDC has published its “Revised Recommendations for HIV Testing of Adults, Adolescents, and Pregnant Women in Health-Care Settings,” which lay out its proposal for opt-out testing
The international AIDS charity AVERT has a comprehensive page on HIV testing, including information on the reasons to have a test and what the test involves
Johns Hopkins University is host to a site that provides extensive information on HIV care and treatment
The University of California at San Francisco maintains HIV InSite, an authoritative Web site covering topics such as HIV prevention, care, and policy
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040194
PMCID: PMC1891318  PMID: 17564488
15.  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
16.  First Diagnosis and Management of Incontinence in Older People with and without Dementia in Primary Care: A Cohort Study Using The Health Improvement Network Primary Care Database 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(8):e1001505.
Robert Grant and colleagues used the British THIN primary care database to determine rates of first diagnosis of urinary and faecal incontinence among people aged 60–89 with dementia compared with those without dementia, and the use of medication or indwelling catheters for urinary incontinence in those with and without dementia.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Dementia is one of the most disabling and burdensome diseases. Incontinence in people with dementia is distressing, adds to carer burden, and influences decisions to relocate people to care homes. Successful and safe management of incontinence in people with dementia presents additional challenges. The aim of this study was to investigate the rates of first diagnosis in primary care of urinary and faecal incontinence among people aged 60–89 with dementia, and the use of medication or indwelling catheters for urinary incontinence.
Methods and Findings
We extracted data on 54,816 people aged 60–89 with dementia and an age-gender stratified sample of 205,795 people without dementia from 2001 to 2010 from The Health Improvement Network (THIN), a United Kingdom primary care database. THIN includes data on patients and primary care consultations but does not identify care home residents. Rate ratios were adjusted for age, sex, and co-morbidity using multilevel Poisson regression.
The rates of first diagnosis per 1,000 person-years at risk (95% confidence interval) for urinary incontinence in the dementia cohort, among men and women, respectively, were 42.3 (40.9–43.8) and 33.5 (32.6–34.5). In the non-dementia cohort, the rates were 19.8 (19.4–20.3) and 18.6 (18.2–18.9). The rates of first diagnosis for faecal incontinence in the dementia cohort were 11.1 (10.4–11.9) and 10.1 (9.6–10.6). In the non-dementia cohort, the rates were 3.1 (2.9–3.3) and 3.6 (3.5–3.8).
The adjusted rate ratio for first diagnosis of urinary incontinence was 3.2 (2.7–3.7) in men and 2.7 (2.3–3.2) in women, and for faecal incontinence was 6.0 (5.1–7.0) in men and 4.5 (3.8–5.2) in women. The adjusted rate ratio for pharmacological treatment of urinary incontinence was 2.2 (1.4–3.7) for both genders, and for indwelling urinary catheters was 1.6 (1.3–1.9) in men and 2.3 (1.9–2.8) in women.
Conclusions
Compared with those without a dementia diagnosis, those with a dementia diagnosis have approximately three times the rate of diagnosis of urinary incontinence, and more than four times the rate of faecal incontinence, in UK primary care. The clinical management of urinary incontinence in people with dementia with medication and particularly the increased use of catheters is concerning and requires further investigation.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Globally, more than 35 million people have dementia, brain disorders that are characterized by an irreversible decline in cognitive functions such as language and memory. Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia mainly affect older people and, because people are living longer than ever, experts estimate that by 2050 more than 115 million people will have dementia. The earliest sign of dementia is usually increasing forgetfulness but, as the disease progresses, people gradually lose their ability to deal with normal daily activities such as dressing, they may become anxious or aggressive, and they may lose control of their bladder (urinary incontinence), bowels (bowel or fecal incontinence), and other physical functions. As a result, people with dementia require increasing amounts of care as the disease progresses. Relatives and other unpaid carers provide much of this care—two-thirds of people with dementia are cared for at home. However, many people with dementia end their days in a care or nursing home.
Why Was This Study Done?
Incontinence in people with dementia is distressing for the person with dementia and for their carers and often influences decisions to move individuals into care homes. However, little is known about the diagnosis and treatment of urinary and/or fecal incontinence among people with dementia living at home. This information is needed to help policymakers commission the services required for this section of society and insurers recognize the needs such patients have, as well as helping to raise clinicians' awareness of the issue. In this cohort study (an investigation that compares outcomes in groups of people with different characteristics), the researchers use data routinely collected from general practices (primary care) in the UK to determine the rate of first diagnosis of urinary and fecal incontinence in elderly patients with and without dementia and to find out whether a diagnosis of dementia affects the rate of use of drugs or of indwelling urinary catheters (tubes inserted into the bladder to drain urine from the body) for the treatment of urinary incontinence.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers extracted data collected between 2001 and 2010 on incontinence for nearly 55,000 people aged 60–89 with a diagnosis of dementia (the dementia cohort) and for more than 200,000 individuals without a diagnosis of dementia (the non-dementia cohort) from The Health Improvement Network (THIN) primary care database, which includes anonymized consultation records from nearly 500 UK general practices. In the dementia cohort, the rates of first diagnosis of urinary incontinence were 42.3 and 33.5 per 1,000 person-years at risk among men and women, respectively. In the non-dementia cohort, the corresponding rates were 19.8 and 18.6. The rates of first diagnosis of fecal incontinence were 11.1 and 10.1 in the dementia cohort, and 3.1 and 3.6 in the non-dementia cohort among men and women, respectively. After adjusting for age, sex and other diseases, the adjusted rate ratio for the first diagnosis of urinary incontinence in people with dementia compared to people without dementia was 3.2 in men and 2.7 in women; for fecal incontinence, it was 6.0 in men and 4.5 in women; the adjusted rate ratio was 2.2 for both men and women for drug treatment of urinary incontinence and 1.6 in men and 2.3 in women for use of indwelling urinary catheters.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, in primary care in the UK, dementia is associated with a three-fold higher rate of diagnosis of urinary incontinence and a greater than four-fold higher rate of diagnosis of fecal incontinence. Moreover, the authors suggest that some aspects of clinical management of urinary continence vary between people with and without dementia. In particular, the use of indwelling urinary catheters appears to be more common among people with dementia than among people without dementia, increasing the risk of infection. Thus, health care practitioners providing care for people with dementia may be prioritizing ease of management over risk avoidance, a possibility that requires further investigation. Although the accuracy of these findings is limited by certain aspects of the study design (for example, the THIN database does not identify which patients are living in care homes), they nevertheless suggest that policymakers and insurers involved in planning and providing services for people with dementia living at home need to provide high levels of help with incontinence, including the provision of advice and support for carers.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001505.
The UK not-for-profit organization Alzheimers Society provides information for patients and carers about dementia, including information on coping with incontinence and personal stories about living with dementia
The US not-for-profit organization Alzheimers Association also provides information for patients and carers about dementia and about incontinence, and personal stories about dementia
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information (including personal stories) about dementia, urinary incontinence, and bowel incontinence
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources about dementia, urinary incontinence and fecal incontinence (in English and Spanish)
The International Continence Society and the International Consultation on Urological Diseases provide independent advice on products to manage incontinence
More information about the THIN database is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001505
PMCID: PMC3754889  PMID: 24015113
17.  Personalized Prediction of Lifetime Benefits with Statin Therapy for Asymptomatic Individuals: A Modeling Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(12):e1001361.
In a modeling study conducted by Myriam Hunink and colleagues, a population-based cohort from Rotterdam is used to predict the possible lifetime benefits of statin therapy, on a personalized basis.
Background
Physicians need to inform asymptomatic individuals about personalized outcomes of statin therapy for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, current prediction models focus on short-term outcomes and ignore the competing risk of death due to other causes. We aimed to predict the potential lifetime benefits with statin therapy, taking into account competing risks.
Methods and Findings
A microsimulation model based on 5-y follow-up data from the Rotterdam Study, a population-based cohort of individuals aged 55 y and older living in the Ommoord district of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, was used to estimate lifetime outcomes with and without statin therapy. The model was validated in-sample using 10-y follow-up data. We used baseline variables and model output to construct (1) a web-based calculator for gains in total and CVD-free life expectancy and (2) color charts for comparing these gains to the Systematic Coronary Risk Evaluation (SCORE) charts. In 2,428 participants (mean age 67.7 y, 35.5% men), statin therapy increased total life expectancy by 0.3 y (SD 0.2) and CVD-free life expectancy by 0.7 y (SD 0.4). Age, sex, smoking, blood pressure, hypertension, lipids, diabetes, glucose, body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, and creatinine were included in the calculator. Gains in total and CVD-free life expectancy increased with blood pressure, unfavorable lipid levels, and body mass index after multivariable adjustment. Gains decreased considerably with advancing age, while SCORE 10-y CVD mortality risk increased with age. Twenty-five percent of participants with a low SCORE risk achieved equal or larger gains in CVD-free life expectancy than the median gain in participants with a high SCORE risk.
Conclusions
We developed tools to predict personalized increases in total and CVD-free life expectancy with statin therapy. The predicted gains we found are small. If the underlying model is validated in an independent cohort, the tools may be useful in discussing with patients their individual outcomes with statin therapy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) affects the heart and/or the blood vessels and is a major cause of illness and death worldwide. In the US, for example, coronary heart disease—a CVD in which narrowing of the heart's blood vessels by fatty deposits slows the blood supply to the heart and may eventually cause a heart attack—is the leading cause of death, and stroke—a CVD in which the brain's blood supply is interrupted—is the fourth leading cause of death. Established risk factors for CVD include smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and high blood levels of a fat called low-density lipoprotein (“bad cholesterol”). Because many of these risk factors can be modified by lifestyle changes and by drugs, CVD can be prevented. Thus, physicians can assess a healthy individual's risk of developing CVD using a CVD prediction model (equations that take into account the CVD risk factors to which the individual is exposed) and can then recommend lifestyle changes and medications to reduce that individual's CVD risk.
Why Was This Study Done?
Current guidelines recommend that asymptomatic (healthy) individuals whose likely CVD risk is high should be encouraged to take statins—cholesterol-lowering drugs—as a preventative measure. Statins help to prevent CVD in healthy people with a high predicted risk of CVD, but, like all medicines, they have some unwanted side effects, so it is important that physicians can communicate both the benefits and drawbacks of statins to their patients in a way that allows them to make an informed decision about taking these drugs. Telling a patient that statins will reduce his or her short-term risk of CVD is not always helpful—patients really need to know the potential lifetime benefits of statin therapy. That is, they need to know how much longer they might live if they take statins. Here, the researchers use a mathematical model to predict the personalized lifetime benefits (increased total and CVD-free life expectancy) of statin therapy for individuals without a history of CVD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used the Rotterdam Ischemic Heart Disease & Stroke Computer Simulation (RISC) model, which simulates the life courses of individuals through six health states, from well through to CVD or non-CVD death, to estimate lifetime outcomes with and without statin therapy in a population of healthy elderly individuals. They then used these outcomes and information on baseline risk factors to develop a web-based calculator suitable for personalized prediction of the lifetime benefits of statins in routine clinical practice. The model estimated that statin therapy increases average life expectancy in the study population by 0.3 years and average CVD-free life expectancy by 0.7 years. The gains in total and CVD-free life expectancy associated with statin therapy increased with blood pressure, unfavorable cholesterol levels, and body mass index (an indicator of body fat) but decreased with age. Notably, the web-based calculator predicted that some individuals with a low ten-year CVD risk might achieve a similar or larger gain in CVD-free life expectancy with statin therapy than some individuals with a high ten-year risk. So, for example, both a 55-year-old non-smoking woman with a ten-year CVD mortality risk of 2% (a two in a hundred chance of dying of CVD within ten years) and a 65-year-old male smoker with a ten-year CVD mortality risk of 15% might both gain one year of CVD-free life expectancy with statin therapy.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that statin therapy can lead on average to small gains in total life expectancy and slightly larger gains in CVD-free life expectancy among healthy individuals, and show that life expectancy benefits can be predicted using an individual's risk factor profile. The accuracy and generalizability of these findings is limited by the assumptions included in the model (in particular, the model did not allow for the known side effects of statin therapy) and by the data fed into it—importantly, the risk prediction model needs to be validated using an independent dataset. If future research confirms the findings of this study, the researchers' web-based calculator could provide complementary information to the currently recommended ten-year CVD mortality risk assessment. Whether communication of personalized outcomes will ultimately result in better clinical outcomes remains to be seen, however, because patients may be less likely to choose statin therapy when provided with more information about its likely benefits.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001361.
The web-based calculator for personalized prediction of lifetime benefits with statin therapy is available (after agreement to software license)
The American Heart Association provides information about many types of cardiovascular disease for patients, carers, and professionals, including information about drug therapy for cholesterol and a heart attack risk calculator
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about cardiovascular disease and about statins
Information is available from the British Heart Foundation on heart disease and keeping the heart healthy; information is also available on statins, including personal stories about deciding to take statins
The US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute provides information on a wide range of cardiovascular diseases
The European Society of Cardiology's cardiovascular disease risk assessment model (SCORE) is available
MedlinePlus provides links to many other sources of information on heart diseases, vascular diseases, stroke, and statins (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001361
PMCID: PMC3531501  PMID: 23300388
18.  The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparative Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and Metabolic Risk Factors 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(4):e1000058.
Majid Ezzati and colleagues examine US data on risk factor exposures and disease-specific mortality and find that smoking and hypertension, which both have effective interventions, are responsible for the largest number of deaths.
Background
Knowledge of the number of deaths caused by risk factors is needed for health policy and priority setting. Our aim was to estimate the mortality effects of the following 12 modifiable dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors in the United States (US) using consistent and comparable methods: high blood glucose, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and blood pressure; overweight–obesity; high dietary trans fatty acids and salt; low dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids (seafood), and fruits and vegetables; physical inactivity; alcohol use; and tobacco smoking.
Methods and Findings
We used data on risk factor exposures in the US population from nationally representative health surveys and disease-specific mortality statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics. We obtained the etiological effects of risk factors on disease-specific mortality, by age, from systematic reviews and meta-analyses of epidemiological studies that had adjusted (i) for major potential confounders, and (ii) where possible for regression dilution bias. We estimated the number of disease-specific deaths attributable to all non-optimal levels of each risk factor exposure, by age and sex. In 2005, tobacco smoking and high blood pressure were responsible for an estimated 467,000 (95% confidence interval [CI] 436,000–500,000) and 395,000 (372,000–414,000) deaths, accounting for about one in five or six deaths in US adults. Overweight–obesity (216,000; 188,000–237,000) and physical inactivity (191,000; 164,000–222,000) were each responsible for nearly 1 in 10 deaths. High dietary salt (102,000; 97,000–107,000), low dietary omega-3 fatty acids (84,000; 72,000–96,000), and high dietary trans fatty acids (82,000; 63,000–97,000) were the dietary risks with the largest mortality effects. Although 26,000 (23,000–40,000) deaths from ischemic heart disease, ischemic stroke, and diabetes were averted by current alcohol use, they were outweighed by 90,000 (88,000–94,000) deaths from other cardiovascular diseases, cancers, liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, alcohol use disorders, road traffic and other injuries, and violence.
Conclusions
Smoking and high blood pressure, which both have effective interventions, are responsible for the largest number of deaths in the US. Other dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors for chronic diseases also cause a substantial number of deaths in the US.
Please see later in the article for Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
A number of modifiable factors are responsible for many premature or preventable deaths. For example, being overweight or obese shortens life expectancy, while half of all long-term tobacco smokers in Western populations will die prematurely from a disease directly related to smoking. Modifiable risk factors fall into three main groups. First, there are lifestyle risk factors. These include tobacco smoking, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use (small amounts of alcohol may actually prevent diabetes and some types of heart disease and stroke). Second, there are dietary risk factors such as a high salt intake and a low intake of fruits and vegetables. Finally, there are “metabolic risk factors,” which shorten life expectancy by increasing a person's chances of developing cardiovascular disease (in particular, heart problems and strokes) and diabetes. Metabolic risk factors include having high blood pressure or blood cholesterol and being overweight or obese.
Why Was This Study Done?
It should be possible to reduce preventable deaths by changing modifiable risk factors through introducing public health policies, programs and regulations that reduce exposures to these risk factors. However, it is important to know how many deaths are caused by each risk factor before developing policies and programs that aim to improve a nation's health. Although previous studies have provided some information on the numbers of premature deaths caused by modifiable risk factors, there are two problems with these studies. First, they have not used consistent and comparable methods to estimate the number of deaths attributable to different risk factors. Second, they have rarely considered the effects of dietary and metabolic risk factors. In this new study, the researchers estimate the number of deaths due to 12 different modifiable dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors for the United States population. They use a method called “comparative risk assessment.” This approach estimates the number of deaths that would be prevented if current distributions of risk factor exposures were changed to hypothetical optimal distributions.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers extracted data on exposures to these 12 selected risk factors from US national health surveys, and they obtained information on deaths from difference diseases for 2005 from the US National Center for Health Statistics. They used previously published studies to estimate how much each risk factor increases the risk of death from each disease. The researchers then used a mathematical formula to estimate the numbers of deaths caused by each risk factor. Of the 2.5 million US deaths in 2005, they estimate that nearly half a million were associated with tobacco smoking and about 400,000 were associated with high blood pressure. These two risk factors therefore each accounted for about 1 in 5 deaths in US adults. Overweight–obesity and physical inactivity were each responsible for nearly 1 in 10 deaths. Among the dietary factors examined, high dietary salt intake had the largest effect, being responsible for 4% of deaths in adults. Finally, while alcohol use prevented 26,000 deaths from ischemic heart disease, ischemic stroke, and diabetes, the researchers estimate that it caused 90,000 deaths from other types of cardiovascular diseases, other medical conditions, and road traffic accidents and violence.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that smoking and high blood pressure are responsible for the largest number of preventable deaths in the US, but that several other modifiable risk factors also cause many deaths. Although the accuracy of some of the estimates obtained in this study will be affected by the quality of the data used, these findings suggest that targeting a handful of risk factors could greatly reduce premature mortality in the US. The findings might also apply to other countries, although the risk factors responsible for most preventable deaths may vary between countries. Importantly, effective individual-level and population-wide interventions are already available to reduce people's exposure to the two risk factors responsible for most preventable deaths in the US. The researchers also suggest that combinations of regulation, pricing, and education have the potential to reduce the exposure of US residents to other risk factors that are likely to shorten their lives.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000058.
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on healthy living (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on all aspects of healthy living
Healthy People 2010 is a national framework designed to improve the health of people living in the US. The Healthy People 2020 Framework is due to be launched in January 2010
The World Health Report 2002Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life provides a global analysis of how healthy life expectancy could be increased
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is “a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's site Smoking and Tobacco Use offers a large number of informational and data resources on this important risk factor
The American Heart Association and American Cancer Society provide a rich resource for patients and caregivers on many important risk factors including diet, sodium intake, and smoking
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000058
PMCID: PMC2667673  PMID: 19399161
19.  Associations between Mode of HIV Testing and Consent, Confidentiality, and Referral: A Comparative Analysis in Four African Countries 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(10):e1001329.
A study carried out by Carla Obermeyer and colleagues examines whether practices regarding consent, confidentiality, and referral vary depending on whether HIV testing is provided through voluntary counseling and testing or provider-initiated testing.
Background
Recommendations about scaling up HIV testing and counseling highlight the need to provide key services and to protect clients' rights, but it is unclear to what extent different modes of testing differ in this respect. This paper examines whether practices regarding consent, confidentiality, and referral vary depending on whether testing is provided through voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) or provider-initiated testing.
Methods and Findings
The MATCH (Multi-Country African Testing and Counseling for HIV) study was carried out in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda. Surveys were conducted at selected facilities. We defined eight outcome measures related to pre- and post-test counseling, consent, confidentiality, satisfactory interactions with providers, and (for HIV-positive respondents) referral for care. These were compared across three types of facilities: integrated facilities, where testing is provided along with medical care; stand-alone VCT facilities; and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) facilities, where testing is part of PMTCT services. Tests of bivariate associations and modified Poisson regression were used to assess significance and estimate the unadjusted and adjusted associations between modes of testing and outcome measures. In total, 2,116 respondents tested in 2007 or later reported on their testing experience. High percentages of clients across countries and modes of testing reported receiving recommended services and being satisfied. In the unadjusted analyses, integrated testers were less likely to meet with a counselor before testing (83% compared with 95% of VCT testers; p<0.001), but those who had a pre-test meeting were more likely to have completed consent procedures (89% compared with 83% among VCT testers; p<0.001) and pre-test counseling (78% compared with 73% among VCT testers; p = 0.015). Both integrated and PMTCT testers were more likely to receive complete post-test counseling than were VCT testers (59% among both PMTCT and integrated testers compared with 36% among VCT testers; p<0.001). Adjusted analyses by country show few significant differences by mode of testing: only lower satisfaction among integrated testers in Burkina Faso and Uganda, and lower frequency of referral among PMTCT testers in Malawi. Adjusted analyses of pooled data across countries show a higher likelihood of pre-test meeting for those testing at VCT facilities (adjusted prevalence ratio: 1.22, 95% CI: 1.07–1.38) and higher satisfaction for stand-alone VCT facilities (adjusted prevalence ratio: 1.15; 95% CI: 1.06–1.25), compared to integrated testing, but no other associations were statistically significant.
Conclusions
Overall, in this study most respondents reported favorable outcomes for consent, confidentiality, and referral. Provider-initiated ways of delivering testing and counseling do not appear to be associated with less favorable outcomes for clients than traditional, client-initiated VCT, suggesting that testing can be scaled up through multiple modes without detriment to clients' rights.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2007, World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) issued a joint guidance document on “provider-initiated” HIV testing and counseling. They noted that previous testing strategies that relied on “client-initiated” testing (also referred to as VCT, for voluntary counseling and testing) had failed to reach enough people, both in high-income and resource-constrained countries—in Africa, for example, at that time, just 12% of men and 10% of women had ever been tested. They argued that many opportunities to diagnose and counsel people that visit health facilities for other reasons are being missed, and that provider-initiated HIV testing and counseling can help expand access to HIV treatment, care, and support. They made it clear, however, that mandatory testing is not acceptable. All provider-initiated testing must therefore give individuals the option to not be tested. In addition, the guidelines stressed that all testing must continue to observe “the three Cs” (informed consent, counseling, and confidentiality) and be accompanied by an “enabling environment” including the availability of antiretroviral therapy, prevention and support services, and a supportive social, policy, and legal framework. A number of advocates have subsequently criticized the guidelines for failing to recognize that health-care services and staff in some countries do not always observe the three Cs. Critics have also questioned the appropriateness of the strategy for settings where antiretroviral therapy is not always available or where stigma and discrimination remain widespread.
Why Was This Study Done?
To inform the debate surrounding scale-up of HIV testing in general and provider-initiated testing in particular with data on “real-life” testing, researchers have since carried out a number of studies. One of them, called MATCH (for Multi-Country African Testing and Counseling for HIV), was designed to allow systematic comparisons across African countries of different ways of HIV testing. Its goal was to investigate the uptake of testing, to analyze differences in the experience of testing across countries and modes of testing, and to use the results to devise better strategies to increase knowledge of HIV status and referral to care. MATCH used different means to collect information, including surveys and interviews. People from Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda participated. Some had undergone HIV testing, others had not. This study used a subset of the survey data collected for the MATCH study and asked whether there were systematic differences depending on the type of testing people had experienced.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The data the researchers used were from 2,116 people who had undergone testing in the two previous years at different facilities in the four countries. The different facilities were grouped into three “modes” of testing: VCT-only testing, integrated testing (which included hospitals and other medical facilities where provider-initiated and client-initiated testing were both available, along with other medical services), and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) testing at medical facilities offering services to pregnant women. Analyzing the survey responses, the researchers categorized them as related to eight different “outcomes”: pre-test meeting, pre-test counseling, consent, confidentiality, satisfaction with the person-to-person interactions, post-test meeting to receive results, post-test counseling, and referral to care.
They found that across countries and different facilities, the majority of participants reported having received most of the testing-related services. More than 90% reported having a pre-test meeting, and around 80% were satisfied with the personal interactions, with the consent process, and with confidentiality. About 50% of participants reported receiving all post-test services, and 71% of those who had tested positive for HIV reported appropriate referral to care.
When they looked for differences between different modes of testing, the researchers found that while they existed, they did not consistently favor one mode over another. Some outcomes scored higher in VCT facilities, some in PMTCT facilities, and some in integrated facilities.
What Do These Findings Mean?
While there is room for improvement in HIV testing services (especially post-test services) across the countries and facilities included, the study did not reveal major problems with consent or confidentiality. The results also suggest that services at PMTCT and integrated facilities are not any worse than those at VCT-only sites. It seems therefore reasonable to continue expanding access to HIV testing and to include all facilities in the scale-up. That said, this is only one of a number of studies examining issues surrounding HIV testing, and decisions should be based on all available evidence. The results here are consistent with some of the other studies, but there are also reports that counseling might become neglected as testing is scaled up, and that offering testing routinely at every doctor's visit makes it seem mandatory even if there is the possibility to “opt out.” Other analyses of the MATCH study use in-depth interviews to understand in more detail the feelings, experiences, and attitudes of participants who have been tested as well as those who have not been tested. It will be important to see whether their results are consistent with the ones here, which are based on a survey of people who have been tested.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001329.
WHO has published a toolkit for scaling up HIV testing and counseling services in resource-limited settings, as well as the report Service Delivery Approaches to HIV Testing and Counselling (HSC): A Strategic HTC Programme Framework
In response to reactions to the 2007 joint WHO/UNAIDS guidelines Guidance on Provider-Initiated HIV Testing and Counselling in Health Facilities, the UNAIDS Reference Group on HIV and Human Rights issued a Statement and Recommendations on Scaling up HIV Testing and Counselling
The NAM/aidsmap website has a section on HIV testing policies and guidelines.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001329
PMCID: PMC3479110  PMID: 23109914
20.  Development of a Standardized Screening Rule for Tuberculosis in People Living with HIV in Resource-Constrained Settings: Individual Participant Data Meta-analysis of Observational Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(1):e1000391.
Haileyesus Getahun and colleagues report the development of a simple, standardized tuberculosis (TB) screening rule for resource-constrained settings, to identify people living with HIV who need further investigation for TB disease.
Background
The World Health Organization recommends the screening of all people living with HIV for tuberculosis (TB) disease, followed by TB treatment, or isoniazid preventive therapy (IPT) when TB is excluded. However, the difficulty of reliably excluding TB disease has severely limited TB screening and IPT uptake in resource-limited settings. We conducted an individual participant data meta-analysis of primary studies, aiming to identify a sensitive TB screening rule.
Methods and Findings
We identified 12 studies that had systematically collected sputum specimens regardless of signs or symptoms, at least one mycobacterial culture, clinical symptoms, and HIV and TB disease status. Bivariate random-effects meta-analysis and the hierarchical summary relative operating characteristic curves were used to evaluate the screening performance of all combinations of variables of interest. TB disease was diagnosed in 557 (5.8%) of 9,626 people living with HIV. The primary analysis included 8,148 people living with HIV who could be evaluated on five symptoms from nine of the 12 studies. The median age was 34 years. The best performing rule was the presence of any one of: current cough (any duration), fever, night sweats, or weight loss. The overall sensitivity of this rule was 78.9% (95% confidence interval [CI] 58.3%–90.9%) and specificity was 49.6% (95% CI 29.2%–70.1%). Its sensitivity increased to 90.1% (95% CI 76.3%–96.2%) among participants selected from clinical settings and to 88.0% (95% CI 76.1%–94.4%) among those who were not previously screened for TB. Negative predictive value was 97.7% (95% CI 97.4%–98.0%) and 90.0% (95% CI 88.6%–91.3%) at 5% and 20% prevalence of TB among people living with HIV, respectively. Abnormal chest radiographic findings increased the sensitivity of the rule by 11.7% (90.6% versus 78.9%) with a reduction of specificity by 10.7% (49.6% versus 38.9%).
Conclusions
Absence of all of current cough, fever, night sweats, and weight loss can identify a subset of people living with HIV who have a very low probability of having TB disease. A simplified screening rule using any one of these symptoms can be used in resource-constrained settings to identify people living with HIV in need of further diagnostic assessment for TB. Use of this algorithm should result in earlier TB diagnosis and treatment, and should allow for substantial scale-up of IPT.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2009, 1.7 million people died from tuberculosis (TB)—equating to 4,700 deaths a day—including 380,000 people living with HIV. TB remains the most common cause of death in people living with HIV and compared to people without HIV, people living with HIV are more than 20 times more likely to develop TB. Furthermore, TB infection may occur at any stage of HIV disease and is often the initial presentation of underlying HIV infection. Without antiretroviral treatment, up to 50% of people living with HIV who are diagnosed with TB die during the 6–8 months of TB treatment.
Although antiretroviral treatment can reduce the incidence of TB both at the individual and population level, people living with HIV on antiretroviral treatment still have higher TB incidence rates and a higher risk of dying from TB. Therefore, the World Health Organization recommends regular screening for active TB disease in all people living with HIV, so those identified as having active TB disease can be provided with appropriate treatment, and isoniazid preventive therapy (to help mitigate TB morbidity, mortality, and transmission) can be given to vulnerable individuals who do not yet have active TB.
Why Was This Study Done?
There is currently no internationally accepted evidence-based tool to screen for TB in people living with HIV—a serious gap given that the presenting signs and symptoms of TB in people living with HIV are different from those in people without HIV. Therefore, the researchers aimed to develop a simple, standardized TB screening rule for resource-constrained settings, on the basis of the best available evidence that would adequately distinguish between people living with HIV who are very unlikely to have TB from those who require further investigation for TB disease.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers selected 12 studies that met their strict criteria, then asked the authors of these studies for primary data so that they could map individual-level data to identify five symptoms common to most studies. Using a statistical model, the researchers devised 23 screening rules derived from these five symptoms and used meta-analysis methods (bivariate random-effects meta-analysis) and the association of study-level and individual-level correlates (hierarchical summary relative operating characteristic curves) to evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of each tool used in each individual study.
The authors of the selected studies were able to provide data for 29,523 participants, of whom 10,057 were people living with HIV. The dataset included 9,626 people living with HIV who had TB screening and sputum culture performed, of which 8,148 individuals could be evaluated on the five symptoms of interest from nine of 12 studies. TB disease was diagnosed in 5.8% of people living with HIV and the best performing rule was the presence of any one of the following: current cough (any duration), fever, night sweats, or weight loss. The overall sensitivity of the rule was 78.9% and the specificity was 49.6%. However, the sensitivity of the rule increased to 90.1% among participants selected from clinical settings and to 88.0% among those who were not previously screened for TB.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The results of this study suggest that in resource-constrained settings, the absence of current cough, fever, night sweats, and weight loss (all inclusive) can identify those people living with HIV who have a low probability of having TB disease. Furthermore, any one of these symptoms can be used in resource-constrained settings to identify people living with HIV who are in need of further diagnostic assessment for TB.
Despite the limitations of the methodology used in this study, until there are evidence-based and internationally recommended guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of TB in people living with HIV, use of the algorithm developed and presented in this study could result in earlier TB diagnosis and treatment for people living with HIV and could help to substantially scale-up isoniazid preventive therapy.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000391.
The World Health Organization has information about TB in people living with HIV
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provide information about TB and HIV coinfection
The World Health Organization also has information about isoniazid preventative therapy
The Stop TB Partnership's TB/HIV Working Group provide information about TB and HIV co-infection
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000391
PMCID: PMC3022524  PMID: 21267059
21.  Supervised and Unsupervised Self-Testing for HIV in High- and Low-Risk Populations: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(4):e1001414.
By systematically reviewing the literature, Nitika Pant Pai and colleagues assess the evidence base for HIV self tests both with and without supervision.
Background
Stigma, discrimination, lack of privacy, and long waiting times partly explain why six out of ten individuals living with HIV do not access facility-based testing. By circumventing these barriers, self-testing offers potential for more people to know their sero-status. Recent approval of an in-home HIV self test in the US has sparked self-testing initiatives, yet data on acceptability, feasibility, and linkages to care are limited. We systematically reviewed evidence on supervised (self-testing and counselling aided by a health care professional) and unsupervised (performed by self-tester with access to phone/internet counselling) self-testing strategies.
Methods and Findings
Seven databases (Medline [via PubMed], Biosis, PsycINFO, Cinahl, African Medicus, LILACS, and EMBASE) and conference abstracts of six major HIV/sexually transmitted infections conferences were searched from 1st January 2000–30th October 2012. 1,221 citations were identified and 21 studies included for review. Seven studies evaluated an unsupervised strategy and 14 evaluated a supervised strategy. For both strategies, data on acceptability (range: 74%–96%), preference (range: 61%–91%), and partner self-testing (range: 80%–97%) were high. A high specificity (range: 99.8%–100%) was observed for both strategies, while a lower sensitivity was reported in the unsupervised (range: 92.9%–100%; one study) versus supervised (range: 97.4%–97.9%; three studies) strategy. Regarding feasibility of linkage to counselling and care, 96% (n = 102/106) of individuals testing positive for HIV stated they would seek post-test counselling (unsupervised strategy, one study). No extreme adverse events were noted. The majority of data (n = 11,019/12,402 individuals, 89%) were from high-income settings and 71% (n = 15/21) of studies were cross-sectional in design, thus limiting our analysis.
Conclusions
Both supervised and unsupervised testing strategies were highly acceptable, preferred, and more likely to result in partner self-testing. However, no studies evaluated post-test linkage with counselling and treatment outcomes and reporting quality was poor. Thus, controlled trials of high quality from diverse settings are warranted to confirm and extend these findings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
About 34 million people (most living in resource-limited countries) are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and about 2.5 million people become infected with HIV every year. HIV is usually transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected partner. HIV infection is usually diagnosed by looking for antibodies to HIV in blood or saliva. Early during infection, the immune system responds to HIV by beginning to make antibodies that recognize the virus and target it for destruction. “Seroconversion”—the presence of detectable amounts of antibody in the blood or saliva—usually takes 6–12 weeks. Rapid antibody-based tests, which do not require laboratory facilities, can provide a preliminary result about an individual's HIV status from a simple oral swab or finger stick sample within 20 minutes. However preliminary rapid positive results have to be confirmed in a laboratory, which may take a few days or weeks. If positive, HIV infection can be controlled but not cured by taking a daily cocktail of powerful antiretroviral drugs throughout life.
Why Was This Study Done?
To reduce the spread of HIV, it is essential that HIV-positive individuals get tested, change behaviors avoid transmitting the virus to other people by, for example, always using a condom during sex, and if positive get on to treatment that is available worldwide. Treatment also reduces transmission of virus to the partner and controls the virus in the community. However, only half the people currently living with HIV know their HIV status, a state of affairs that increases the possibility of further HIV transmission to their partners and children. HIV positive individuals are diagnosed late with advanced HIV infection that costs health care services. Although health care facility-based HIV testing has been available for decades, people worry about stigma, visibility, and social discrimination. They also dislike the lack of privacy and do not like having to wait for their test results. Self-testing (i.e., self-test conduct and interpretation) might alleviate some of these barriers to testing by allowing individuals to determine their HIV status in the privacy of their home and could, therefore, increase the number of individuals aware of their HIV status. This could possibly reduce transmission and, through seeking linkages to care, bring HIV under control in communities. In some communities and countries, stigma of HIV prevents people from taking action about their HIV status. Indeed, an oral (saliva-based) HIV self-test kit is now available in the US. But how acceptable, feasible, and accurate is self-testing by lay people, and will people who find themselves self-test positive seek counseling and treatment? In this systematic review (a study that uses pre-defined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the researchers examine these issues by analyzing data from studies that have evaluated supervised self-testing (self-testing and counseling aided by a health-care professional) and unsupervised self-testing (self-testing performed without any help but with counseling available by phone or internet).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 21 eligible studies, two-thirds of which evaluated oral self-testing and a third of which evaluated blood-based self-testing. Seven studies evaluated an unsupervised self-testing strategy and 14 evaluated a supervised strategy. Most of the data (89%) came from studies undertaken in high-income settings. The study populations varied from those at high risk of HIV infection to low-risk general populations. Across the studies, acceptability (defined as the number of people who actually self-tested divided by the number who consented to self-test) ranged from 74% to 96%. With both strategies, the specificity of self-testing (the chance of an HIV-negative person receiving a negative test result is true negative) was high but the sensitivity of self-testing (the chance of an HIV-positive person receiving a positive test result is indeed a true positive) was higher for supervised than for unsupervised testing. The researchers also found evidence that people preferred self-testing to facility-based testing and oral self-testing to blood-based self testing and, in one study, 96% of participants who self-tested positive sought post-testing counseling.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide new but limited information about the feasibility, acceptability, and accuracy of HIV self-testing. They suggest that it is feasible to implement both supervised and unsupervised self-testing, that both strategies are preferred to facility-based testing, but that the accuracy of self-testing is variable. However, most of the evidence considered by the researchers came from high-income countries and from observational studies of varying quality, and data on whether people self-testing positive sought post-testing counseling (linkage to care) were only available from one evaluation of unsupervised self-testing in the US. Consequently, although these findings suggest that self-testing could engage individuals in finding our their HIV status and thereby help modify behavior thus, reduce HIV transmission in the community, by increasing the proportion of people living with HIV who know their HIV status. The researchers suggested that more data from diverse settings and preferably from controlled randomized trials must be collected before any initiatives for global scale-up of self-testing for HIV infection are implemented.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001414.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV testing, and on HIV transmission and testing (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about all aspects of HIV and AIDS; a “behind the headlines” article provides details about the 2012 US approval for an over-the-counter HIV home-use test
The 2012 World AIDS Day Report provides information about the percentage of people living with HIV who are aware of their HIV status in various African countries, as well as up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert; the nonprofit website Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about living with HIV, including stories about getting a diagnosis
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001414
PMCID: PMC3614510  PMID: 23565066
22.  Determinants of Treatment Adherence Among Smear-Positive Pulmonary Tuberculosis Patients in Southern Ethiopia 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(2):e37.
Background
Defaulting from treatment remains a challenge for most tuberculosis control programmes. It may increase the risk of drug resistance, relapse, death, and prolonged infectiousness. The aim of this study was to determine factors predicting treatment adherence among smear-positive pulmonary tuberculosis patients.
Methods and Findings
A cohort of smear-positive tuberculosis patients diagnosed and registered in Hossana Hospital in southern Ethiopia from 1 September 2002 to 30 April 2004 were prospectively included. Using a structured questionnaire, potential predictor factors for defaulting from treatment were recorded at the beginning of treatment, and patients were followed up until the end of treatment. Default incidence rate was calculated and compared among preregistered risk factors. Of the 404 patients registered for treatment, 81 (20%) defaulted from treatment. A total of 91% (74 of 81) of treatment interruptions occurred during the continuation phase of treatment. On a Cox regression model, distance from home to treatment centre (hazard ratio [HR] = 2.97; p < 0.001), age > 25 y (HR = 1.71; p = 0.02), and necessity to use public transport to get to a treatment centre (HR = 1.59; p = 0.06) were found to be independently associated with defaulting from treatment.
Conclusions
Defaulting due to treatment noncompletion in this study setting is high, and the main determinants appear to be factors related to physical access to a treatment centre. The continuation phase of treatment is the most crucial time for treatment interruption, and future interventions should take this factor into consideration.
A prospective cohort study of smear-positive tuberculosis patients at an Ethiopian hospital found treatment default rates to be high; the main factors relate to physical access to the treatment centre.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the leading causes of death from infectious disease worldwide, and it kills around 1.7 million people each year. TB can be successfully treated but the treatment course is long (at least six months). In 1995 the World Health Organization set up “DOTS”, an international strategy for TB control. One of the links below explains what DOTS is in more detail. One of the main elements of DOTS involves the use of standard courses of drug treatment, with the recommendation that trained observers watch people take their treatment. These steps should prevent people from failing to complete their course of treatment, and the World Health Organization has set a target level of 85% for treatment success. However, people do often have problems sticking to treatment and the reasons for this are not clearly understood. Factors such as access to care and a person's social and financial situation might affect whether an individual sticks to their prescribed treatment.
Why Was This Study Done?
This study was carried out in Ethiopia, which has been recognized as being in the top 22 countries with the highest burden of tuberculosis. In the region of southern Ethiopia studied, the proportion of patients not completing their treatment has declined from 38% to 18% between 1994 and 2000. However, the World Health Organization's targets have not been met, with 20% of patients currently failing to complete treatment. These researchers wanted, therefore, to identify the factors that play a part in determining whether a patient completes their course of treatment. They hope that once such factors are identified, they could ultimately be overcome with appropriate interventions and the level of treatment success improved.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers carried out a cohort study, in which all patients diagnosed with clinical tuberculosis during a particular period of time at a major regional hospital in southern Ethiopia were included. Patients were followed up throughout their treatment course and then counted as either having defaulted from treatment (if they had been on treatment for at least 4 weeks and then interrupted for at least 8 weeks), or having completed. The researchers carried out interviews with each participant at the start of the study, to collect information on factors which might affect how each participant might stick to their treatment plan. These factors included basic information such as whether the patient was male or female, their age, marital status, educational level and occupation, as well as others including family income, whether their home was rural or urban, and the distance to the treatment centre. Finally, patients who stopped their treatment were asked an open-ended question: “Why did you stop taking TB medication?”
404 patients were included in the study and 20% defaulted, most of these within the first few months of treatment. The researchers found that a number of factors seemed to be linked to an increased chance that the person would default from treatment. These included age (patients over 25 were less likely to complete); living in a rural setting; having a lower level of education; greater distances from home to the treatment centre; the need for transport to get to treatment; and whether the patient was admitted to hospital in a serious condition. When defaulters were questioned about the reasons they did not complete treatment, the main reasons were related to physical access to the treatment clinic—for example that it was too far, they could not afford to get there, or were not able to walk to get treatment.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The proportion of patients failing to complete their tuberculosis treatment here supports the view that the default rate in Ethiopia has been falling over the past two decades; but that it is still higher than that recommended by the World Health Organization. The researchers also found that physical access to treatment poses a significant barrier to completing treatment. In this study 72% of patients were within two hours' walk of the health facility, a much greater proportion than is the case for the general population in that region. These findings suggest that government initiatives will be needed in order to address the problem of access to treatment and therefore improve adherence. New initiatives are underway in Ethiopia to train health service workers who can provide community-based care.
Additional Information
World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet on tuberculosis. More detailed information from WHO is available on DOTS, including the five key elements of DOTS
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a minisite dedicated to tuberculosis, including a questions-and-answers page
The Stop TB Partnership was established in 2000 to realize the goal of eliminating TB as a public health problem and, ultimately, to obtain a world free of TB. It comprises a network of international organizations, countries, donors from the public and private sectors, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and individuals that have expressed an interest in working together to achieve this goal
Médecins Sans Frontières, an international medical humanitarian organization, has information on its website about its activities in Ethiopia
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040037
PMCID: PMC1796905  PMID: 17298164
23.  Strategies for Increasing Recruitment to Randomised Controlled Trials: Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(11):e1000368.
Patrina Caldwell and colleagues performed a systematic review of randomized studies that compared methods of recruiting individual study participants into trials, and found that strategies that focus on increasing potential participants' awareness of the specific health problem, and that engaged them, appeared to increase recruitment.
Background
Recruitment of participants into randomised controlled trials (RCTs) is critical for successful trial conduct. Although there have been two previous systematic reviews on related topics, the results (which identified specific interventions) were inconclusive and not generalizable. The aim of our study was to evaluate the relative effectiveness of recruitment strategies for participation in RCTs.
Methods and Findings
A systematic review, using the PRISMA guideline for reporting of systematic reviews, that compared methods of recruiting individual study participants into an actual or mock RCT were included. We searched MEDLINE, Embase, The Cochrane Library, and reference lists of relevant studies. From over 16,000 titles or abstracts reviewed, 396 papers were retrieved and 37 studies were included, in which 18,812 of at least 59,354 people approached agreed to participate in a clinical RCT. Recruitment strategies were broadly divided into four groups: novel trial designs (eight studies), recruiter differences (eight studies), incentives (two studies), and provision of trial information (19 studies). Strategies that increased people's awareness of the health problem being studied (e.g., an interactive computer program [relative risk (RR) 1.48, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.00–2.18], attendance at an education session [RR 1.14, 95% CI 1.01–1.28], addition of a health questionnaire [RR 1.37, 95% CI 1.14–1.66]), or a video about the health condition (RR 1.75, 95% CI 1.11–2.74), and also monetary incentives (RR1.39, 95% CI 1.13–1.64 to RR 1.53, 95% CI 1.28–1.84) improved recruitment. Increasing patients' understanding of the trial process, recruiter differences, and various methods of randomisation and consent design did not show a difference in recruitment. Consent rates were also higher for nonblinded trial design, but differential loss to follow up between groups may jeopardise the study findings. The study's main limitation was the necessity of modifying the search strategy with subsequent search updates because of changes in MEDLINE definitions. The abstracts of previous versions of this systematic review were published in 2002 and 2007.
Conclusion
Recruitment strategies that focus on increasing potential participants' awareness of the health problem being studied, its potential impact on their health, and their engagement in the learning process appeared to increase recruitment to clinical studies. Further trials of recruitment strategies that target engaging participants to increase their awareness of the health problems being studied and the potential impact on their health may confirm this hypothesis.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Before any health care intervention—a treatment for a disease or a measure such as vaccination that is designed to prevent an illness—is adopted by the medical community, it undergoes exhaustive laboratory-based and clinical research. In the laboratory, scientists investigate the causes of diseases, identify potential new treatments or preventive methods, and test these interventions in animals. New interventions that look hopeful are then investigated in clinical trials—studies that test these interventions in people by following a strict trial protocol or action plan. Phase I trials test interventions in a few healthy volunteers or patients to evaluate their safety and to identify possible side effects. In phase II trials, a larger group of patients receives an intervention to evaluate its safety further and to get an initial idea of its effectiveness. In phase III trials, very large groups of patients (sometimes in excess of a thousand people) are randomly assigned to receive the new intervention or an established intervention or placebo (dummy intervention). These “randomized controlled trials” or “RCTs” provide the most reliable information about the effectiveness and safety of health care interventions.
Why Was This Study Done?
Patients who participate in clinical trials must fulfill the inclusion criteria laid down in the trial protocol and must be given information about the trial, its risks, and potential benefits before agreeing to participate (informed consent). Unfortunately, many RCTs struggle to enroll the number of patients specified in their trial protocol, which can reduce a trial's ability to measure the effect of a new intervention. Inadequate recruitment can also increase costs and, in the worst cases, prevent trial completion. Several strategies have been developed to improve recruitment but it is not clear which strategy works best. In this study, the researchers undertake a systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) of “recruitment trials”—studies that have randomly divided potential RCT participants into groups, applied different strategies for recruitment to each group, and compared recruitment rates in the groups.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 37 randomized trials of recruitment strategies into real and mock RCTs (where no actual trial occurred). In all, 18,812 people agreed to participate in an RCT in these recruitment trials out of at least 59,354 people approached. Some of these trials investigated novel strategies for recruitment, such as changes in how patients are randomized. Others looked at the effect of recruiter differences (for example, increased contact between the health care professionals doing the recruiting and the trial investigators), the effect of offering monetary incentives to participants, and the effect of giving more information about the trial to potential participants. Recruitment strategies that improved people's awareness of the health problem being studied—provision of an interactive computer program or a video about the health condition, attendance at an educational session, or inclusion of a health questionnaire in the recruitment process—improved recruitment rates, as did monetary incentives. Increasing patients' understanding about the trial process itself, recruiter differences, and alterations in consent design and randomization generally had no effect on recruitment rates although consent rates were higher when patients knew the treatment to which they had been randomly allocated before consenting. However, differential losses among the patients in different treatment groups in such nonblinded trials may jeopardize study findings.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that trial recruitment strategies that focus on increasing the awareness of potential participants of the health problem being studied and its possible effects on their health, and that engage potential participants in the trial process are likely to increase recruitment to RCTs. The accuracy of these findings depends on whether the researchers identified all the published research on recruitment strategies and on whether other research on recruitment strategies has been undertaken and not published that could alter these findings. Furthermore, because about half of the recruitment trials identified by the researchers were undertaken in the US, the successful strategies identified here might not be generalizable to other countries. Nevertheless, these recruitment strategies should now be investigated further to ensure that the future evaluation of new health care interventions is not hampered by poor recruitment into RCTs.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000368.
The ClinicalTrials.gov Web site is a searchable register of federally and privately supported clinical trials in the US and around the world, providing information about all aspects of clinical trials
The US National Institutes of Health provides information about clinical trials
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site has information for patients about clinical trials and medical research
The UK Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Units also provides information for patients about clinical trials and links to information on clinical trials provided by other organizations
MedlinePlus has links to further resources on clinical trials (in English and Spanish)
The Australian Government's National Health and Medical Research Council has information about clinical trials
WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform aims to ensure that all trials are publicly accessible to those making health care decisions
The Star Child Health International Forum of Standards for Research is a resource center for pediatric clinical trial design, conduct, and reporting
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000368
PMCID: PMC2976724  PMID: 21085696
24.  Statins in the Treatment of Chronic Heart Failure: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(8):e333.
Background
The efficacy of statin therapy in patients with established chronic heart failure (CHF) is a subject of much debate.
Methods and Findings
We conducted three systematic literature searches to assess the evidence supporting the prescription of statins in CHF. First, we investigated the participation of CHF patients in randomized placebo-controlled clinical trials designed to evaluate the efficacy of statins in reducing major cardiovascular events and mortality. Second, we assessed the association between serum cholesterol and outcome in CHF. Finally, we evaluated the ability of statin treatment to modify surrogate endpoint parameters in CHF.
Using validated search strategies, we systematically searched PubMed for our three queries. In addition, we searched the reference lists from eligible studies, used the “see related articles” feature for key publications in PubMed, consulted the Cochrane Library, and searched the ISI Web of Knowledge for papers citing key publications.
Search 1 resulted in the retrieval of 47 placebo-controlled clinical statin trials involving more than 100,000 patients. CHF patients had, however, been systematically excluded from these trials. Search 2 resulted in the retrieval of eight studies assessing the relationship between cholesterol levels and outcome in CHF patients. Lower serum cholesterol was consistently associated with increased mortality. Search 3 resulted in the retrieval of 18 studies on the efficacy of statin treatment in CHF. On the whole, these studies reported favorable outcomes for almost all surrogate endpoints.
Conclusions
Since CHF patients have been systematically excluded from randomized, controlled clinical cholesterol-lowering trials, the effect of statin therapy in these patients remains to be established. Currently, two large, randomized, placebo-controlled statin trials are under way to evaluate the efficacy of statin treatment in terms of reducing clinical endpoints in CHF patients in particular.
A systematic review found that patients with heart failure have been excluded from randomised controlled trials on the use of statins. Evidence from other studies on the effectiveness of statins for patients with heart failure is weak and conflicting.
Editors' Summary
Background.
When medical researchers test a drug—or some other treatment—for a particular medical condition, they often decide not to include in their study anyone who has, in addition to the disease they are interested in, certain other health problems. This is because including patients with two or more conditions can complicate the analysis of the results and make it hard to reach firm conclusions. However, excluding patients in this way can result in uncertainty as to whether treatments are effective for anyone who suffers from the disease in question, or just for people like those who took part in the research.
A great deal of research has been conducted with drugs known as statins, which lower cholesterol levels in the blood. (A raised level of cholesterol is known to be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which causes heart attacks and strokes.) As a result of this research, statins have been accepted as effective and safe. They are now, in consequence, among the most commonly prescribed medicines. Heart failure, however, is not the same thing as a heart attack. It is the name given to the condition where the muscles of the heart have become weakened, most often as a result of aging, and the heart becomes gradually less efficient at pumping blood around the body. (Some people with heart failure live for many years, but 70% of those with the condition die within ten years.) It is common for people with cardiovascular disease also to have heart failure. Nevertheless, some researchers who have studied the effects of statins have made the decision not to include in their studies any patients with cardiovascular disease who, in addition, have heart failure.
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers in this study were aware that patients with heart failure have often been excluded from statin trials. They felt it was important to assess the available evidence supporting the prescription of statins for such patients. Specifically, they wanted to find out the following: how often have patients with heart failure been included in statin trials, what evidence is available as to whether it is beneficial for patients with heart failure to have low cholesterol, and what evidence is there that prescribing statins helps these patients?
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
They did not do any new work involving patients. Instead, they did a very thorough search for all relevant studies of good quality that had already been published and they reviewed the results. “Randomized clinical trials” (RCTs) are the most reliable type of medical research. The researchers found there had been 47 such trials (involving over 100,000 patients) on the use of statins for treating cardiovascular disease, but all these trials had excluded heart failure patients. They found eight studies (which were not RCTs) looking at cholesterol levels and heart failure. These studies found, perhaps surprisingly, that death rates were higher in those patients with heart failure who had low cholesterol. However, they also found 18 studies (again not RCTs) on the use of statins in patients with heart failure. These 18 studies seemed to suggest that statins were of benefit to the patients who received them.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The evidence for or against prescribing statins for people with heart failure is limited, conflicting, and unclear. Further research involving RTCs is necessary. (Two such trials are known to be in progress.)
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030333.
General information about statins is available from the Web site of Patient UK
The American Heart Association Web site is a good source of information about all types of heart disease, including heart attacks and heart failure
For a definition of randomized controlled trials see Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit
More detailed information about the quality of evidence from medical research may be found in the James Lind Library
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030333
PMCID: PMC1551909  PMID: 16933967
25.  Uptake of Workplace HIV Counselling and Testing: A Cluster-Randomised Trial in Zimbabwe 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(7):e238.
Background
HIV counselling and testing is a key component of both HIV care and HIV prevention, but uptake is currently low. We investigated the impact of rapid HIV testing at the workplace on uptake of voluntary counselling and testing (VCT).
Methods and Findings
The study was a cluster-randomised trial of two VCT strategies, with business occupational health clinics as the unit of randomisation. VCT was directly offered to all employees, followed by 2 y of open access to VCT and basic HIV care. Businesses were randomised to either on-site rapid HIV testing at their occupational clinic (11 businesses) or to vouchers for off-site VCT at a chain of free-standing centres also using rapid tests (11 businesses). Baseline anonymised HIV serology was requested from all employees.
HIV prevalence was 19.8% and 18.4%, respectively, at businesses randomised to on-site and off-site VCT. In total, 1,957 of 3,950 employees at clinics randomised to on-site testing had VCT (mean uptake by site 51.1%) compared to 586 of 3,532 employees taking vouchers at clinics randomised to off-site testing (mean uptake by site 19.2%). The risk ratio for on-site VCT compared to voucher uptake was 2.8 (95% confidence interval 1.8 to 3.8) after adjustment for potential confounders. Only 125 employees (mean uptake by site 4.3%) reported using their voucher, so that the true adjusted risk ratio for on-site compared to off-site VCT may have been as high as 12.5 (95% confidence interval 8.2 to 16.8).
Conclusions
High-impact VCT strategies are urgently needed to maximise HIV prevention and access to care in Africa. VCT at the workplace offers the potential for high uptake when offered on-site and linked to basic HIV care. Convenience and accessibility appear to have critical roles in the acceptability of community-based VCT.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Since the first case of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) was reported 25 years ago, AIDS has become a major worldwide epidemic, with 3 million people dying from it in 2005. AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which is usually spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner. HIV damages the immune system, leaving infected individuals unable to fight off other viruses and bacteria. HIV infections can be treated with drugs know as “antiretrovirals,” and in an effort to deal with the global epidemic, world leaders have committed themselves to providing universal access to these drugs for everyone who needs them by 2010. Unfortunately, although access to antiretrovirals is rapidly increasing, so is the number of people infected with HIV. Last year, there were about 5 million new HIV infections, suggesting that more emphasis on prevention will be needed to halt or reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS. An important part of prevention is testing for HIV infection, but globally only 10% of people who need testing can access it. And even where such services are available, few people use them because of the stigma attached to HIV infection and fear of discrimination.
Why Was This Study Done?
There is limited understanding about the factors that determine whether an individual will decide to have an HIV test. Yet, to reduce HIV spread, as many people at risk of infection must be tested as possible. Previous studies on VCT—a combination of voluntary testing and counseling about the implications of HIV infection and how to avoid transmitting the virus—have indicated that the convenience of getting the test, whether the test is directly offered, and the attitude of staff supplying it are all very important. In this study, the researchers asked whether providing VCT in the workplace could improve the “uptake” of HIV testing in Africa, where the HIV/AIDS epidemic is most widespread.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified businesses with occupational health clinics in Zimbabwe, a country where 25% of adults carry HIV, and divided them into two “intervention” groups. Employees at half the businesses were offered “on-site VCT”—pre-test counseling followed by same-day on-site rapid testing, results, and post-test counseling. Employees at the other businesses had the same pre-test counseling but were offered a voucher for an HIV test at an off-site testing center and a later appointment to discuss the results—so-called off-site VCT. Everyone had the same access to limited HIV care should they need it. Although half of the employees at the on-site VCT businesses took up the option of HIV testing, only a fifth of employees at the off-site VCT businesses accepted vouchers for testing, and only one in five of these people actually used their voucher. This means that on-site VCT resulted in about 12 times as many HIV tests as off-site VCT. In both interventions, most of the people who accepted testing did so soon after entering the study and very few people were tested more than once. Finally, people 25 years old or younger, manual workers, and single people were most likely to accept testing in both interventions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results suggest that on-site VCT in the workplace might be one way to improve uptake of HIV testing in Africa from its current low level and that providing VCT intermittently might be as effective as continuous provision. Importantly, say the researchers, the results of their study show that a relatively minor change in accessibility to testing can translate into a major difference in test uptake. This may hold true in non-occupational settings. However, these observations need to be repeated in more businesses and other settings, including those where there is no linked HIV care, before they can be generalized. Also, this study reports on the acceptability of this approach to providing VCT, but not on its impact on HIV prevention. As such the results do not indicate whether workplace VCT prevents HIV spread as effectively as other ways of delivering VCT. This will require research investigating how HIV incidence among HIV-negative employees and the partners of HIV-positive employees are affected by different VCT strategies.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030238.
• United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases factsheet on HIV infection and AIDS
• United States Department of Health and Human Services information on HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention, and research
• US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on HIV/AIDS
• UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) information on political issues related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the 2004 UNAIDS/World Health Organization policy statement on HIV testing
•  Aidsmap: information on HIV and AIDS provided by the charity NAM, which includes the latest scientific and political news
• MedlinePlus encyclopedia entry on HIV/AIDS
Voluntary counseling and testing for HIV has the potential for high uptake when it is offered on-site at the workplace and linked to basic HIV care.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030238
PMCID: PMC1483908  PMID: 16796402

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