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1.  Who has access to counseling and testing and anti-retroviral therapy in Malawi – an equity analysis 
Background
The HIV and AIDS epidemic in Malawi poses multiple challenges from an equity perspective. It is estimated that 12% of Malawians are living with HIV or AIDS among the 15-49 age group. This paper synthesises available information to bring an equity lens on Counselling and Testing (CT) and Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) policy, practice and provision in Malawi.
Methods
A synthesis of a wide range of published and unpublished reports and studies using a variety of methodological approaches was undertaken. The analysis and recommendations were developed, through consultation with key stakeholders in Malawi.
Findings
At the policy level Malawi is unique in having an equity in access to ART policy, and equity considerations are also included in key CT documents. The number of people accessing CT has increased considerably from 149,540 in 2002 to 482,364 in 2005. There is urban bias in provision of CT and more women than men access CT. ART has been provided free since June 2004 and scale up of ART provision is gathering pace. By end December 2006, there were 85,168 patients who had ever started on ART in both the public and private health sector, 39% of the patients were male while 61% were female. The majority of patients were adults, and 7% were children, aged 14 years or below. Despite free ART services, patients, especially poor rural patients face significant barriers in access and adherence to services. There are missed opportunities in strengthening integration between CT and ART and TB, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and maternal health services.
Conclusion
To promote equitable access for CT and ART in Malawi there is need to further invest in human resources for health, and seize opportunities to integrate CT and ART services with tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections and maternal health services. This should not only promote access to services but also ensure that resources available for CT and ART strengthen rather than undermine the provision of the essential health package in Malawi. Ongoing equity analysis of services is important in analyzing which groups are unrepresented in services and developing initiatives to address these. Creative models of decentralization, whilst maintaining quality of services are needed to further enhance access of poor rural women, men, girls and boys.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-8-13
PMCID: PMC2683850  PMID: 19416512
2.  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
3.  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
4.  Disability Transitions and Health Expectancies among Adults 45 Years and Older in Malawi: A Cohort-Based Model 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(5):e1001435.
Collin Payne and colleagues investigated development of disabilities and years expected to live with disabilities in participants 45 years and older participating in the Malawi Longitudinal Survey of Families and Health.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Falling fertility and increasing life expectancy contribute to a growing elderly population in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA); by 2060, persons aged 45 y and older are projected to be 25% of SSA's population, up from 10% in 2010. Aging in SSA is associated with unique challenges because of poverty and inadequate social supports. However, despite its importance for understanding the consequences of population aging, the evidence about the prevalence of disabilities and functional limitations due to poor physical health among older adults in SSA continues to be very limited.
Methods and Findings
Participants came from 2006, 2008, and 2010 waves of the Malawi Longitudinal Survey of Families and Health, a study of the rural population in Malawi. We investigate how poor physical health results in functional limitations that limit the day-to-day activities of individuals in domains relevant to this subsistence-agriculture context. These disabilities were parameterized based on questions from the SF-12 questionnaire about limitations in daily living activities. We estimated age-specific patterns of functional limitations and the transitions over time between different disability states using a discrete-time hazard model. The estimated transition rates were then used to calculate the first (to our knowledge) microdata-based health expectancies calculated for SSA. The risks of experiencing functional limitations due to poor physical health are high in this population, and the onset of disabilities happens early in life. Our analyses show that 45-y-old women can expect to spend 58% (95% CI, 55%–64%) of their remaining 28 y of life (95% CI, 25.7–33.5) with functional limitations; 45-y-old men can expect to live 41% (95% CI, 35%–46%) of their remaining 25.4 y (95% CI, 23.3–28.8) with such limitations. Disabilities related to functional limitations are shown to have a substantial negative effect on individuals' labor activities, and are negatively related to subjective well-being.
Conclusions
Individuals in this population experience a lengthy struggle with disabling conditions in adulthood, with high probabilities of remitting and relapsing between states of functional limitation. Given the strong association of disabilities with work efforts and subjective well-being, this research suggests that current national health policies and international donor-funded health programs in SSA inadequately target the physical health of mature and older adults.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The population of the world is getting older. In almost every country, the over-60 age group is growing faster than any other age group. In 2000, globally, there were about 605 million people aged 60 years or more; by 2050, 2 billion people will be in this age group. Much of this increase in the elderly population will be in low-income countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 10% of the population is currently aged 45 years or more, but by 2060, a quarter of the population will be so-called mature adults. In all countries, population aging is the result of women having fewer children (falling fertility) and people living longer (increasing life expectancy). Thus, population aging is a demographic transition, a change in birth and death rates. In low- and middle-income countries, population aging is occurring in parallel with an “epidemiological transition,” a shift from communicable (infectious) diseases to non-communicable diseases (for example, heart disease) as the primary causes of illness and death.
Why Was This Study Done?
Both the demographic and the epidemiological transition have public health implications for low-income countries. Good health is important for the independence and economic productivity of older people. Productive older people can help younger populations financially and physically, and help compensate for the limitations experienced by younger populations infected with HIV. Also, low-income countries lack social safety nets, so disabled older adults can be a burden on younger populations. Thus, the health of older individuals is important to the well-being of people of all ages. As populations age, low-income countries will need to invest in health care for mature and elderly adults and in disease prevention programs to prevent or delay the onset of non-communicable diseases, which can limit normal daily activities by causing disabilities. Before providing these services, national policy makers need to know the proportion of their population with disabilities, the functional limitations caused by poor physical health, and the health expectancies (the number of years a person can expect to be in good health) of older people in their country. In this cohort modeling study, the researchers estimate health expectancies and transition rates between different levels of disability among mature adults in Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries, using data collected by the Malawi Longitudinal Survey of Families and Health (MLSFH) on economic, social, and health conditions in a rural population. Because Malawi has shorter life expectancies and earlier onset of disability than wealthier countries, the authors considered individuals aged 45 and older as mature adults at risk for disability.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers categorized the participants in the 2006, 2008, and 2010 waves of the MLSFH into three levels of functional limitation (healthy, moderately limited, and severely limited) based on answers to questions in the SF-12 health survey questionnaire that ask about disabilities that limit daily activities that rural Malawians perform. The researchers estimated age–gender patterns of functional limitations and transition rates between different disability states using a discrete-time hazard model, and health expectancies by running a microsimulation to model the aging of synthetic cohorts with various starting ages but the same gender and functional limitation distributions as the study population. These analyses show that the chance of becoming physically disabled rises sharply with age, with 45-year-old women in rural Malawi expected to spend 58% of their estimated remaining 28 years with functional limitations, and 45-year-old men expected to live 41% of their remaining 25.4 years with functional limitations. Also, on average, a 45-year-old woman will spend 2.7 years with moderate functional limitation and 0.6 years with severe functional limitation before she reaches 55; for men the corresponding values are 1.6 and 0.4 years. Around 50% of moderately and 60%–80% of severely limited individuals stated that pain interfered quite a bit or extremely with their normal work during the past four weeks, suggesting that pain treatment may help reduce disability.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that mature adults in rural Malawi will have some degree of disability during much of their remaining lifetime. The risks of experiencing functional limitations are higher and the onset of persistent disabilities happens earlier in Malawi than in more developed contexts—the proportions of remaining life spent with severe limitations at age 45 in Malawi are comparable to those of 80-year-olds in the US. The accuracy of these findings is likely to be affected by assumptions made during modeling and by the quality of the data fed into the models. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that functional limitations, which have a negative effect on the labor activity of individuals, will become more prominent in Malawi (and probably other sub-Saharan countries) as the age composition of populations shifts over the coming years. Older populations in sub-Saharan Africa are not targeted well by health policies and programs at present. Consequently, these findings suggest that policy makers will need to ensure that additional financial resources are provided to improve health-care provision for aging individuals and to lessen the high rates of functional limitation and associated disabilities.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001435.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Andreas Stuck, et al.
The World Health Organization provides information on many aspects of aging (in several languages); the WHO Study on Global Ageing and Adult Health (SAGE) is compiling longitudinal information on the health and well-being of adult populations and the aging process
The United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge International publication Ageing in the Twenty-First Century is available
HelpAge International is an international nongovernmental organization that helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination, and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, and healthy lives
More information on the Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001435
PMCID: PMC3646719  PMID: 23667343
5.  The Fall and Rise of US Inequities in Premature Mortality: 1960–2002 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(2):e46.
Background
Debates exist as to whether, as overall population health improves, the absolute and relative magnitude of income- and race/ethnicity-related health disparities necessarily increase—or derease. We accordingly decided to test the hypothesis that health inequities widen—or shrink—in a context of declining mortality rates, by examining annual US mortality data over a 42 year period.
Methods and Findings
Using US county mortality data from 1960–2002 and county median family income data from the 1960–2000 decennial censuses, we analyzed the rates of premature mortality (deaths among persons under age 65) and infant death (deaths among persons under age 1) by quintiles of county median family income weighted by county population size. Between 1960 and 2002, as US premature mortality and infant death rates declined in all county income quintiles, socioeconomic and racial/ethnic inequities in premature mortality and infant death (both relative and absolute) shrank between 1966 and 1980, especially for US populations of color; thereafter, the relative health inequities widened and the absolute differences barely changed in magnitude. Had all persons experienced the same yearly age-specific premature mortality rates as the white population living in the highest income quintile, between 1960 and 2002, 14% of the white premature deaths and 30% of the premature deaths among populations of color would not have occurred.
Conclusions
The observed trends refute arguments that health inequities inevitably widen—or shrink—as population health improves. Instead, the magnitude of health inequalities can fall or rise; it is our job to understand why.
Nancy Krieger and colleagues found evidence of decreasing, and then increasing or stagnating, socioeconomic and racial inequities in US premature mortality and infant death from 1960 to 2002.
Editors' Summary
Background
One of the biggest aims of public health advocates and governments is to improve the health of the population. Improving health increases people's quality of life and helps the population be more economically productive. But within populations are often persistent differences (usually called “disparities” or “inequities”) in the health of different subgroups—between women and men, different income groups, and people of different races/ethnicities, for example. Researchers study these differences so that policy makers and the broader public can be informed about what to do to intervene. For example, if we know that the health of certain subgroups of the population—such as the poor—is staying the same or even worsening as the overall health of the population is improving, policy makers could design programs and devote resources to specifically target the poor.
To study health disparities, researchers use both relative and absolute measures. Relative inequities refer to ratios, while absolute inequities refer to differences. For example, if one group's average income level increases from $1,000 to $10,000 and another group's from $2,000 to $20,000, the relative inequality between the groups stays the same (i.e., the ratio of incomes between the two groups is still 2) but the absolute difference between the two groups has increased from $1,000 to $10,000.
Examining the US population, Nancy Krieger and colleagues looked at trends over time in both relative and absolute differences in mortality between people in different income groups and between whites and people of color.
Why Was This Study Done?
There has been a lot of debate about whether disparities have been widening or narrowing as overall population health improves. Some research has found that both total health and health disparities are getting better with time. Other research has shown that overall health gains mask worsening disparities—such that the rich get healthier while the poor get sicker.
Having access to more data over a longer time frame meant that Krieger and colleagues could provide a more complete picture of this sometimes contradictory story. It also meant they could test their hypothesis about whether, as population health improves, health inequities necessarily widen or shrink within the time period between the 1960s through the 1990s during which certain events and policies likely would have had an impact on the mortality trends in that country.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In order to investigate health inequities, the authors chose to look at two common measures of population health: rates of premature mortality (dying before the age of 65 years) and rates of infant mortality (death before the age of 1).
To determine mortality rates, the authors used death statistics data from different counties, which are routinely collected by state and national governments. To be able to rank mortality rates for different income groups, they used data on the median family incomes of people living within those counties (meaning half the families had income above, and half had incomes below, the median value). They calculated mortality rates for the total population and for whites versus people of color. They used data from 1960 through 2002. They compared rates for 1966–1980 with two other time periods: 1960–1965 and 1981–2002. They also examined trends in the annual mortality rates and in the annual relative and absolute disparites in these rates by county income level.
Over the whole period 1960–2002, the authors found that premature mortality (death before the age of 65) and infant mortality (death before the age of 1) decreased for all income groups. But they also found that disparities between income groups and between whites and people of color were not the same over this time period. In fact, the economic disparities narrowed then widened. First, they shrank between 1966 and 1980, especially for Americans of color. After 1980, however, the relative health inequities widened and the absolute differences did not change. The authors conclude that if all people in the US population experienced the same health gains as the most advantaged did during these 42 years (i.e., as the whites in the highest income groups), 14% of the premature deaths among whites and 30% of the premature deaths among people of color would have been prevented.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings provide an overview of the trends in inequities in premature and infant mortality over a long period of time. Different explanations for these trends can now be tested. The authors discuss several potential reasons for these trends, including generally rising incomes across America and changes related to specific diseases, such as the advent of HIV/AIDS, changes in smoking habits, and better management of cancer and cardiovascular disease. But they find that these do not explain the fall then rise of inequities. Instead, the authors suggest that explanations lie in the social programs of the 1960s and the subsequent roll-back of some of these programmes in the 1980s. The US “War on Poverty,” civil rights legislation, and the establishment of Medicare occurred in the mid 1960s, which were intended to reduce socioeconomic and racial/ethnic inequalities and improve access to health care. In the 1980s there was a general cutting back of welfare state provisions in America, which included cuts to public health and antipoverty programs, tax relief for the wealthy, and worsening inequity in the access to and quality of health care. Together, these wider events could explain the fall then rise trends in mortality disparities.
The authors say their findings are important to inform and help monitor the progress of various policies and programmes, including those such as the Healthy People 2010 initiative in America, which aims to increase the quality and years of healthy life and decrease health disparities by the end of this decade.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed. 0050046.
Healthy People 2010 was created by the US Department of Health and Human Services along with scientists inside and outside of government and includes a comprehensive set of disease prevention and health promotion objectives for the US to achieve by 2010, with two overarching goals: to increase quality and years of healthy life and to eliminate health disparities
Johan Mackenbach and colleagues provide an overview of mortality inequalities in six Western European countries—Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, England/Wales, and Italy—and conclude that eliminating mortality inequalities requires that more cardiovascular deaths among lower socioeconomic groups be prevented, as well as more attention be paid to rising death rates of lung cancer, breast cancer, respiratory disease, gastrointestinal disease, and injuries among women and men in the lower income groups.
The WHO Health for All program promotes health equity
A primer on absolute versus relative differences is provided by the American College of Physicians
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050046
PMCID: PMC2253609  PMID: 18303941
6.  A systematic assessment of the concept and practice of public-private mix for tuberculosis care and control 
Introduction
The STOP TB Partnership aims to improve global tuberculosis (TB) control through expanding access to the directly observed treatment short course (DOTS) strategy. One approach to this is 'Engaging all Care Providers', which evolved from 'Public-Private Mix (PPM) DOTS'. The overall aim of this study was to systematically assess whether and to what degree the STOP TB Partnership's four global objectives of engaging all care providers are met through existing PPM interventions. These four objectives are; 1) Increase TB case detection; 2) Improve TB treatment outcomes; 3) Enhance access and equity; 4) Reduce financial burden on patients. The specific objectives of this assessment were to 1) Understand what PPM means to the STOP TB Partnership's PPM Subgroup and to National Tuberculosis Programme managers; 2) Scope the nature of existing country-level PPM interventions and 3) Review PPM practice against the global PPM objectives.
Methods
We undertook a systematic, multi-facetted assessment. The methods included interviews with National Tuberculosis Programme managers from high burden countries, clarification of key issues with the STOP TB Partnership PPM secretariat and a review of publicly accessible reports and published articles on PPM projects. Both the literature review and interviews with the National Tuberculosis Programme managers yielded data on project characteristics; PPM models at country level; National Tuberculosis Programme partners; and mechanisms for engagement. Matrices were developed from the literature review and the interviews to show the relationship between services and service providers for different PPM projects. Data from the literature were assessed against each of the four global PPM objectives.
Results
Twelve National Tuberculosis Programme managers from high burden countries were interviewed about the scope of PPM partnerships. Understanding of PPM and types of engaged providers varied considerably; 'private-for-profit qualified clinical providers' were the dominant category. The literature review yielded information on 22 projects in which 'private-for-profit qualified clinical providers' were again the dominant category. The contributions made by 'private-for-profit qualified clinical providers' and 'Non Governmental Organisation qualified clinical providers', were assessed against the four global PPM objectives. Reporting on tuberculosis case detection and treatment outcomes was generally good and demonstrated important PPM contributions in these areas. Reporting on equity, access and reduced patient costs was often lacking or inconclusive.
Conclusions
PPM has improved case detection and treatment outcomes among patients seeking care with private providers. Evidence on reducing patient costs is inconclusive, and there is scope for increasing equity in access to care by systematically engaging those providers who are the primary agents for poor people seeking health care. Guidelines outlining which types of providers best contribute to achieving the four global objectives, along with the resources required by National Tuberculosis Programs for such engagement is needed.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-10-49
PMCID: PMC3238294  PMID: 22074377
Tuberculosis; Public-Private Mix; case detection; treatment outcome; equity; access; cost
7.  Impact and Process Evaluation of Integrated Community and Clinic-Based HIV-1 Control: A Cluster-Randomised Trial in Eastern Zimbabwe 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(3):e102.
Background
HIV-1 control in sub-Saharan Africa requires cost-effective and sustainable programmes that promote behaviour change and reduce cofactor sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at the population and individual levels.
Methods and Findings
We measured the feasibility of community-based peer education, free condom distribution, income-generating projects, and clinic-based STI treatment and counselling services and evaluated their impact on the incidence of HIV-1 measured over a 3-y period in a cluster-randomised controlled trial in eastern Zimbabwe. Analysis of primary outcomes was on an intention-to-treat basis. The income-generating projects proved impossible to implement in the prevailing economic climate. Despite greater programme activity and knowledge in the intervention communities, the incidence rate ratio of HIV-1 was 1.27 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.92–1.75) compared to the control communities. No evidence was found for reduced incidence of self-reported STI symptoms or high-risk sexual behaviour in the intervention communities. Males who attended programme meetings had lower HIV-1 incidence (incidence rate ratio 0.48, 95% CI 0.24–0.98), and fewer men who attended programme meetings reported unprotected sex with casual partners (odds ratio 0.45, 95% CI 0.28–0.75). More male STI patients in the intervention communities reported cessation of symptoms (odds ratio 2.49, 95% CI 1.21–5.12).
Conclusions
Integrated peer education, condom distribution, and syndromic STI management did not reduce population-level HIV-1 incidence in a declining epidemic, despite reducing HIV-1 incidence in the immediate male target group. Our results highlight the need to assess the community-level impact of interventions that are effective amongst targeted population sub-groups.
In cluster-randomised trial in Zimbabwe integrated peer education, condom distribution, and management of sexually transmitted infections did not reduce incidence of population-level HIV-1.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Sub-Saharan Africa has been hit heavily by HIV/AIDS, and Zimbabwe in particular has been very badly affected, with over one-fifth of its adult population infected with HIV. However, this proportion has been declining slowly in recent years, and the same trend has also been seen in a few other African countries. It is not clear whether these trends are related to changes in the way people behave, perhaps as a result of public health and prevention campaigns, or rather are due to changes in the natural spread of the HIV epidemic. However, there is considerable uncertainty about how we should carry out campaigns that try to get people to change their behavior. One possible approach for achieving behavior change involves peer education: that is, education carried out within the community, by at-risk community members themselves. Another approach involves tying together a set of related programs that deliver information and education through health clinics and directly in the community. Such programs are termed “integrated community and clinic-based HIV prevention.”
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers wanted to find out whether providing integrated community and clinic-based strategies for HIV prevention in Eastern Zimbabwe could reduce the proportion of people within the community infected with HIV. If successful, then the strategies could be effective elsewhere, for example in other African countries where behavior patterns and the HIV epidemic are similar to the situation studied here.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The research was done as a cluster-randomized trial. This means that different communities were assigned by chance to one of two trial arms, either an “intervention arm”, where the community and clinic-based strategies would be delivered, or a “control” arm which would not have additional services. Six pairs of communities in Eastern Zimbabwe were compared, each of which had its own health center. Control communities received the standard government services for preventing HIV. The other communities received a package of various additional strategies. These included education and condom distribution amongst sex workers and their clients; better services at sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinics (STIs can increase the risk of HIV infection); and educational HIV/AIDS open days at health centers. The researchers planned to compare, between the two arms, the number of people who became infected with HIV over the course of the trial. They found that there was no statistical difference in the number of people in the intervention arm who became infected with HIV over the course of the trial, as compared to people in the control arm. Men in the intervention communities were more likely to have effective treatment for STIs, but women were more likely to show risky behaviors, such as having sex at a younger age, and having unprotected sex. However, men in the intervention communities were more knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS than men in the control communities. One strategy in the intervention arm (delivery of education and condom distribution among sex workers and their clients) may have been less successful because of the economic situation at the time, which meant that the income-generating projects that were supposed to support this initiative were impossible.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Some of the results from this trial are encouraging, for example an improvement in male participants' knowledge and behavior. However, overall, the intervention did not have an impact on the HIV infection rate in the community. Some other trials have also shown similar results. These results mean that other strategies need to be developed, and tested, which will encourage people to change their behavior patterns and reduce the risk of getting HIV. However, trials such as this are very difficult to design, carry out, and interpret. In particular, if a complex intervention such as this fails, it is often hard to tell whether it did so because the intervention was not delivered successfully, or because it did not work.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040102.
Information from Avert, an international HIV/AIDS charity, on HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe
Information from UNAIDS, the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, on strategies for HIV prevention
HIV/AIDS minisite from the World Health Organization
The Web site of the Manicaland HIV/STD Prevention Project discusses this project
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040102
PMCID: PMC1831737  PMID: 17388666
8.  Malaria control in Malawi: are the poor being served? 
Background
In Africa, national governments and international organizations are focusing on rapidly "scaling up" malaria control interventions to at least 60 percent of vulnerable populations. The potential health and economic benefits of "scaling up" will depend on the equitable access to malaria control measures by the poor. This paper analyses the present inequalities in access to malaria interventions in Malawi.
Methods
Equity in access to malaria control measures was assessed using the Malawi Demographic Health Survey (DHS) 2000 and the 2004 national survey on malaria control. Utilisation of malaria control methods was compared across the wealth quintiles, to determine whether the poor were being reached with malaria control measures.
Results
Overall ITN coverage increased from 5% in 2000 to 35% in 2004. However, there was a disproportionate concentration of ITNs amongst the least poor compared to the poorest group. Effective treatment of fever remains unacceptably low with only 17% of the under-five children being promptly treated with an effective antimalarial drug. And only 29 percent of pregnant women received the recommended dose of at least two doses during the pregnancy. No income related inequalities were associated with prompt treatment and IPT use.
Conclusion
The present distribution strategies for ITNs are not addressing the needs of the vulnerable groups, especially the poor. Increasing access to ITNs by the poor will require innovative distribution models which deliberately target the poorest of the poor.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-6-22
PMCID: PMC2216010  PMID: 18053158
9.  Detection of Tuberculosis in HIV-Infected and -Uninfected African Adults Using Whole Blood RNA Expression Signatures: A Case-Control Study 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(10):e1001538.
Using a microarray-based approach, Michael Levin and colleagues develop a disease risk score to distinguish active from latent tuberculosis, as well as tuberculosis from other diseases, using whole blood samples.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
A major impediment to tuberculosis control in Africa is the difficulty in diagnosing active tuberculosis (TB), particularly in the context of HIV infection. We hypothesized that a unique host blood RNA transcriptional signature would distinguish TB from other diseases (OD) in HIV-infected and -uninfected patients, and that this could be the basis of a simple diagnostic test.
Methods and Findings
Adult case-control cohorts were established in South Africa and Malawi of HIV-infected or -uninfected individuals consisting of 584 patients with either TB (confirmed by culture of Mycobacterium tuberculosis [M.TB] from sputum or tissue sample in a patient under investigation for TB), OD (i.e., TB was considered in the differential diagnosis but then excluded), or healthy individuals with latent TB infection (LTBI). Individuals were randomized into training (80%) and test (20%) cohorts. Blood transcriptional profiles were assessed and minimal sets of significantly differentially expressed transcripts distinguishing TB from LTBI and OD were identified in the training cohort. A 27 transcript signature distinguished TB from LTBI and a 44 transcript signature distinguished TB from OD. To evaluate our signatures, we used a novel computational method to calculate a disease risk score (DRS) for each patient. The classification based on this score was first evaluated in the test cohort, and then validated in an independent publically available dataset (GSE19491).
In our test cohort, the DRS classified TB from LTBI (sensitivity 95%, 95% CI [87–100]; specificity 90%, 95% CI [80–97]) and TB from OD (sensitivity 93%, 95% CI [83–100]; specificity 88%, 95% CI [74–97]). In the independent validation cohort, TB patients were distinguished both from LTBI individuals (sensitivity 95%, 95% CI [85–100]; specificity 94%, 95% CI [84–100]) and OD patients (sensitivity 100%, 95% CI [100–100]; specificity 96%, 95% CI [93–100]).
Limitations of our study include the use of only culture confirmed TB patients, and the potential that TB may have been misdiagnosed in a small proportion of OD patients despite the extensive clinical investigation used to assign each patient to their diagnostic group.
Conclusions
In our study, blood transcriptional signatures distinguished TB from other conditions prevalent in HIV-infected and -uninfected African adults. Our DRS, based on these signatures, could be developed as a test for TB suitable for use in HIV endemic countries. Further evaluation of the performance of the signatures and DRS in prospective populations of patients with symptoms consistent with TB will be needed to define their clinical value under operational conditions.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Tuberculosis (TB), caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is curable and preventable, but according to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2011, 8.7 million people had symptoms of TB (usually a productive cough and fever) and 1.4 million people—95% from low- and middle-income countries—died from this infection. Worldwide, TB is also the leading cause of death in people with HIV. For over a century, diagnosis of TB has relied on clinical and radiological features, sputum microscopy, and tuberculin skin testing but all of these tests have major disadvantages, especially in people who are also infected with HIV (HIV/TB co-infection) in whom results are often atypical or falsely negative. Furthermore, current tests cannot distinguish between inactive (latent) and active TB infection. Therefore, there is a need to identify biomarkers that can differentiate TB from other diseases common to African populations, where the burden of the HIV/TB pandemic is greatest.
Why Was This Study Done?
Previous studies have suggested that TB may be associated with specific transcriptional profiles (identified by microarray analysis) in the blood of the infected patient (host), which might make it possible to differentiate TB from other conditions. However, these studies have not included people co-infected with HIV and have included in the differential diagnosis diseases that are unrepresentative of the range of conditions common to African patients. In this study of patients from Malawi and South Africa, the researchers investigated whether blood RNA expression could distinguish TB from other conditions prevalent in African populations and form the basis of a diagnostic test for TB (through a process using transcription signatures).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers recruited patients with suspected TB attending one clinic in Cape Town, South Africa between 2007 and 2010 and in one hospital in Karonga district, Malawi between 2007 and 2009 (the training and test cohorts). Each patient underwent a series of tests for TB (and had a blood test for HIV) and was diagnosed as having TB if there was microbiological evidence confirming the presence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. At recruitment, each patient also had blood taken for microarray analysis and following this assessment, the researchers selected minimal transcript sets that distinguished TB from latent TB infection and TB from other diseases, even in HIV-infected individuals. In order to help form the basis of a simple, low cost, diagnostic test, the researchers then developed a statistical method for the translation of multiple transcript RNA signatures into a disease risk score, which the researchers then checked using a separate cohort of South African patients (the independent validation cohort).
Using these methods, after screening 437 patients in Malawi and 314 in South Africa, the researchers recruited 273 patients to the Malawi cohort and 311 adults to the South African cohort (the training and test cohorts). Following technical failures, 536 microarray samples were available for analysis. The researchers identified a set of 27 transcripts that could distinguish between TB and latent TB and a set of 44 transcripts that could distinguish TB from other diseases. These multi-transcript signatures were then used to calculate a single value disease risk score for every patient. In the test cohorts, the disease risk score had a high sensitivity (95%) and specificity (90%) for distinguishing TB from latent TB infection (sensitivity is a measure of true positives, correctly identified as such and specificity is a measure of true negatives, correctly identified as such) and for distinguishing TB from other diseases (sensitivity 93% and specificity 88%). In the independent validation cohort, the researchers found that patients with TB could be distinguished from patients with latent TB infection (sensitivity 95% and specificity 94%) and also from patients with other diseases (sensitivity 100% and specificity 96%).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that a distinctive set of RNA transcriptional signatures forming a disease risk score might provide the basis of a diagnostic test that can distinguish active TB from latent TB infection (27 signatures) and also from other diseases (44 signatures), such as pneumonia, that are prevalent in African populations. There is a concern that using transcriptional signatures as a clinical diagnostic tool in resource poor settings might not be feasible because they are complex and costly. The relatively small number of transcripts in the signatures described here may increase the potential for using this approach (transcriptional profiling) as a clinical diagnostic tool using a single blood test. In order to make most use of these findings, there is an urgent need for the academic research community and for industry to develop innovative methods to translate multi-transcript signatures into simple, cheap tests for TB suitable for use in African health facilities.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001538.
Wikipedia has definitions of tests for gene expression (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The National Center for Biotechnology Information has a fact sheet on microarray analysis
MedlinePlus has links to further information about tuberculosis (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization has up-to-date information on TB
The Stop TB partnership is working towards tuberculosis elimination; patient stories about tuberculosis/HIV coinfection are available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001538
PMCID: PMC3805485  PMID: 24167453
10.  Food Insufficiency Is Associated with High-Risk Sexual Behavior among Women in Botswana and Swaziland 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(10):e260.
Background
Both food insufficiency and HIV infection are major public health problems in sub-Saharan Africa, yet the impact of food insufficiency on HIV risk behavior has not been systematically investigated. We tested the hypothesis that food insufficiency is associated with HIV transmission behavior.
Methods and Findings
We studied the association between food insufficiency (not having enough food to eat over the previous 12 months) and inconsistent condom use, sex exchange, and other measures of risky sex in a cross-sectional population-based study of 1,255 adults in Botswana and 796 adults in Swaziland using a stratified two-stage probability design. Associations were examined using multivariable logistic regression analyses, clustered by country and stratified by gender. Food insufficiency was reported by 32% of women and 22% of men over the previous 12 months. Among 1,050 women in both countries, after controlling for respondent characteristics including income and education, HIV knowledge, and alcohol use, food insufficiency was associated with inconsistent condom use with a nonprimary partner (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 1.73, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.27–2.36), sex exchange (AOR 1.84, 95% CI 1.74–1.93), intergenerational sexual relationships (AOR 1.46, 95% CI 1.03–2.08), and lack of control in sexual relationships (AOR 1.68, 95% CI 1.24–2.28). Associations between food insufficiency and risky sex were much attenuated among men.
Conclusions
Food insufficiency is an important risk factor for increased sexual risk-taking among women in Botswana and Swaziland. Targeted food assistance and income generation programs in conjunction with efforts to enhance women's legal and social rights may play an important role in decreasing HIV transmission risk for women.
In a cross-sectional study, Sheri Weiser and colleagues found that food insufficiency was an important risk factor for increased sexual risk-taking in women in Botswana and Swaziland.
Editors' Summary
Background.
For people in sub-Saharan Africa, insufficient food for their daily needs and infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV; the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS) are inextricably linked and major causes of illness and death. By reducing the number of healthy adults in the region, HIV/AIDS has decreased food production so fewer people have secure access to sufficient food for a healthy life—many are subject to “food insecurity.” Because good nutrition is essential for a strong immune system, food insecurity increases the likelihood that people exposed to HIV become infected with the virus and reduces their ability to remain healthy after infection. Consequently, more people succumb to HIV/AIDS and food insecurity increases. To break this vicious cycle, UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) and other international bodies have suggested a move towards integrated food security programs and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs wherever possible.
Why Was This Study Done?
Integrated food and HIV/AIDS programs might also be beneficial for another reason. HIV is usually spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner and it is thought that a lack of food increases sexual risk taking, particularly among poor women. These women have little control over food supplies but are expected to feed their children and other members of the household (such as elders). To do this, they may sell sex or become sexually involved with men of a different generation, both of which put them at risk of HIV. In addition, they are rarely able to demand that their partners use condoms or to control when they have sex. In this study, the researchers have examined how food insufficiency affects sexual risk taking among men and women in Swaziland and Botswana. These two countries have the highest HIV infection rates in the world—one in three adults in Swaziland and one in four in Botswana are infected—and in both countries many people are extremely poor.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers interviewed more than 2,000 randomly selected adults from Botswana and Swaziland using a standard questionnaire. This included general questions about the participants (for example, age and marital status) and questions about food insufficiency (defined as not having had enough food to eat over the previous 12 months) and risky sexual behaviors—for example, sex exchange (selling or paying for sex) and inconsistent condom use—over the same period. Nearly one in three women and one in four men reported food insufficiency. After allowing for variables such as education and income, women in both countries who reported food insufficiency were nearly twice as likely to have used condoms inconsistently with a non-regular partner or to have sold sex as women who had had sufficient food. They were also more likely to have had intergenerational sexual relationships and to report a lack of control in sexual relationships. Among men, food insufficiency was weakly associated with inconsistent condom use but not with other risky sexual behaviors.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Food insufficiency is associated with multiple (often interdependent) risky sexual practices among women in Botswana and Swaziland. These results may not hold for other countries and may be limited by the definition of food insufficiency used in the study and by participants failing to remember or report all instances of risky behavior or food insufficiency that occurred during the previous year. Nevertheless, the findings strongly suggest that protecting and promoting access to food may decrease vulnerability of women in sub-Saharan Africa to HIV infection. Improved food security might be achieved through targeted food assistance and by supporting women's subsistence farming and other means of food production. Such programs would also need to enhance women's legal and social rights so that they have more control over food supplies as well as their sexual lives.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040260.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Special Programme for Food Security (in several languages)
HIV InSite, comprehensive and up-to-date information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS from the University of California San Francisco
UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) fact sheet on nutrition, food security, and HIV/AIDS
HIV and AIDS in Swaziland and Botswana, information provided by Avert, an international AIDS charity
The IMAGE Study, an example of a research initiative that is investigating the potential role of poverty alleviation and women's empowerment in reducing HIV incidence in South Africa
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040260
PMCID: PMC2039764  PMID: 17958460
11.  Patient costs associated with accessing HIV/AIDS care in Malawi 
Introduction
The decentralization of HIV services has been shown to improve equity in access to care for the rural poor of sub-Saharan Africa. This study aims to contribute to our understanding of the impact of decentralization on costs borne by patients. Such information is valuable for economic evaluations of anti-retroviral therapy programmes that take a societal perspective. We compared costs reported by patients who received care in an urban centralized programme to those in the same district who received care through rural decentralized care (DC).
Methods
A cross-sectional survey on patient characteristics and costs associated with accessing HIV care was conducted, in May 2010, on 120 patients in centralized care (CC) at a tertiary referral hospital and 120 patients in DC at five rural health centres in Zomba District, Malawi. Differences in costs borne by each group were compared using χ2 and t-tests, and a regression model was developed to adjust for confounders, using bootstrapping to address skewed cost data.
Results
There was no significant difference between the groups with respect to sex and age. However, there were significant differences in socio-economic status, with higher educational attainment (p<0.001), personal income (p=0.007) and household income per person (p=0.005) in CC. Travel times were similar (p=0.65), as was time waiting at the clinic (p=0.63) and total time spent seeking care (p=0.65). There was a significant difference in travel-related expenses (p<0.001) related to the type of travel participants noted that they used. In CC, 60% of participants reported using a mini-bus to reach the clinic; in DC only 4% reported using a mini-bus, and the remainder reported travelling on foot or by bicycle. There were no significant differences between the groups in the amount of lost income reported or other out-of-pocket costs. Approximately 91 Malawi Kwacha (95% confidence intervals: 1–182 MKW) or US$0.59 represents the adjusted difference in total costs per visit between CC and DC.
Conclusions
Even within a system of HIV/AIDS care where patients do not pay to see clinicians or for most medications, they still incur costs. We found that most costs are travel related. This has important implications for poorer patients who live at a distance from health facilities for whom these costs may be significant.
doi:10.7448/IAS.16.1.18055
PMCID: PMC3604364  PMID: 23517716
antiretroviral therapy; highly active; costs and cost analysis; Malawi; HIV; acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
12.  The Uptake and Accuracy of Oral Kits for HIV Self-Testing in High HIV Prevalence Setting: A Cross-Sectional Feasibility Study in Blantyre, Malawi 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(10):e1001102.
Augustine Choko and colleagues assess the uptake and acceptability of home-based supervised oral HIV self-testing in Malawi, demonstrating the feasibility of this approach in a high-prevalence, low-income environment.
Background
Although HIV testing and counseling (HTC) uptake has increased dramatically in Africa, facility-based services are unlikely to ever meet ongoing need to the full. A major constraint in scaling up community and home-based HTC services is the unacceptability of receiving HTC from a provider known personally to prospective clients. We investigated the potential of supervised oral HIV self-testing from this perspective.
Methods and Findings
Adult members of 60 households and 72 members of community peer groups in urban Blantyre, Malawi, were selected using population-weighted random cluster sampling. Participants were offered self-testing plus confirmatory HTC (parallel testing with two rapid finger-prick blood tests), standard HTC alone, or no testing. 283 (95.6%) of 298 selected adults participated, including 136 (48.0%) men. 175 (61.8%) had previously tested (19 known HIV positive), although only 64 (21.5%) within the last year. HIV prevalence was 18.5%. Among 260 (91.9%) who opted to self-test after brief demonstration and illustrated instructions, accuracy was 99.2% (two false negatives). Although 98.5% rated the test “not hard at all to do,” 10.0% made minor procedural errors, and 10.0% required extra help. Most participants indicated willingness to accept self-test kits, but not HTC, from a neighbor (acceptability 94.5% versus 46.8%, p = 0.001).
Conclusions
Oral supervised self-testing was highly acceptable and accurate, although minor errors and need for supervisory support were common. This novel option has potential for high uptake at local community level if it can be supervised and safely linked to counseling and care.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
According to the World Health Organization, despite the dramatic increase in the acceptability of HIV testing, more than 60% of people living with HIV do not know their status—a factor that is seriously hampering the global response to the HIV epidemic. The inconvenience and cost involved in visiting services in addition to a general aversion to visiting health facilities appear to be major barriers. Home-based HIV-testing services bypass these obstacles and are being adopted as national policy in a number of countries. However, given the tension between confidentiality and convenience, many people do not want to be counseled and tested by someone they know well, thus creating logistical difficulties and added costs to the provision of home-based testing services.
Why Was This Study Done?
Self-testing in private has considerable potential to contribute to first-time and repeat HIV testing but raises a number of issues, such as accuracy, the potential for adverse psychological reactions in the absence of face-to-face counseling, and the difficulty in organizing subsequent links to HIV/AIDS care. Self-testing has been used for over a decade in the US, but given the need to further scale up HIV testing and counseling in Africa, and to encourage regular repeat testing, the researchers conducted a mixed quantitative and qualitative study of self-testing for HIV using oral test kits to test whether supervised oral self-testing could yield accurate results. The researchers also wanted to explore reasons for accepting self-testing and respondents' preferences for HIV testing.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers conducted their study in four community health worker catchment areas in three high-density residential suburbs of Blantyre, Malawi. Between March and July 2010, the researchers randomly selected two groups of participants from within these catchment areas and all adults were then invited to participate in interview and optional HIV testing and counseling carried out in their home. Participants were offered the choice between self-test for HIV followed by standard voluntary counseling and testing, standard voluntary counseling and testing only, and no HIV testing or counseling. Pre-and post-test counseling was provided to all participants and after self-testing, a counselor reread the self-test kit, completed a checklist of potential errors and confirmed the result using two rapid HIV test kits run in parallel from a finger-prick blood specimen. All participants testing positive were referred to the nearest primary health center.
All 260 participants who consented to voluntary counseling and testing also opted to self-test, with the remaining 23 (8.1%) choosing not to test. HIV prevalence was 18.5% (48 of 260) and HIV prevalence among participants who had previously tested HIV-negative or not tested at all was 12.0% (29 of 241 participants) meaning that less than half of HIV-infected participants were previously diagnosed, and just over half of undiagnosed HIV infections were in individuals who had previously tested HIV negative. The researchers found self-testing to be highly accurate, with clear and concordant results for 256 (99.2%) of 258 participants with both self-test and blood results. Overall sensitivity for self-test self-read was 97.9% with specificity of 100%. At exit interview, 256 (98.5%) of participants rated self-testing as “very easy” to do but additional help was requested by 26 (10%) of self test participants and procedural errors were identified for 26 participants (10%). Importantly, self-testing was the preferred option for future HIV tests for 56.4% of participants and the most common choice for both men and women.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings of this study show that self-testing for HIV (after a brief demonstration and illustrated instructions) is highly accurate and is widely accepted by the community, indicating that there is strong community readiness to adopt self-testing alongside other HIV counseling and testing strategies in high HIV prevalence settings in urban Africa. Self-testing may prove especially valuable for encouraging regular repeat testing, couple testing, and first-time testing in otherwise hard-to-reach groups such as men and older individuals. Finally, given the accuracy achieved and strong preferences around future testing, further exploration of self-testing options could help to make progress towards meeting universal access goals.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001102.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Walensky and Bassett
Recently published WHO Guidelines explain the principles and processes of adapting HIV guidelines into national programs
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control's initiative Act against AIDS has some user-friendly information on the different types of HIV tests available
A WHO document discusses existing practices and surrounding issues related with HIV self-testing among health workers in sub-Saharan Africa
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001102
PMCID: PMC3186813  PMID: 21990966
13.  Promoting universal financial protection: contracting faith-based health facilities to expand access – lessons learned from Malawi 
Background
Public-private collaborations are increasingly being utilized to universalize health care. In Malawi, the Ministry of Health contracts selected health facilities owned by the main faith-based provider, the Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM), to deliver care at no fee to the most vulnerable and underserved populations in the country through Service Level Agreements (SLAs). This study examined the features of SLAs and their effectiveness in expanding universal coverage. The study involved a policy analysis focusing on key stakeholders around SLAs as well as a case study approach to analyse how design and implementation of SLAs affect efficiency, equity and sustainability of services delivered by SLAs.
Methods
The study employed both qualitative and quantitative research methods to address the research questions and was conducted in five CHAM health facilities: Mulanje Mission, Holy Family, and Mtengowanthenga Hospitals, and Mabiri and Nkope Health Centres. National and district level decision makers were interviewed while providers and clients associated with the health facilities were surveyed on their experiences. A total of 155 clients from an expected 175 were recruited in the study.
Results
The study findings revealed key aspects of how SLAs were operating, the extent to which their objectives were being attained and why. In general, the findings demonstrated that SLAs had the potential to improve health and universal health care coverage, particularly for the vulnerable and underserved populations. However, the findings show that the performance of SLAs in Malawi were affected by various factors including lack of clear guidelines, non-revised prices, late payment of bills, lack of transparency, poor communication, inadequate human and material resources, and lack of systems to monitor performance of SLAs, amongst others.
Conclusions
There was strong consensus and shared interest between the government and CHAM regarding SLAs. It was clear that free services provided by SLAs had a great impact on the impoverished locals that used the facilities. However, lack of supporting systems, inadequate infrastructure and shortage of health care providers affected SLA performance. The paper provides recommendations to policy makers for the replication and strengthening of SLA implementation in the roll-out of universalization policy.
doi:10.1186/1478-4505-11-27
PMCID: PMC3751183  PMID: 23958156
Health policy; Financial risk protection; Policy analysis; Universal coverage
14.  Contribution of community-based newborn health promotion to reducing inequities in healthy newborn care practices and knowledge: evidence of improvement from a three-district pilot program in Malawi 
BMC Public Health  2013;13:1052.
Background
Inequities in both health status and coverage of health services are considered important barriers to achieving Millennium Development Goal 4. Community-based health promotion is a strategy that is believed to reduce inequities in rural low-income settings. This paper examines the contributions of community-based programming to improving the equity of newborn health in three districts in Malawi.
Methods
This study is a before-and-after evaluation of Malawi’s Community-Based Maternal and Newborn Care (CBMNC) program, a package of facility and community-based interventions to improve newborn health. Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) within the catchment area of 14 health facilities were trained to make pregnancy and postnatal home visits to promote healthy behaviors and assess women and newborns for danger signs requiring referral to a facility. “Core groups” of community volunteers were also trained to raise awareness about recommended newborn care practices. Baseline and endline household surveys measured the coverage of the intervention and targeted health behaviors for this before-and-after evaluation. Wealth indices were constructed using household asset data and concentration indices were compared between baseline and endline for each indicator.
Results
The HSAs trained in the intervention reached 36.7% of women with a pregnancy home visit and 10.9% of women with a postnatal home visit within three days of delivery. Coverage of the intervention was slightly inequitable, with richer households more likely to receive one or two pregnancy home visits (concentration indices (CI) of 0.0786 and 0.0960), but not significantly more likely to receive a postnatal visit or know of a core group. Despite modest coverage levels for the intervention, health equity improved significantly over the study period for several indicators. Greater improvements in inequities were observed for knowledge indicators than for coverage of routine health services. At endline, a greater proportion of women from the poorest quintile knew three or more danger signs for pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum mothers than did women from the least poor quintile (change in CI: -0.1704, -0.2464, and -0.4166, respectively; p < 0.05). Equity also significantly improved for coverage of some health behaviors, including delivery at a health facility (change in CI: -0.0591), breastfeeding within the first hour (-0.0379), and delayed bathing (-0.0405).
Conclusions
Although these results indicate promising improvements for newborn health in Malawi, the extent to which the CBMNC program contributed to these improvements in coverage and equity are not known. The strategies through which community-based programs are implemented likely play an important role in their ability to improve equity, and further research and program monitoring are needed to ensure that the poorest households are reached by community-based health programs.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-1052
PMCID: PMC3833651  PMID: 24199832
Newborn health; Community health workers; Equity; Malawi; Health surveillance assistants; Maternal health
15.  Equity in HIV testing: evidence from a cross-sectional study in ten Southern African countries 
Background
HIV testing with counseling is an integral component of most national HIV and AIDS prevention strategies in southern Africa. Equity in testing implies that people at higher risk for HIV such as women; those who do not use condoms consistently; those with multiple partners; those who have suffered gender based violence; and those who are unable to implement prevention choices (the choice-disabled) are tested and can have access to treatment.
Methods
We conducted a household survey of 24,069 people in nationally stratified random samples of communities in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. We asked about testing for HIV in the last 12 months, intention to test, and about HIV risk behaviour, socioeconomic indicators, access to information, and attitudes related to stigma.
Results
Across the ten countries, seven out of every ten people said they planned to have an HIV test but the actual proportion tested in the last 12 months varied from 24% in Mozambique to 64% in Botswana. Generally, people at higher risk of HIV were not more likely to have been tested in the last year than those at lower risk, although women were more likely than men to have been tested in six of the ten countries. In Swaziland, those who experienced partner violence were more likely to test, but in Botswana those who were choice-disabled for condom use were less likely to be tested. The two most consistent factors associated with HIV testing across the countries were having heard about HIV/AIDS from a clinic or health centre, and having talked to someone about HIV and AIDS.
Conclusions
HIV testing programmes need to encourage people at higher risk of HIV to get tested, particularly those who do not interact regularly with the health system. Service providers need to recognise that some people are not able to implement HIV preventive actions and may not feel empowered to get themselves tested.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-10-23
PMCID: PMC2945979  PMID: 20836859
16.  A Model for the Roll-Out of Comprehensive Adult Male Circumcision Services in African Low-Income Settings of High HIV Incidence: The ANRS 12126 Bophelo Pele Project 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(7):e1000309.
Bertrand Auvert and colleagues describe the large-scale roll-out of adult male circumcision through a program in South Africa.
Background
World Health Organization (WHO)/Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) has recommended adult male circumcision (AMC) for the prevention of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men from communities where HIV is hyperendemic and AMC prevalence is low. The objective of this study was to investigate the feasibility of the roll-out of medicalized AMC according to UNAIDS/WHO operational guidelines in a targeted African setting.
Methods and Findings
The ANRS 12126 “Bophelo Pele” project was implemented in 2008 in the township of Orange Farm (South Africa). It became functional in 5 mo once local and ethical authorizations were obtained. Project activities involved community mobilization and outreach, as well as communication approaches aimed at both men and women incorporating broader HIV prevention strategies and promoting sexual health. Free medicalized AMC was offered to male residents aged 15 y and over at the project's main center, which had been designed for low-income settings. Through the establishment of an innovative surgical organization, up to 150 AMCs under local anesthesia, with sterilized circumcision disposable kits and electrocautery, could be performed per day by three task-sharing teams of one medical circumciser and five nurses. Community support for the project was high. As of November 2009, 14,011 men had been circumcised, averaging 740 per month in the past 12 mo, and 27.5% of project participants agreed to be tested for HIV. The rate of adverse events, none of which resulted in permanent damage or death, was 1.8%. Most of the men surveyed (92%) rated the services provided positively. An estimated 39.1% of adult uncircumcised male residents have undergone surgery and uptake is steadily increasing.
Conclusion
This study demonstrates that a quality AMC roll-out adapted to African low-income settings is feasible and can be implemented quickly and safely according to international guidelines. The project can be a model for the scale-up of comprehensive AMC services, which could be tailored for other rural and urban communities of high HIV prevalence and low AMC rates in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed about 25 million people since 1981, and more than 30 million people (22 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone) are now infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Consequently, prevention of HIV infection is extremely important. Because HIV is most often spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner, individuals can reduce their risk of HIV infection by abstaining from sex, by having one or a few partners, and by always using a male or female condom. In addition, three trials in sub-Saharan Africa recently reported that medicalized adult male circumcision (AMC)—the surgical removal of the foreskin, a loose fold of skin that covers the head of the penis—can reduce HIV transmission rates in men by more than a half. Thus, AMC delivered as a catch-up campaign—in the long-term, circumcision of male infants is likely to be a more sustainable strategy—has the potential to reduce the prevalence of HIV (the proportion of the population infected with HIV) in sub-Saharan Africa.
Why Was This Study Done?
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) now recommend that AMC programs should be rolled-out wherever there is a generalized HIV epidemic and few men are circumcised. Accordingly, these organizations have defined a minimum package of AMC services and have issued guidelines and tools designed to engage communities in the roll-out and to ensure that appropriate AMC counseling and surgical facilities are available. But is rapid AMC roll-out feasible in real-life settings? Here, the researchers try to find out by studying the “Bophelo Pele” (Health First) project. This project, which follows the WHO/UNAIDS guidelines for AMC, aims to offer free, safe AMC services to all men aged 15 years or more living in the Orange Farm township in South Africa as part of a community-based intervention against HIV. Orange Farm is in a low-income region of South Africa where HIV prevalence is 15.2% and AMC prevalence is about 25%.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Before the Bophelo Pele project started in January 2008, the researchers consulted the community about the implementation of AMC, helped to create a community advisory board, organized community workshops to discuss the project, and surveyed people's knowledge about AMC and willingness to undergo AMC. These activities indicated a high level of community support for the project and a high level of willingness among men to undergo AMC. Once the project started, the researchers used multiple communication channels to tell the Orange Farm residents about AMC and broader HIV prevention strategies and provided eligible men with counseling about AMC and with voluntary HIV counseling and testing during the recruitment process. Three days after recruitment, eligible men were circumcised free-of-charge at the project's main center, where three teams of one medical circumciser and five nurses were able to complete up to 150 AMCs per day. By November 2009, 14,011 men had been circumcised (more than a third of the eligible men in the township), and AMC uptake was still increasing steadily. Nearly all the men circumcised over one 2-month period rated the AMC services positively in a survey and adverse effects (all mild) occurred after fewer than 1 in 50 circumcisions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the rapid roll-out of high-quality, free AMC as an intervention against HIV has been successful in the Orange Farm township. However, other findings highlight some of the challenges that face AMC roll-out. For example, only a quarter of the participants agreed to voluntary HIV counseling and testing, which is worrying because newly circumcised HIV-positive men have an increased risk of transmitting HIV if they resume sexual activity too soon after the operation. Similarly, only two-thirds of the participants returned for a check-up after circumcision; this proportion needs to be increased to ensure the safety and efficacy of AMC programs. Nevertheless, these findings and those from similar intervention programs in Kenya and Uganda indicate that AMC scale-up should be feasible, at least in the short term, as an HIV prevention strategy in low-income communities where there is a high HIV prevalence and a low AMC rate.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000309.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and infectious diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV and AIDS in South Africa, and on circumcision and HIV (in English and Spanish)
More information about male circumcision is available from WHO and from the Clearinghouse on Male Circumcision, including a June 2010 report from WHO/UNAIDS entitled Progress in male circumcision scale-up: country implementation and research update
More information about the Bophelo Pele project is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000309
PMCID: PMC2907271  PMID: 20652013
17.  An integrated structural intervention to reduce vulnerability to HIV and sexually transmitted infections among female sex workers in Karnataka state, south India 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:755.
Background
Structural factors are known to affect individual risk and vulnerability to HIV. In the context of an HIV prevention programme for over 60,000 female sex workers (FSWs) in south India, we developed structural interventions involving policy makers, secondary stakeholders (police, government officials, lawyers, media) and primary stakeholders (FSWs themselves). The purpose of the interventions was to address context-specific factors (social inequity, violence and harassment, and stigma and discrimination) contributing to HIV vulnerability. We advocated with government authorities for HIV/AIDS as an economic, social and developmental issue, and solicited political leadership to embed HIV/AIDS issues throughout governmental programmes. We mobilised FSWs and appraised them of their legal rights, and worked with FSWs and people with HIV/AIDS to implement sensitization and awareness training for more than 175 government officials, 13,500 police and 950 journalists.
Methods
Standardised, routine programme monitoring indicators on service provision, service uptake, and community activities were collected monthly from 18 districts in Karnataka between 2007 and 2009. Daily tracking of news articles concerning HIV/AIDS and FSWs was undertaken manually in selected districts between 2005 and 2008.
Results
The HIV prevention programme is now operating at scale, with over 60,000 FSWs regularly contacted by peer educators, and over 17,000 FSWs accessing project services for sexually transmitted infections monthly. FSW membership in community-based organisations has increased from 8,000 to 37,000, and over 46,000 FSWs have now been referred for government-sponsored social entitlements. FSWs were supported to redress > 90% of the 4,600 reported incidents of violence and harassment reported between 2007-2009, and monitoring of news stories has shown a 50% increase in the number of positive media reports on HIV/AIDS and FSWs.
Conclusions
Stigma, discrimination, violence, harassment and social equity issues are critical concerns of FSWs. This report demonstrates that it is possible to address these broader structural factors as part of large-scale HIV prevention programming. Although assessing the impact of the various components of a structural intervention on reducing HIV vulnerability is difficult, addressing the broader structural factors contributing to FSW vulnerability is critical to enable these vulnerable women to become sufficiently empowered to adopt the safer sexual behaviours which are required to respond effectively to the HIV epidemic.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-755
PMCID: PMC3205062  PMID: 21962115
18.  The implications of policy changes on the uptake of a PMTCT programme in rural Malawi: first three years of experience 
Global Health Action  2009;2:10.3402/gha.v2i0.1883.
Objective
To study the implications of policy changes on the demand for antenatal care (ANC), HIV testing and hospital delivery among pregnant women in rural Malawi.
Design
Retrospective analysis of monthly reports.
Setting
Malamulo SDA hospital in Thyolo district, Makwasa, Malawi.
Methods
Three hospital-based registers were analysed from 2005 to 2007. These were general ANC, delivery and Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) registers. Observations were documented regarding the introduction of specific policies and when changes were effected. Descriptive analytical methods were used.
Results
The ANC programme reached 4,528 pregnant mothers during the study period. HIV testing among the ANC attendees increased from 52.6 to 98.8% after the introduction of routine (opt-out) HIV testing and 15.6% of them tested positive. After the introduction of free maternity services, ANC attendance increased by 42% and the ratio of hospital deliveries to ANC attendees increased from 0.50:1 to 0.66:1. Of the HIV-tested ANC attendees, 52.6% who tested positive delivered in the hospital and got nevirapine at the time of delivery.
Conclusions
Increasing maternity service availability and uptake can increase the coverage of PMTCT programmes. Barriers such as economic constraints that prevent women in poor communities from accessing services can be removed by making maternity services free. However, it is likely, particularly in resource-poor settings, that significant increases in PMTCT coverage among those at risk can only be achieved by substantially increasing uptake of general ANC and delivery services.
doi:10.3402/gha.v2i0.1883
PMCID: PMC2779935  PMID: 20027274
health service demand; antenatal care; PMTCT; health policy; Malawi
19.  Increasing Coverage and Decreasing Inequity in Insecticide-Treated Bed Net Use among Rural Kenyan Children 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(8):e255.
Background
Inexpensive and efficacious interventions that avert childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa have failed to reach effective coverage, especially among the poorest rural sectors. One particular example is insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs). In this study, we present repeat observations of ITN coverage among rural Kenyan homesteads exposed at different times to a range of delivery models, and assess changes in coverage across socioeconomic groups.
Methods and Findings
We undertook a study of annual changes in ITN coverage among a cohort of 3,700 children aged 0–4 y in four districts of Kenya (Bondo, Greater Kisii, Kwale, and Makueni) annually between 2004 and 2006. Cross-sectional surveys of ITN coverage were undertaken coincidentally with the incremental availability of commercial sector nets (2004), the introduction of heavily subsidized nets through clinics (2005), and the introduction of free mass distributed ITNs (2006). The changing prevalence of ITN coverage was examined with special reference to the degree of equity in each delivery approach. ITN coverage was only 7.1% in 2004 when the predominant source of nets was the commercial retail sector. By the end of 2005, following the expansion of heavily subsidized clinic distribution system, ITN coverage rose to 23.5%. In 2006 a large-scale mass distribution of ITNs was mounted providing nets free of charge to children, resulting in a dramatic increase in ITN coverage to 67.3%. With each subsequent survey socioeconomic inequity in net coverage sequentially decreased: 2004 (most poor [2.9%] versus least poor [15.6%]; concentration index 0.281); 2005 (most poor [17.5%] versus least poor [37.9%]; concentration index 0.131), and 2006 with near-perfect equality (most poor [66.3%] versus least poor [66.6%]; concentration index 0.000). The free mass distribution method achieved highest coverage among the poorest children, the highly subsidised clinic nets programme was marginally in favour of the least poor, and the commercial social marketing favoured the least poor.
Conclusions
Rapid scaling up of ITN coverage among Africa's poorest rural children can be achieved through mass distribution campaigns. These efforts must form an important adjunct to regular, routine access to ITNs through clinics, and each complimentary approach should aim to make this intervention free to clients to ensure equitable access among those least able to afford even the cost of a heavily subsidized net.
Noor and colleagues found low levels of use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets when nets were mainly available through the commercial sector. Levels increased when subsidized nets were introduced and rose further when they were made available free.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Malaria is one of the world's most important killer diseases. There are over a million deaths from malaria every year, most of those who die are children in Africa. Frequent attacks of the disease have severe consequences for the health of many millions more. The parasite that causes malaria is spread by bites from certain species of mosquito. They mostly bite during the hours of darkness, so sleeping under a mosquito net provides some protection. In some countries where malaria is a problem, bed nets are already used by many people. A very much higher level of protection is obtained, however, by sleeping under a mosquito net that has been impregnated with insecticide. The insecticides used are of extremely low toxicity for humans. As insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) are a relatively new idea, people do need to be persuaded to buy and use them. ITNs must also be re-impregnated regularly, although long-lasting ones that remain effective for 3–5 y (or 21 washes) are now widely distributed. The nets are inexpensive by Western standards but the people who are most at risk of malaria have very little income. Governments and health agencies are keen to increase the use of nets, particularly for children and pregnant women. The main approach used has been that of “social marketing.” In other words, advertising campaigns promote the use of nets, and their local manufacture is encouraged. The nets are then sold on the open market, sometimes with government subsidies. This approach has been very controversial. Many people have argued that ways must be found to make nets available free to all who need them, but others believe that this is not necessary and that high rates of ITN use can be brought about by social marketing alone.
Why Was This Study Done?
It has been known for more than ten years that ITNs are very effective in reducing cases of malaria, but there is still a long way to go before every child at risk sleeps under an ITN. In Kenya, a country where malaria is very common, a program to increase net use began in 2002, using the social marketing approach. In 2004 most of the nets available in Kenya were those on sale commercially. In October 2004 health clinics started to distribute more heavily subsidized ITNs for children and pregnant women and, in 2006, a mass distribution program began of free nets for children. The researchers, based at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), wanted to find whether the number of children sleeping under ITNs changed as a result of these changes in policy. They also wanted to see how the rate of net use varied between families of different socioeconomic levels, as the poorest children are known to be most likely to die from malaria.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This is a large study involving 3,700 children in four districts of Kenya. The researchers conducted surveys and then calculated the rates of net use in 2004, 2005, and 2006. In the first survey, when nets were available to most people only through the commercial sector, only 7% of children were sleeping under ITNs, with a very big difference between the poorest families (3%) and the least poor (16%). By the end of 2005, the year in which subsidized nets became increasingly available in clinics, the overall rate of use rose to 24%. By the end of 2006, following the free distribution campaign, it was 66%. The 2006 figure was almost exactly the same for the poorest and least poor families.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The rate of net use in the districts in the survey is much higher than expected, even though one-third of children were still not protected by ITNs. The sharp increases—particularly among the poorest children—after heavily subsidized nets were introduced and then after the free mass distribution suggests that this is a very good use of the limited amount of funds available for health care in Kenya and other countries where malaria is common. If fewer Kenyan children have malaria there will be cost savings to the health services. While some might claim that it is obvious that nets will be more widely used if they are free, there has been heated debate as to whether this is really true. Evidence has been needed and this research now provides strong support for free distribution. The study has also identified other factors which will be important in the continuing efforts to increase ITN use.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040255.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on malaria and on insecticide-treated nets (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on malaria (in English and Spanish). MedlinePlus brings together authoritative information from the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and other government agencies and health-related organizations
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese) and from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on the use of insecticide-treated nets
For information about the Medical Research Institute see the organization's Web site
The BBC Web site has a “country profile” about Kenya
Malaria data and related publications can be found on the Malaria Atlas Project Web site, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, UK and is a joint project between the Malaria Public Health & Epidemiology Group, Centre for Geographic Medicine, Kenya and the Spatial Ecology & Epidemiology Group, University of Oxford, UK
The Kenya Ministry of Health, Division of Malaria Control Web site has useful information on malaria epidemiology and policies for Kenya
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040255
PMCID: PMC1949846  PMID: 17713981
20.  The Impact of Monitoring HIV Patients Prior to Treatment in Resource-Poor Settings: Insights from Mathematical Modelling 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(3):e53.
Background
The roll-out of antiretroviral treatment (ART) in developing countries concentrates on finding patients currently in need, but over time many HIV-infected individuals will be identified who will require treatment in the future. We investigated the potential influence of alternative patient management and ART initiation strategies on the impact of ART programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods and Findings
We developed a stochastic mathematical model representing disease progression, diagnosis, clinical monitoring, and survival in a cohort of 1,000 hypothetical HIV-infected individuals in Africa. If individuals primarily enter ART programmes when symptomatic, the model predicts that only 25% will start treatment and, on average, 6 life-years will be saved per person treated. If individuals are recruited to programmes while still healthy and are frequently monitored, and CD4+ cell counts are used to help decide when to initiate ART, three times as many are expected to be treated, and average life-years saved among those treated increases to 15. The impact of programmes can be improved further by performing a second CD4+ cell count when the initial value is close to the threshold for starting treatment, maintaining high patient follow-up rates, and prioritising monitoring the oldest (≥ 35 y) and most immune-suppressed patients (CD4+ cell count ≤ 350). Initiating ART at higher CD4+ cell counts than WHO recommends leads to more life-years saved, but disproportionately more years spent on ART.
Conclusions
The overall impact of ART programmes will be limited if rates of diagnosis are low and individuals enter care too late. Frequently monitoring individuals at all stages of HIV infection and using CD4 cell count information to determine when to start treatment can maximise the impact of ART.
Using a stochastic model based on data from Africa, Timothy Hallett and colleagues find that starting HIV treatment based on regular CD4 monitoring, rather than on symptoms, would substantially increase survival.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed more than 25 million people since the first case in 1981, and about 33 million people are currently infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. HIV destroys immune system cells (including CD4 cells, a type of lymphocyte), leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-positive individuals died within 10 years but in 1996, combination antiretroviral therapy (ART)—a mixture of powerful but expensive antiretroviral drugs—was developed. For HIV-positive people living in affluent, developed countries who could afford ART, AIDS then became a chronic disease, but for those living in low- and middle-income countries it remained a death sentence—ART was too expensive. In 2003, this lack of access to ART was declared a global health emergency and governments, international organizations, and funding bodies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in developing countries.
Why Was This Study Done?
The roll-out of ART in developing countries has concentrated so far on finding HIV-positive people who currently need treatment. In developing countries, these are often individuals who have AIDS-related symptoms such as recurrent severe bacterial infections. But healthy people are also being diagnosed as HIV positive during voluntary testing and at antenatal clinics. How should these HIV-positive but symptom-free individuals be managed? Should regular health-monitoring appointments be scheduled for them and when should ART be initiated? Management decisions like these will determine how well patients do when they eventually start ART, as well as the demand for ART and other health-care services. The full range of alternative patient management strategies cannot be tested in clinical trials—it would be unethical—but public-health officials need an idea of their relative effectiveness in order to use limited resources wisely. In this study, therefore, the researchers use mathematical modeling to investigate the impact of alternative patient management and ART initiation strategies on the impact of ART programs in resource-poor settings.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers' mathematical model, which includes data on disease progression collected in Africa, simulates disease progression in a group (cohort) of 1,000 HIV-infected adults. It tracks these individuals from infection, through diagnosis and clinical monitoring, and into treatment and predicts how many will receive ART and their length of survival under different management scenarios and ART initiation rules. The model predicts that if HIV-positive individuals receive ART only when they have AIDS-related symptoms, only a quarter of them will ever start ART and the average life-years saved per person treated will be 6 years (that is, they will live 6 years longer than they would have done without treatment). If individuals are recruited to ART programs when they are healthy and are frequently monitored using CD4 cell counts to decide when to start ART, three-quarters of the cohort will be treated and 15 life-years will be saved per person treated. The impact of ART programs will be increased further, the model predicts, by preferentially monitoring people who are more than 35 years old and the most immunosuppressed individuals. Finally, strategies that measure CD4 cells frequently will save more life-years because ART is more likely to be started before the immune system is irreversibly damaged. Importantly for resource-poor settings, these strategies also save more life-years per year on ART.
What Do These Findings Mean?
As with all mathematical models, the accuracy of these predictions depends on the assumptions built into the model and the reliability of the data fed into it. Also, this model does not estimate the costs of the various management options, something that will need to be done to ensure effective allocation of limited resources. Nevertheless, these findings provide several general clues about how ART programs should be implemented in poor countries to maximize their effects. Early diagnosis of infections, regular monitoring of patients, and using CD4 cell counts to decide when to initiate ART should all help to improve the number of life-years saved by ART. In other words, the researchers conclude, effectively managing individuals at all stages of HIV infection is essential to maximize the impact of ART.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050053.
Information from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS.
Information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on global HIV/AIDS topics (in English and Spanish)
HIV InSite, comprehensive and up-to-date information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS from the University of California, San Francisco
Information from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on HIV and AIDS in Africa and on HIV/AIDS treatment and care, including universal access to ART
Progress toward universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment, the latest report from the World Health Organization (available in several languages)
Guidelines for antiretroviral therapy in adults and adolescents are provided by the World Health Organization and by the US Department of Health and Human Services
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050053
PMCID: PMC2265759  PMID: 18336064
21.  Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision: Modeling the Impact and Cost of Expanding Male Circumcision for HIV Prevention in Eastern and Southern Africa 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(11):e1001132.
Emmanuel Njeuhmeli and colleagues estimate the impact and cost of scaling up adult medical male circumcision in 13 priority countries in eastern and southern Africa, finding that reaching 80% coverage and maintaining it until 2025 would avert 3.36 million new HIV infections.
Background
There is strong evidence showing that voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) reduces HIV incidence in men. To inform the VMMC policies and goals of 13 priority countries in eastern and southern Africa, we estimate the impact and cost of scaling up adult VMMC using updated, country-specific data.
Methods and Findings
We use the Decision Makers' Program Planning Tool (DMPPT) to model the impact and cost of scaling up adult VMMC in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Nyanza Province in Kenya. We use epidemiologic and demographic data from recent household surveys for each country. The cost of VMMC ranges from US$65.85 to US$95.15 per VMMC performed, based on a cost assessment of VMMC services aligned with the World Health Organization's considerations of models for optimizing volume and efficiencies. Results from the DMPPT models suggest that scaling up adult VMMC to reach 80% coverage in the 13 countries by 2015 would entail performing 20.34 million circumcisions between 2011 and 2015 and an additional 8.42 million between 2016 and 2025 (to maintain the 80% coverage). Such a scale-up would result in averting 3.36 million new HIV infections through 2025. In addition, while the model shows that this scale-up would cost a total of US$2 billion between 2011 and 2025, it would result in net savings (due to averted treatment and care costs) amounting to US$16.51 billion.
Conclusions
This study suggests that rapid scale-up of VMMC in eastern and southern Africa is warranted based on the likely impact on the region's HIV epidemics and net savings. Scaling up of safe VMMC in eastern and southern Africa will lead to a substantial reduction in HIV infections in the countries and lower health system costs through averted HIV care costs.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, about 2.5 million people (mainly in sub-Saharan Africa) become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. Consequently, prevention of HIV transmission is very important. Because the most common HIV transmission route is through unprotected sex with an infected partner, individuals can reduce their risk of HIV infection by abstaining from sex, by having only one or a few partners, and by using male or female condoms. There is also strong evidence that voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC)—the removal of the foreskin, the loose fold of skin that covers the head of the penis—reduces the heterosexual acquisition of HIV in men by about 60%. In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) recommended that VMMC should be offered to men as part of comprehensive HIV risk reduction programs in settings with generalized HIV epidemics and low levels of male circumcision. They also prioritized 13 countries in eastern and southern Africa for VMMC program scale-up.
Why Was This Study Done?
The impact of VMMC scale-up in terms of HIV infections and AIDS deaths averted (epidemiologic impact) is expected to be large, and the intervention should also reduce the costs associated with the treatment, care, and support of infected individuals. However, VMMC scale-up will require substantial funding and considerable effort by countries—many of which have weak health systems and limited resources—to train personnel, equip facilities, and provide the necessary commodities. To support planning for VMMC scale-up, the United States Agency for International Development Health Policy Initiative has collaborated with UNAIDS to develop the Decision Makers' Program Planning Tool (DMPPT), a mathematical model that allows analysts and decision makers to estimate the epidemiologic impact and cost of alternative VMMC scale-up programs. In this study, the researchers use DMPPT to estimate the impact and cost of scaling up adult VMMC in the 13 priority countries in eastern and southern Africa.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers derived VMMC unit costs for each priority country based on a cost assessment undertaken in Zimbabwe, one of the first countries to scale up VMMC services using WHO's “Models for Optimizing Volume and Efficiencies” (MOVE) guidelines. They fed these costs and recent epidemiologic data (including HIV infection rates and the effectiveness of VMMC in preventing HIV transmission) and demographic data (including the adult population size and pre-scale-up male circumcision prevalence) collected in each country into the DMPPT, together with information on the lifetime costs of HIV treatment. Results from running the DMPPT model suggest that scaling up adult VMMC to reach 80% coverage in the 13 priority countries by 2015 would require 20.33 million circumcisions to be completed between 2011 and 2015. To maintain this coverage, a further 8.42 million circumcisions would be required between 2016 and 2025. Such a scale-up would avert 3.36 million new HIV infections through 2025 and would cost US$2,000,000,000 between 2011 and 2025. However, it would result in net savings (because of averted treatment and care costs) of US$16,510,000,000.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that rapid VMMC scale-up in eastern and southern Africa is warranted, given its likely impact on the region's HIV epidemics and the resultant cost savings. However, the accuracy of these findings depends on the assumptions built into the DMPPT and on the data fed into it. For example, there could be risk behavior changes after circumcision. That is, risky sexual behaviors may increase in men who have been circumcised. However, the researchers show that, except in Rwanda, post-circumcision risk behavior change is unlikely to completely reverse the benefits of VMMC. These modeling results also assume that men seeking out VMMC services are typical of the general male population, but if they are actually at unusually low risk of HIV infection, then the benefits of VMMC reported here are likely to be overestimated. Finally, these findings assume 80% VMMC coverage. This may be optimistic, although results from Kenya indicate that this target is achievable. Thus, countries and their international partners must allocate sufficient resources to VMMC scale-up to achieve high coverage rates if they are to take full advantage of the benefits predicted here for VMMC scale-up.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001132.
This study is part of a PLoS Collection of articles on http://www.ploscollections.org/VMMC2011 and is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Review Article by Hankins et al. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001127)
Information is available from WHO, UNAIDS, and PEPFAR on all aspects of HIV/AIDS; the 2011WHO/UNAIDS progress report on VMMC scale-up in the 13 priority countries is available
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment, and information on male circumcision for the prevention of HIV transmission
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on all aspects of HIV prevention, and on HIV/AIDS in Africa (in English and Spanish)
The Clearinghouse on Male Circumcision, a resource provided by WHO, UNAIDS, and other international bodies, provides information and tools for VMMC policy development and program implementation, including information on the DMPPT and the MOVE guidance
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert, through NAM/aidsmap, and through the charity website Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001132
PMCID: PMC3226464  PMID: 22140367
22.  Gender Differences in Survival among Adult Patients Starting Antiretroviral Therapy in South Africa: A Multicentre Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(9):e1001304.
Morna Cornell and colleagues investigate differences in mortality for HIV-positive men and women on antiretroviral therapy in South Africa.
Background
Increased mortality among men on antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been documented but remains poorly understood. We examined the magnitude of and risk factors for gender differences in mortality on ART.
Methods and Findings
Analyses included 46,201 ART-naïve adults starting ART between January 2002 and December 2009 in eight ART programmes across South Africa (SA). Patients were followed from initiation of ART to outcome or analysis closure. The primary outcome was mortality; secondary outcomes were loss to follow-up (LTF), virologic suppression, and CD4+ cell count responses. Survival analyses were used to examine the hazard of death on ART by gender. Sensitivity analyses were limited to patients who were virologically suppressed and patients whose CD4+ cell count reached >200 cells/µl. We compared gender differences in mortality among HIV+ patients on ART with mortality in an age-standardised HIV-negative population.
Among 46,201 adults (65% female, median age 35 years), during 77,578 person-years of follow-up, men had lower median CD4+ cell counts than women (85 versus 110 cells/µl, p<0.001), were more likely to be classified WHO stage III/IV (86 versus 77%, p<0.001), and had higher mortality in crude (8.5 versus 5.7 deaths/100 person-years, p<0.001) and adjusted analyses (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR] 1.31, 95% CI 1.22–1.41). After 36 months on ART, men were more likely than women to be truly LTF (AHR 1.20, 95% CI 1.12–1.28) but not to die after LTF (AHR 1.04, 95% CI 0.86–1.25). Findings were consistent across all eight programmes. Virologic suppression was similar by gender; women had slightly better immunologic responses than men. Notably, the observed gender differences in mortality on ART were smaller than gender differences in age-standardised death rates in the HIV-negative South African population. Over time, non-HIV mortality appeared to account for an increasing proportion of observed mortality. The analysis was limited by missing data on baseline HIV disease characteristics, and we did not observe directly mortality in HIV-negative populations where the participating cohorts were located.
Conclusions
HIV-infected men have higher mortality on ART than women in South African programmes, but these differences are only partly explained by more advanced HIV disease at the time of ART initiation, differential LTF and subsequent mortality, and differences in responses to treatment. The observed differences in mortality on ART may be best explained by background differences in mortality between men and women in the South African population unrelated to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
About 34 million people (most living in low- and middle-income countries) are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV destroys CD4 lymphocytes and other immune system cells, leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-infected people died within 10 years of becoming infected. Then, in 1996, antiretroviral therapy (ART)—cocktails of drugs that keep HIV in check—became available. For people living in affluent countries, HIV/AIDS became a chronic condition. However, ART was expensive and, for people living in poorer countries, HIV/AIDS remained a fatal illness. In 2003, this situation was declared a global emergency, and governments and international agencies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in resource-limited countries. Since then, ART programs in these countries have grown rapidly. In South Africa, for example, about 52% of the 3.14 million adults in need of ART were receiving an ART regimen recommended by the World Health Organization by the end of 2010.
Why Was This Study Done?
The outcomes of ART programs in resource-limited countries need to be evaluated thoroughly so that these programs can be optimized. One area of concern to ART providers is that of gender differences in survival among patients receiving treatment. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, men are more likely to die than women while receiving ART. This gender difference in mortality may arise because men initiating ART in many African ART programs have more advanced HIV disease than women (early ART initiation is associated with better outcomes than late initiation) or because men are more likely to be lost to follow-up than women (failure to continue treatment is associated with death). Other possible explanations for gender differentials in mortality on ART include gender differences in immunologic and virologic responses to treatment (increased numbers of immune system cells and reduced amounts of virus in the blood, respectively). In this multicenter cohort study, the researchers examine the size of, and risk factors for, gender differences in mortality on ART in South Africa by examining data collected from adults starting ART at International Epidemiologic Databases to Evaluate AIDS South Africa (IeDEA-SA) collaboration sites.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed data collected from 46,201 ART-naïve adults who started ART between 2002 and 2009 in eight IeDEA-SA ART programs. At ART initiation, men had a lower CD4 count on average and were more likely to have advanced HIV disease than women. During the study, after allowing for factors likely to affect mortality such as HIV disease stage at initiation, men on ART had a 31% higher risk of dying than women. Men were more likely to be lost to follow-up than women, but men and women who were lost to follow-up were equally likely to die. Women had a slightly better immunological response to ART than men but virologic suppression was similar in both genders. Importantly, in analyses of mortality limited to individuals who were virologically suppressed at 12 months and to patients who had a good immunological response to ART, men still had a higher risk of death than women. However, the gender differences in mortality on ART were smaller than the gender differences in age-standardized mortality in the HIV-negative South African population.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These analyses show that among South African patients initiating ART between 2002 and 2009, men were more likely to die than women but that this gender difference in mortality on ART cannot be completely explained by gender differences in baseline characteristics, loss to follow-up, or virologic and/or immunologic responses. Instead, the observed gender differences in mortality can best be explained by background gender differences in mortality in the whole South African population. Because substantial amounts of data were missing in this study (for example, HIV disease stage was not available for all the patients), these findings need to be interpreted cautiously. Moreover, similar studies need to be done in other settings to investigate whether they are generalizable to the South African national ART program and to other countries. If confirmed, however, these findings suggest that the root causes of gender differences in mortality on ART may be unrelated to HIV/AIDS or to the characteristics of ART programs.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001304.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
Information on the treatment of HIV/AIDS in South Africa is available from the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV/AIDS treatment and care, and on HIV/AIDS in South Africa (in English and Spanish)
WHO provides information about universal access to AIDS treatment (in several languages); its 2010 ART guidelines can be downloaded
Information about the IeDEA-SA collaboration is available
The Treatment Action Campaign provides information on antiretroviral therapy and South African HIV statistics
Patient stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert; the nonprofit website Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about living with HIV, including stories about taking anti-HIV drugs and the challenges of anti-HIV drugs
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001304
PMCID: PMC3433409  PMID: 22973181
23.  The Safety of Adult Male Circumcision in HIV-Infected and Uninfected Men in Rakai, Uganda 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(6):e116.
Background
The objective of the study was to compare rates of adverse events (AEs) related to male circumcision (MC) in HIV-positive and HIV-negative men in order to provide guidance for MC programs that may provide services to HIV-infected and uninfected men.
Methods and Findings
A total of 2,326 HIV-negative and 420 HIV-positive men (World Health Organization [WHO] stage I or II and CD4 counts > 350 cells/mm3) were circumcised in two separate but procedurally identical trials of MC for HIV and/or sexually transmitted infection prevention in rural Rakai, Uganda. Participants were followed at 1–2 d and 5–9 d, and at 4–6 wk, to assess surgery-related AEs, wound healing, and resumption of intercourse. AE risks and wound healing were compared in HIV-positive and HIV-negative men. Adjusted odds ratios (AdjORs) were estimated by multiple logistic regression, adjusting for baseline characteristics and postoperative resumption of sex. At enrollment, HIV-positive men were older, more likely to be married, reported more sexual partners, less condom use, and higher rates of sexually transmitted disease symptoms than HIV-negative men. Risks of moderate or severe AEs were 3.1/100 and 3.5/100 in HIV-positive and HIV-negative participants, respectively (AdjOR 0.91, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.47–1.74). Infections were the most common AEs (2.6/100 in HIV-positive versus 3.0/100 in HIV-negative men). Risks of other complications were similar in the two groups. The proportion with completed healing by 6 wk postsurgery was 92.7% in HIV-positive men and 95.8% in HIV-negative men (p = 0.007). AEs were more common in men who resumed intercourse before wound healing compared to those who waited (AdjOR 1.56, 95% CI 1.05–2.33).
Conclusions
Overall, the safety of MC was comparable in asymptomatic HIV-positive and HIV-negative men, although healing was somewhat slower among the HIV infected. All men should be strongly counseled to refrain from intercourse until full wound healing is achieved.
Trial registration: http://www.ClinicalTrials.gov; for HIV-negative men, #NCT00047073 and for HIV-positive men, #NCT00047073.
Ron Gray and colleagues report on complications of circumcision in HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected men from two related trials in Uganda, finding increased risk with intercourse before wound healing.
Editors' Summary
Background
Worldwide over 33 million people are thought to be living with HIV, and in the absence of a vaccine, preventing its spread is a major health issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimate that 68% of 2.5 million new infections worldwide in 2007 took place in sub-Saharan Africa, where 76% of 2.1 million AIDS-related deaths also took place.
One of the principal means of person-to-person transmission of HIV is through sex without the protection of a condom. In parts of Africa, male circumcision is performed in infancy or childhood for religious or cultural reasons or is a traditional rite of passage that marks the transition from child to man. Three trials, in South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda, each found that circumcised men were around half as likely as uncircumcised men to contract HIV from HIV-positive female partners. After reviewing the results, WHO and UNAIDS issued joint advice that male circumcision should be promoted for preventing HIV infection in heterosexual men. As male circumcision does not provide complete protection against HIV infection, they advised that it should be promoted in addition to existing strategies of promoting condom use, abstinence, and a reduction in the number of sexual partners.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although earlier studies had shown that adult male circumcision, when performed in Africa under optimal conditions, is a safe procedure for HIV-negative men, it was not known whether it would also be a safe procedure for HIV-positive men. WHO guidelines recommend that HIV-positive men who request the procedure or have a medical need and no contraindications for it should be circumcised. Also, exclusion of HIV-positive men from circumcision programs may result in stigmatization of these men, and discourage participation by men who do not wish to be tested for HIV. Therefore, it is important to know whether the procedure is safe for HIV-positive men.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The authors compared results from two separate clinical trials carried out with identical procedures in rural Rakai, Uganda. The first, which compared the effect of circumcision with no circumcision in HIV-negative men, was one of the three trials that persuaded the WHO and UNAIDS to promote male circumcision as an HIV prevention strategy. The second Rakai trial did the same comparison but in men who were HIV positive and without symptoms. In this present study, the authors used data from both trials to compare the likelihood of surgery-related complications following circumcision for HIV-negative and HIV-positive men.
The trials recruited men aged 15–49, who were randomly assigned to be circumcised either on enrollment or two years later and were followed up to monitor complications related to the procedure, such as infections, as well as wound healing and when the participant first had sex after the operation. Condom use was recorded at enrollment and six months after enrollment.
The researchers found that most complications were infrequent, mild, and comparable in both groups, with moderate-to-severe complications occurring in only 3%–4% of men in each group. However, delayed wound healing was more frequent in HIV-positive men. Complications were more likely among men who had sex before healing was complete; such men were more likely to be HIV-positive and/or married. Similarly, moderate or severe complications were more likely where men had symptoms of sexually transmitted disease at enrollment, although these were treated before surgery, and these men were more likely to be HIV-positive. Six months after enrollment, similar proportions of HIV-positive and HIV-negative men used condoms consistently, but HIV-positive men were more likely to report using condoms inconsistently than HIV-negative men. However, consistent use of a condom increased among the HIV-positive men compared to when they enrolled.
What Do these Findings Mean?
Circumcision in HIV-positive men without symptoms of AIDS has a low rate of complications, although healing is slower than in HIV-negative men. Because of the greater risk of complications if sex is resumed before full healing, both men and their women partners should be advised to have no sex for at least six weeks after the operation. A separately reported analysis from one of these studies found that women partners are more likely to become HIV infected by HIV-positive men who resume sex prior to complete wound healing. Therefore, for protection of both men and their female partners, it is essential to refrain from intercourse after circumcision until the wound has completely healed.
Because the study found no increased risk of surgical complications in HIV-positive men who undergo circumcision, it should not be necessary to screen men with no symptoms of HIV in future circumcision programs. This should reduce the complexity of implementing such programs and reduce any stigma resulting from exclusion, making it likely that more men will be willing to be circumcised. The rise in consistent condom use among HIV-positive men suggests that messages of safe sex are reaching an important target group and changing their behavior, and that circumcision does not make men less likely to use a condom.
The authors also noted that the rates of complications they observed were low compared with those following traditional circumcision procedures. Others have found that circumcision carried out under unsafe conditions has a high rate of complications. The authors of this study comment that the resources and standards of surgery during the trial represented best practice and that to attain similarly low rates of complications—and the confidence of men in the safety of the procedure—there is a need to ensure sufficient resources and high standards of training.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050116.
WHO and the UNAIDS issued a joint report recommending male circumcision for HIV prevention and another on the HIV epidemic worldwide in December 2007
An information pack here on male circumcision and HIV prevention has also been developed jointly by WHO/UNAIDS, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the World Bank
The University of California San Francisco's HIV InSite provides information on HIV prevention, treatment, and policy
AEGIS is the world's largest searchable database on HIV and AIDS
The National AIDS Trust provides information on HIV prevention
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050116
PMCID: PMC2408615  PMID: 18532873
24.  Strategies for gender-equitable HIV services in rural India 
Health Policy and Planning  2009;24(3):197-208.
The emergence of HIV in rural India has the potential to heighten gender inequity in a context where women already suffer significant health disparities. Recent Indian health policies provide new opportunities to identify and implement gender-equitable rural HIV services. In this review, we adapt Mosley and Chen's conceptual framework of health to outline determinants for HIV health services utilization and outcomes. Examining the framework through a gender lens, we conduct a comprehensive literature review for gender-related gaps in HIV clinical services in rural India, focusing on patient access and outcomes, provider practices, and institutional partnerships. Contextualizing findings from rural India in the broader international literature, we describe potential strategies for gender-equitable HIV services in rural India, as responses to the following three questions: (1) What gender-specific patient needs should be addressed for gender-equitable HIV testing and care? (2) What do health care providers need to deliver HIV services with gender equity? (3) How should institutions enforce and sustain gender-equitable HIV services? Data at this early stage indicate substantial gender-related differences in HIV services in rural India, reflecting prevailing gender norms. Strategies including gender-specific HIV testing and care services would directly address current gender-specific patient needs. Rural care providers urgently need training in gender sensitivity and HIV-related communication and clinical skills. To enforce and sustain gender equity, multi-sectoral institutions must establish gender-equitable medical workplaces, interdisciplinary HIV services partnerships, and oversight methods, including analysis of gender-disaggregated data. A gender-equitable approach to rural India's rapidly evolving HIV services programmes could serve as a foundation for gender equity in the overall health care system.
doi:10.1093/heapol/czp004
PMCID: PMC2727142  PMID: 19244284
HIV; rural India; gender equity; health services; access to care; utilization
25.  Mortality of HIV-Infected Patients Starting Antiretroviral Therapy in Sub-Saharan Africa: Comparison with HIV-Unrelated Mortality 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(4):e1000066.
Comparing mortality rates between patients starting HIV treatment and the general population in four African countries, Matthias Egger and colleagues find the gap decreases over time, especially with early treatment.
Background
Mortality in HIV-infected patients who have access to highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART) has declined in sub-Saharan Africa, but it is unclear how mortality compares to the non-HIV–infected population. We compared mortality rates observed in HIV-1–infected patients starting ART with non-HIV–related background mortality in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods and Findings
Patients enrolled in antiretroviral treatment programmes in Côte d'Ivoire, Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe were included. We calculated excess mortality rates and standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Expected numbers of deaths were obtained using estimates of age-, sex-, and country-specific, HIV-unrelated, mortality rates from the Global Burden of Disease project. Among 13,249 eligible patients 1,177 deaths were recorded during 14,695 person-years of follow-up. The median age was 34 y, 8,831 (67%) patients were female, and 10,811 of 12,720 patients (85%) with information on clinical stage had advanced disease when starting ART. The excess mortality rate was 17.5 (95% CI 14.5–21.1) per 100 person-years SMR in patients who started ART with a CD4 cell count of less than 25 cells/µl and World Health Organization (WHO) stage III/IV, compared to 1.00 (0.55–1.81) per 100 person-years in patients who started with 200 cells/µl or above with WHO stage I/II. The corresponding SMRs were 47.1 (39.1–56.6) and 3.44 (1.91–6.17). Among patients who started ART with 200 cells/µl or above in WHO stage I/II and survived the first year of ART, the excess mortality rate was 0.27 (0.08–0.94) per 100 person-years and the SMR was 1.14 (0.47–2.77).
Conclusions
Mortality of HIV-infected patients treated with combination ART in sub-Saharan Africa continues to be higher than in the general population, but for some patients excess mortality is moderate and reaches that of the general population in the second year of ART. Much of the excess mortality might be prevented by timely initiation of ART.
Please see later in the article for Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed more than 25 million people since 1981 and more than 30 million people (22 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone) are now infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. HIV destroys immune system cells (including CD4 cells, a type of lymphocyte), leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, most HIV-positive people died within ten years of infection. Then, in 1996, highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART)—combinations of powerful antiretroviral drugs—was developed and the life expectancy of HIV-infected people living in affluent countries improved dramatically. Now, in industrialized countries, all-cause mortality (death from any cause) among HIV-infected patients treated successfully with ART is similar to that of the general population and the mortality rate (the number of deaths in a population per year) among patients with HIV/AIDS is comparable to that among patients with diabetes and other chronic conditions.
Why Was This Study Done?
Unfortunately, combination ART is costly, so although HIV/AIDS quickly became a chronic disease in industrialized countries, AIDS deaths continued unabated among the millions of HIV-infected people living in low- and middle-income countries. Then, in 2003, governments, international agencies and funding bodies began to implement plans to increase ART coverage in developing countries. By the end of 2007, nearly three million people living with HIV/AIDS in these countries were receiving ART—nearly a third of the people who urgently need ART. In sub-Saharan Africa more than 2 million people now receive ART and mortality in HIV-infected patients who have access to ART is declining. However, no-one knows how mortality among HIV-infected people starting ART compares with non-HIV related mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. This information is needed to ensure that appropriate health services (including access to ART) are provided in this region. In this study, the researchers compare mortality rates among HIV-infected patients starting ART with non-HIV related mortality in the general population of four sub-Saharan countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained estimates of the number of HIV-unrelated deaths and information about patients during their first two years on ART at five antiretroviral treatment programs in the Côte d'Ivoire, Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe from the World Health Organization Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project and the International epidemiological Databases to Evaluate AIDS (IeDEA) initiative, respectively. They then calculated the excess mortality rates among the HIV-infected patients (the death rates in HIV-infected patients minus the national HIV-unrelated death rates) and the standardized mortality rate (SMR; the number of deaths among HIV-infected patients divided by the number of HIV-unrelated deaths in the general population). The excess mortality rate among HIV-infected people who started ART when they had a low CD4 cell count and clinically advanced disease was 17.5 per 100 person-years of follow-up. For HIV-infected people who started ART with a high CD4 cell count and early disease, the excess mortality rate was 1.0 per 100 person-years. The SMRs over two years of ART for these two groups of HIV-infected patients were 47.1 and 3.4, respectively. Finally, patients who started ART with a high CD4 cell count and early disease who survived the first year of ART had an excess mortality of only 0.27 per 100 person-years and an SMR over two years follow-up of only 1.14.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that mortality among HIV-infected people during the first two years of ART is higher than in the general population in these four sub-Saharan countries. However, for patients who start ART when they have a high CD4 count and clinically early disease, the excess mortality is moderate and similar to that associated with diabetes. Because the researchers compared the death rates among HIV-infected patients with estimates of national death rates rather than with estimates of death rates for the areas where the ART programs were located, these findings may not be completely accurate. Nevertheless, these findings support further expansion of strategies that increase access to ART in sub-Saharan Africa and suggest the excess mortality among HIV-infected patients in this region might be largely prevented by starting ART before an individual's HIV infection has progressed to advanced stages.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000066.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
HIV InSite has comprehensive information on all aspects of HIV/AIDS
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS including HIV and AIDS in Africa, providing AIDS drug treatment for millions, and on the stages of HIV infection
The World Health Organization provides information about universal access to HIV treatment and about the Global Burden of Disease project (in several languages)
More information about the International epidemiological Databases to evaluate AIDS initiative is available on the IeDEA Web site
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000066
PMCID: PMC2667633  PMID: 19399157

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