Olga Tymejczyk 1 , 2 , * , Ellen Brazier 1 , 2 , Constantin Yiannoutsos 3 , Kara Wools-Kaloustian 4 , Keri Althoff 5 , Brenda Crabtree-Ramírez 6 , Kinh Van Nguyen 7 , Elizabeth Zaniewski 8 , Francois Dabis 9 , Jean d'Amour Sinayobye 10 , Nanina Anderegg 7 , Nathan Ford 11 , Radhika Wikramanayake 1 , 2 , Denis Nash 1 , 2 , IeDEA Collaboration
23 March 2018
The effect of antiretroviral treatment (ART) eligibility expansions on patient outcomes, including rates of timely ART initiation among those enrolling in care, has not been assessed on a large scale. In addition, it is not known whether ART eligibility expansions may lead to “crowding out” of sicker patients.
We examined changes in timely ART initiation (within 6 months) at the original site of HIV care enrollment after ART eligibility expansions among 284,740 adult ART-naïve patients at 171 International Epidemiology Databases to Evaluate AIDS (IeDEA) network sites in 22 countries where national policies expanding ART eligibility were introduced between 2007 and 2015. Half of the sites included in this analysis were from Southern Africa, one-third were from East Africa, and the remainder were from the Asia-Pacific, Central Africa, North America, and South and Central America regions. The median age of patients enrolling in care at contributing sites was 33.5 years, and the median percentage of female patients at these clinics was 62.5%. We assessed the 6-month cumulative incidence of timely ART initiation (CI-ART) before and after major expansions of ART eligibility (i.e., expansion to treat persons with CD4 ≤ 350 cells/μL [145 sites in 22 countries] and CD4 ≤ 500 cells/μL [152 sites in 15 countries]). Random effects metaregression models were used to estimate absolute changes in CI-ART at each site before and after guideline expansion. The crude pooled estimate of change in CI-ART was 4.3 percentage points (95% confidence interval [CI] 2.6 to 6.1) after ART eligibility expansion to CD4 ≤ 350, from a baseline median CI-ART of 53%; and 15.9 percentage points (pp) (95% CI 14.3 to 17.4) after ART eligibility expansion to CD4 ≤ 500, from a baseline median CI-ART of 57%. The largest increases in CI-ART were observed among those newly eligible for treatment (18.2 pp after expansion to CD4 ≤ 350 and 47.4 pp after expansion to CD4 ≤ 500), with no change or small increases among those eligible under prior guidelines (CD4 ≤ 350: −0.6 pp, 95% CI −2.0 to 0.7 pp; CD4 ≤ 500: 4.9 pp, 95% CI 3.3 to 6.5 pp). For ART eligibility expansion to CD4 ≤ 500, changes in CI-ART were largest among younger patients (16–24 years: 21.5 pp, 95% CI 18.9 to 24.2 pp). Key limitations include the lack of a counterfactual and difficulty accounting for secular outcome trends, due to universal exposure to guideline changes in each country.
In a large-scale analysis, Olga Tymejczyk and colleagues study antiretroviral therapy initiation in people with HIV infection accompanying secular changes in treatment eligibility.
In 2009 and 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that HIV patients with CD4 counts ≤350 and ≤500 cells/μL, respectively, initiate antiretroviral treatment (ART).
The expansion of ART eligibility criteria has the potential to increase ART initiation rates, especially among healthier patients; however, it could also lead to “crowding out” of persons with more advanced disease and lower rates of ART initiation among these patients.
While many countries have adopted WHO guidelines, the impact of ART eligibility expansions on timely ART initiation has not been studied on a large scale.
We examined the changes in timely ART initiation after national ART eligibility criteria were expanded to CD4 ≤ 350 and/or CD4 ≤ 500 in 22 countries, using data on 284,740 adult ART-naïve patients at 171 sites in the International Epidemiology Databases to Evaluate AIDS (IeDEA) network.
Site-level cumulative incidence of ART initiation (CI-ART) within 6 months of enrollment increased by 4.3 percentage points after national ART eligibility expansion to CD4 ≤ 350 and by 15.9 percentage points after expansion to CD4 ≤ 500.
At the individual level, increases were greatest among patients 16–24 years old at enrollment and those newly eligible for ART. No change or small improvements in CI-ART were also observed among patients already eligible for ART before eligibility expansion.
At the site level, sites with the lowest initial levels of CI-ART experienced the greatest increases following guideline expansions.
Overall, ART eligibility expansions were followed by appreciable improvements in timely ART initiation.
Many clinics can support ART initiation among newly eligible patients with less advanced disease without negatively affecting ART initiation rates among those with more advanced disease.
These findings illustrate the potential of ART eligibility expansion to improve the timeliness of ART initiation and patient outcomes along the care cascade globally, particularly for younger adults, in support of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 90-90-90 targets, thereby reducing morbidity, mortality, and onward HIV transmission.