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Uptake, Accuracy, Safety, and Linkage into Care over Two Years of Promoting Annual Self-Testing for HIV in Blantyre, Malawi: A Community-Based Prospective Study

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      Abstract

      Background

      Home-based HIV testing and counselling (HTC) achieves high uptake, but is difficult and expensive to implement and sustain. We investigated a novel alternative based on HIV self-testing (HIVST). The aim was to evaluate the uptake of testing, accuracy, linkage into care, and health outcomes when highly convenient and flexible but supported access to HIVST kits was provided to a well-defined and closely monitored population.

      Methods and Findings

      Following enumeration of 14 neighbourhoods in urban Blantyre, Malawi, trained resident volunteer-counsellors offered oral HIVST kits (OraQuick ADVANCE Rapid HIV-1/2 Antibody Test) to adult (≥16 y old) residents ( n = 16,660) and reported community events, with all deaths investigated by verbal autopsy. Written and demonstrated instructions, pre- and post-test counselling, and facilitated HIV care assessment were provided, with a request to return kits and a self-completed questionnaire. Accuracy, residency, and a study-imposed requirement to limit HIVST to one test per year were monitored by home visits in a systematic quality assurance (QA) sample.

      Overall, 14,004 (crude uptake 83.8%, revised to 76.5% to account for population turnover) residents self-tested during months 1–12, with adolescents (16–19 y) most likely to test. 10,614/14,004 (75.8%) participants shared results with volunteer-counsellors. Of 1,257 (11.8%) HIV-positive participants, 26.0% were already on antiretroviral therapy, and 524 (linkage 56.3%) newly accessed care with a median CD4 count of 250 cells/μl (interquartile range 159–426). HIVST uptake in months 13–24 was more rapid (70.9% uptake by 6 mo), with fewer (7.3%, 95% CI 6.8%–7.8%) positive participants. Being “forced to test”, usually by a main partner, was reported by 2.9% (95% CI 2.6%–3.2%) of 10,017 questionnaire respondents in months 1–12, but satisfaction with HIVST (94.4%) remained high. No HIVST-related partner violence or suicides were reported. HIVST and repeat HTC results agreed in 1,639/1,649 systematically selected (1 in 20) QA participants (99.4%), giving a sensitivity of 93.6% (95% CI 88.2%–97.0%) and a specificity of 99.9% (95% CI 99.6%–100%). Key limitations included use of aggregate data to report uptake of HIVST and being unable to adjust for population turnover.

      Conclusions

      Community-based HIVST achieved high coverage in two successive years and was safe, accurate, and acceptable. Proactive HIVST strategies, supported and monitored by communities, could substantially complement existing approaches to providing early HIV diagnosis and periodic repeat testing to adolescents and adults in high-HIV settings.

      Abstract

      In a prospective study, Augustine Choko and colleagues assess uptake, accuracy, and outcomes of implementation of community-wide HIV self-testing delivered and supported by resident community volunteers in 14 neighborhoods of Blantyre, Malawi.

      Editors' Summary

      Background

      Every year, about 2.1 million people (70% of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa) are newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and 1.5 million people (again, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa) die as a result. HIV, which is usually transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected individual, gradually destroys CD4 lymphocytes and other immune system cells, leaving HIV-positive individuals susceptible to other serious infections and to unusual cancers. HIV is diagnosed by looking for antibodies to HIV in blood or saliva. After diagnosis, the progression of HIV infection is monitored by regularly counting the number of CD4 cells in the blood. Initiation of antiretroviral therapy—a combination of drugs that keeps HIV replication in check but that does not cure the infection—is recommended when an individual’s CD4 count falls below 500 cells/μl or when he or she develops an AIDS-defining condition.

      Why Was This Study Done?

      HIV-positive individuals need to know their status so that they can take steps to avoid transmitting the virus to other people (for example, by always using a condom during sexual intercourse) and so that they can begin treatment. Treatment helps to keep HIV-positive individuals healthy but also reduces their chances of transmitting the virus to their sexual partners. Unfortunately, many HIV-positive individuals are unaware of their status. The situation is particularly bad in sub-Saharan Africa, where, despite major investments in facility-based and community-based HIV testing and counseling (HTC) programs, only a quarter of adults have had a recent HIV test, and only half of the people living with HIV know they are HIV positive. Barriers to facility-based HTC include concern about lack of confidentiality and fears of stigmatization. Home-based HTC avoids some of these barriers and can achieve high uptake of testing, but doubts have been expressed about the sustainability of this approach to testing. Here, the researchers evaluate an alternative to home-based HTC—HIV self-testing (HIVST)—by undertaking a community-based prospective study of HIVST in Blantyre, Malawi. HIVST involves individuals performing and interpreting their own HIV test and has the potential to be widely implemented with minimal involvement of trained healthcare workers.

      What Did the Researchers Do and Find?

      Trained resident volunteer-counselors offered one oral HIVST kit (a kit that measures HIV in saliva) per year for a two-year period to 16,660 adult residents in 14 neighborhoods in urban Blantyre. All the participants received instructions on how to use the kits, pre- and post-counseling, and, for participants self-testing HIV positive, a referral card to attend an HIV care clinic. The residents also completed a questionnaire about their experience of HIVST. Three-quarters of the residents self-tested in the first and second year of the study. HIVST uptake was more rapid in the second year than in the first year and was high among men and adolescents, two hard-to-reach populations. Three-quarters of the residents who self-tested during the first year of the study shared their results with a volunteer-counselor. Of the 1,257 participants who discovered they were HIV positive during the first year of the study, more than half accessed HIV care. Importantly, 94.4% of the participants reported that they were happy with HIVST even though 2.9% reported being forced to take the test, usually by a main partner; no HIVST-related partner violence or suicides were reported by the study’s community surveillance system. Finally, HIVST and repeat HTC results agreed in 99.4% of participants selected as a quality assurance sample (one in 20 of the participants).

      What Do These Findings Mean?

      These findings show that, in urban neighborhoods in Malawi, coverage with community-based HIVST was high (particularly among adolescents and men) in two successive years and that HIVST was safe, accurate, and acceptable. Importantly, HIVST using a delivery model based on trained volunteers led to acceptable linkage into HIV care services, and the approach had a very low incidence of major social harms such as partner violence. Uncertainty about estimates of uptake and linkage to care and other aspects of the study design may limit the accuracy of these results. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that scaling up HIVST could complement existing strategies for providing early HIV diagnosis and periodic repeat testing and could thus have a sustained impact on the coverage of HIV testing and care in Africa and on the control of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

      Additional Information

      This list of resources contains links that can be accessed when viewing the PDF on a device or via the online version of the article at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001873.

      Related collections

      Most cited references 36

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      Prevention of HIV-1 infection with early antiretroviral therapy.

      Antiretroviral therapy that reduces viral replication could limit the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) in serodiscordant couples. In nine countries, we enrolled 1763 couples in which one partner was HIV-1-positive and the other was HIV-1-negative; 54% of the subjects were from Africa, and 50% of infected partners were men. HIV-1-infected subjects with CD4 counts between 350 and 550 cells per cubic millimeter were randomly assigned in a 1:1 ratio to receive antiretroviral therapy either immediately (early therapy) or after a decline in the CD4 count or the onset of HIV-1-related symptoms (delayed therapy). The primary prevention end point was linked HIV-1 transmission in HIV-1-negative partners. The primary clinical end point was the earliest occurrence of pulmonary tuberculosis, severe bacterial infection, a World Health Organization stage 4 event, or death. As of February 21, 2011, a total of 39 HIV-1 transmissions were observed (incidence rate, 1.2 per 100 person-years; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.9 to 1.7); of these, 28 were virologically linked to the infected partner (incidence rate, 0.9 per 100 person-years, 95% CI, 0.6 to 1.3). Of the 28 linked transmissions, only 1 occurred in the early-therapy group (hazard ratio, 0.04; 95% CI, 0.01 to 0.27; P<0.001). Subjects receiving early therapy had fewer treatment end points (hazard ratio, 0.59; 95% CI, 0.40 to 0.88; P=0.01). The early initiation of antiretroviral therapy reduced rates of sexual transmission of HIV-1 and clinical events, indicating both personal and public health benefits from such therapy. (Funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and others; HPTN 052 ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00074581.).
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        Multiple imputation for missing data in epidemiological and clinical research: potential and pitfalls

        Most studies have some missing data. Jonathan Sterne and colleagues describe the appropriate use and reporting of the multiple imputation approach to dealing with them
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          Preexposure chemoprophylaxis for HIV prevention in men who have sex with men.

          Antiretroviral chemoprophylaxis before exposure is a promising approach for the prevention of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) acquisition. We randomly assigned 2499 HIV-seronegative men or transgender women who have sex with men to receive a combination of two oral antiretroviral drugs, emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (FTC-TDF), or placebo once daily. All subjects received HIV testing, risk-reduction counseling, condoms, and management of sexually transmitted infections. The study subjects were followed for 3324 person-years (median, 1.2 years; maximum, 2.8 years). Of these subjects, 10 were found to have been infected with HIV at enrollment, and 100 became infected during follow-up (36 in the FTC-TDF group and 64 in the placebo group), indicating a 44% reduction in the incidence of HIV (95% confidence interval, 15 to 63; P=0.005). In the FTC-TDF group, the study drug was detected in 22 of 43 of seronegative subjects (51%) and in 3 of 34 HIV-infected subjects (9%) (P<0.001). Nausea was reported more frequently during the first 4 weeks in the FTC-TDF group than in the placebo group (P<0.001). The two groups had similar rates of serious adverse events (P=0.57). Oral FTC-TDF provided protection against the acquisition of HIV infection among the subjects. Detectable blood levels strongly correlated with the prophylactic effect. (Funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00458393.).
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ]Malawi–Liverpool–Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, Blantyre, Malawi
            [2 ]Department of Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom
            [3 ]Department of Clinical Sciences, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, United Kingdom
            [4 ]London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom
            [5 ]HIV Unit, Ministry of Health, Lilongwe, Malawi
            [6 ]Division of Health Sciences, Warwick Medical School, Coventry, United Kingdom
            Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, UNITED STATES
            Author notes

            The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

            Conceived and designed the experiments: ELC. Performed the experiments: ATC RS AM. Analyzed the data: ATC EW. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: ELC. Wrote the first draft of the manuscript: ATC HM. Contributed to the writing of the manuscript: ATC PM EW BW HF RS AM SM ND RH HM EC. Enrolled patients: RS. Agree with the manuscript’s results and conclusions: ATC PM EW BW HF RS AM SM ND RH HM EC. All authors have read, and confirm that they meet, ICMJE criteria for authorship.

            Contributors
            Role: Academic Editor
            Journal
            PLoS Med
            PLoS Med
            plos
            plosmed
            PLoS Medicine
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, CA USA )
            1549-1277
            1549-1676
            8 September 2015
            September 2015
            : 12
            : 9
            26348035 4562710 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001873 PMEDICINE-D-15-00605

            This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited

            Counts
            Figures: 5, Tables: 4, Pages: 21
            Product
            Funding
            The study was funded as part of a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship in Clinical Science (grant number: WT091769) awarded to ELC. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
            Categories
            Research Article
            Custom metadata
            Data are publicly available at 10.17037/DATA.7 through London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Data Compass http://datacompass.lshtm.ac.uk/.

            Medicine

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