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HIV Treatment as Prevention: Systematic Comparison of Mathematical Models of the Potential Impact of Antiretroviral Therapy on HIV Incidence in South Africa

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      Abstract

      Background

      Many mathematical models have investigated the impact of expanding access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) on new HIV infections. Comparing results and conclusions across models is challenging because models have addressed slightly different questions and have reported different outcome metrics. This study compares the predictions of several mathematical models simulating the same ART intervention programmes to determine the extent to which models agree about the epidemiological impact of expanded ART.

      Methods and Findings

      Twelve independent mathematical models evaluated a set of standardised ART intervention scenarios in South Africa and reported a common set of outputs. Intervention scenarios systematically varied the CD4 count threshold for treatment eligibility, access to treatment, and programme retention. For a scenario in which 80% of HIV-infected individuals start treatment on average 1 y after their CD4 count drops below 350 cells/µl and 85% remain on treatment after 3 y, the models projected that HIV incidence would be 35% to 54% lower 8 y after the introduction of ART, compared to a counterfactual scenario in which there is no ART. More variation existed in the estimated long-term (38 y) reductions in incidence. The impact of optimistic interventions including immediate ART initiation varied widely across models, maintaining substantial uncertainty about the theoretical prospect for elimination of HIV from the population using ART alone over the next four decades. The number of person-years of ART per infection averted over 8 y ranged between 5.8 and 18.7. Considering the actual scale-up of ART in South Africa, seven models estimated that current HIV incidence is 17% to 32% lower than it would have been in the absence of ART. Differences between model assumptions about CD4 decline and HIV transmissibility over the course of infection explained only a modest amount of the variation in model results.

      Conclusions

      Mathematical models evaluating the impact of ART vary substantially in structure, complexity, and parameter choices, but all suggest that ART, at high levels of access and with high adherence, has the potential to substantially reduce new HIV infections. There was broad agreement regarding the short-term epidemiologic impact of ambitious treatment scale-up, but more variation in longer term projections and in the efficiency with which treatment can reduce new infections. Differences between model predictions could not be explained by differences in model structure or parameterization that were hypothesized to affect intervention impact.

      Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary

      Editors' Summary

      Background

      Following the first reported case of AIDS in 1981, the number of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, increased rapidly. In recent years, the number of people becoming newly infected has declined slightly, but the virus continues to spread at unacceptably high levels. In 2010 alone, 2.7 million people became HIV-positive. HIV, which is usually transmitted through unprotected sex, destroys CD4 lymphocytes and other immune system cells, leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. Early in the AIDS epidemic, half of HIV-infected people died within eleven years of infection. Then, in 1996, antiretroviral therapy (ART) became available, and, for people living in affluent countries, HIV/AIDS gradually became considered a chronic condition. But because ART was expensive, for people living in developing countries HIV/AIDS remained a fatal condition. Roll-out of ART in developing countries first started in the early 2000s. In 2006, the international community set a target of achieving universal ART coverage by 2010. Although this target has still not been reached, by the end of 2010, 6.6 million of the estimated 15 million people in need of ART in developing countries were receiving ART.

      Why Was This Study Done?

      Several studies suggest that ART, in addition to reducing illness and death among HIV-positive people, reduces HIV transmission. Consequently, there is interest in expanding the provision of ART as a strategy for reducing the spread of HIV (“HIV treatment as prevention"), particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in 20 adults is HIV-positive. It is important to understand exactly how ART might contribute to averting HIV transmission. Several mathematical models that simulate HIV infection and disease progression have been developed to investigate the impact of expanding access to ART on the incidence of HIV (the number of new infections occurring in a population over a year). But, although all these models predict that increased ART coverage will have epidemiologic (population) benefits, they vary widely in their estimates of the magnitude of these benefits. In this study, the researchers systematically compare the predictions of 12 mathematical models of the HIV epidemic in South Africa, simulating the same ART intervention programs to determine the extent to which different models agree about the impact of expanded ART.

      What Did the Researchers Do and Find?

      The researchers invited groups who had previously developed mathematical models of the epidemiological impact of expanded access to ART in South Africa to participate in a systematic comparison exercise in which their models were used to simulate ART scale-up scenarios in which the CD4 count threshold for treatment eligibility, access to treatment, and retention on treatment were systematically varied. To exclude variation resulting from different model assumptions about the past and current ART program, it was assumed that ART is introduced into the population in the year 2012, with no treatment provision prior to this, and interventions were evaluated in comparison to an artificial counterfactual scenario in which no treatment is provided. A standard scenario based on the World Health Organization's recommended threshold for initiation of ART, although unrepresentative of current provision in South Africa, was used to compare the models. In this scenario, 80% of HIV-infected individuals received treatment, they started treatment on average a year after their CD4 count dropped below 350 cells per microliter of blood, and 85% remained on treatment after three years. The models predicted that, with a start point of 2012, the HIV incidence would be 35%–54% lower in 2020 and 32%–74% lower in 2050 compared to a counterfactual scenario where there was no ART. Estimates of the number of person-years of ART needed per infection averted (the efficiency with which ART reduced new infections) ranged from 6.3–18.7 and from 4.5–20.2 over the periods 2012–2020 and 2012–2050, respectively. Finally, estimates of the impact of ambitious interventions (for example, immediate treatment of all HIV-positive individuals) varied widely across the models.

      What Do These Findings Mean?

      Although the mathematical models used in this study had different characteristics, all 12 predict that ART, at high levels of access and adherence, has the potential to reduce new HIV infections. However, although the models broadly agree about the short-term epidemiologic impact of treatment scale-up, their longer-term projections (including whether ART alone can eliminate HIV infection) and their estimates of the efficiency with which ART can reduce new infections vary widely. Importantly, it is possible that all these predictions will be wrong—all the models may have excluded some aspect of HIV transmission that will be found in the future to be crucial. Finally, these findings do not aim to indicate which specific ART interventions should be used to reduce the incidence of HIV. Rather, by comparing the models that are being used to investigate the feasibility of “HIV treatment as prevention," these findings should help modelers and policy-makers think critically about how the assumptions underlying these models affect the models' predictions.

      Additional Information

      Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001245.

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      Most cited references 80

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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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        Viral load and heterosexual transmission of human immunodeficiency virus type 1. Rakai Project Study Group.

        We examined the influence of viral load in relation to other risk factors for the heterosexual transmission of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1). In a community-based study of 15,127 persons in a rural district of Uganda, we identified 415 couples in which one partner was HIV-1-positive and one was initially HIV-1-negative and followed them prospectively for up to 30 months. The incidence of HIV-1 infection per 100 person-years among the initially seronegative partners was examined in relation to behavioral and biologic variables. The male partner was HIV-1-positive in 228 couples, and the female partner was HIV-1-positive in 187 couples. Ninety of the 415 initially HIV-1-negative partners seroconverted (incidence, 11.8 per 100 person-years). The rate of male-to-female transmission was not significantly different from the rate of female-to-male transmission (12.0 per 100 person-years vs. 11.6 per 100 person-years). The incidence of seroconversion was highest among the partners who were 15 to 19 years of age (15.3 per 100 person-years). The incidence was 16.7 per 100 person-years among 137 uncircumcised male partners, whereas there were no seroconversions among the 50 circumcised male partners (P<0.001). The mean serum HIV-1 RNA level was significantly higher among HIV-1-positive subjects whose partners seroconverted than among those whose partners did not seroconvert (90,254 copies per milliliter vs. 38,029 copies per milliliter, P=0.01). There were no instances of transmission among the 51 subjects with serum HIV-1 RNA levels of less than 1500 copies per milliliter; there was a significant dose-response relation of increased transmission with increasing viral load. In multivariate analyses of log-transformed HIV-1 RNA levels, each log increment in the viral load was associated with a rate ratio of 2.45 for seroconversion (95 percent confidence interval, 1.85 to 3.26). The viral load is the chief predictor of the risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV-1, and transmission is rare among persons with levels of less than 1500 copies of HIV-1 RNA per milliliter.
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          Universal voluntary HIV testing with immediate antiretroviral therapy as a strategy for elimination of HIV transmission: a mathematical model.

          Roughly 3 million people worldwide were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) at the end of 2007, but an estimated 6.7 million were still in need of treatment and a further 2.7 million became infected with HIV in 2007. Prevention efforts might reduce HIV incidence but are unlikely to eliminate this disease. We investigated a theoretical strategy of universal voluntary HIV testing and immediate treatment with ART, and examined the conditions under which the HIV epidemic could be driven towards elimination. We used mathematical models to explore the effect on the case reproduction number (stochastic model) and long-term dynamics of the HIV epidemic (deterministic transmission model) of testing all people in our test-case community (aged 15 years and older) for HIV every year and starting people on ART immediately after they are diagnosed HIV positive. We used data from South Africa as the test case for a generalised epidemic, and assumed that all HIV transmission was heterosexual. The studied strategy could greatly accelerate the transition from the present endemic phase, in which most adults living with HIV are not receiving ART, to an elimination phase, in which most are on ART, within 5 years. It could reduce HIV incidence and mortality to less than one case per 1000 people per year by 2016, or within 10 years of full implementation of the strategy, and reduce the prevalence of HIV to less than 1% within 50 years. We estimate that in 2032, the yearly cost of the present strategy and the theoretical strategy would both be US$1.7 billion; however, after this time, the cost of the present strategy would continue to increase whereas that of the theoretical strategy would decrease. Universal voluntary HIV testing and immediate ART, combined with present prevention approaches, could have a major effect on severe generalised HIV/AIDS epidemics. This approach merits further mathematical modelling, research, and broad consultation.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ]Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom
            [2 ]Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Research, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
            [3 ]Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
            [4 ]Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Mtubatuba, South Africa
            [5 ]Department of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America
            [6 ]Intellectual Ventures Laboratory, Bellevue, Washington, United States of America
            [7 ]Research Department of Infection & Population Health, University College London, London, United Kingdom
            [8 ]Medical Research Council Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling, Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom
            [9 ]Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Netherlands
            [10 ]Department of Primary and Community Care, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center, Nijmegen, Netherlands
            [11 ]School of Science and Engineering, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan
            [12 ]Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America
            [13 ]Futures Institute, Glastonbury, Connecticut, United States of America
            [14 ]South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis, Stellenbosch, South Africa
            Duke University Medical Center, United States of America
            Author notes

            Conceived and designed the experiments: JWE JAS BGW TBH. Performed the experiments: JWE LFJ TB EB AB DEB VC CF JACH SH DJK EFL ANP CP JS EW. Analyzed the data: JWE. Wrote the first draft of the manuscript: JWE. Contributed to the writing of the manuscript: JWE LFJ JAS TB EB AB DEB VC CF JACH SH DJK EFL ANP CP JS EAW BGW TBH. ICMJE criteria for authorship read and met: JWE LFJ JAS TB EB AB DEB VC CF JACH SH DJK EFL ANP CP JS EAW BGW TBH. Agree with manuscript results and conclusions: JWE LFJ JAS TB EB AB DEB VC CF JACH SH DJK EFL AP CP JS EAW BGW TBH.

            Contributors
            Role: Academic Editor
            Journal
            PLoS Med
            PLoS Med
            PLoS
            plosmed
            PLoS Medicine
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
            1549-1277
            1549-1676
            July 2012
            July 2012
            10 July 2012
            : 9
            : 7
            22802730
            3393664
            PMEDICINE-D-12-00020
            10.1371/journal.pmed.1001245
            (Academic Editor)
            Eaton et al. 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
            Pages: 20
            Categories
            Research Article
            Medicine
            Epidemiology
            Infectious Disease Epidemiology
            Global Health
            Infectious Diseases
            Sexually Transmitted Diseases
            AIDS
            Infectious Disease Control
            Infectious Disease Modeling
            Public Health

            Medicine

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