• Early Antiretroviral Therapy initiation: Access and Equity of Viral Load Testing for HIV Treatment Monitoring

      Peter, T; Ellenberger, D; Kim, AA; Boeras, D; Messele, T; Roberts, T; Stevens, W; Jani, I; Abimiku, A; Ford, N; et al. (Elsevier, 2016-10-20)
      Scaling up access to HIV viral load testing for individuals undergoing antiretroviral therapy in low-resource settings is a global health priority, as emphasised by research showing the benefits of suppressed viral load for the individual and the whole population. Historically, large-scale diagnostic test implementation has been slow and incomplete because of service delivery and other challenges. Building on lessons from the past, in this Personal View we propose a new framework to accelerate viral load scale-up and ensure equitable access to this essential test. The framework includes the following steps: (1) ensuring adequate financial investment in scaling up this test; (2) achieving pricing agreements and consolidating procurement to lower prices of the test; (3) strengthening functional tiered laboratory networks and systems to expand access to reliable, high-quality testing across countries; (4) strengthening national leadership, with prioritisation of laboratory services; and (5) demand creation and uptake of test results by clinicians, nurses, and patients, which will be vital in ensuring viral load tests are appropriately used to improve the quality of care. The use of dried blood spots to stabilise and ship samples from clinics to laboratories, and the use of point-of-care diagnostic tests, will also be important for ensuring access, especially in settings with reduced laboratory capacity. For countries that have just started to scale up viral load testing, lessons can be learnt from countries such as Botswana, Brazil, South Africa, and Thailand, which have already established viral load programmes. This framework might be useful for guiding the implementation of viral load with the aim of achieving the new global HIV 90-90-90 goals by 2020.
    • Sustainable HIV Treatment in Africa Through Viral-Load-Informed Differentiated Care

      Phillips, A; Shroufi, A; Vojnov, L; Cohn, J; Roberts, T; Ellman, T; Bonner, K; Rousseau, C; Garnett, G; Cambiano, V; et al. (Nature Publishing Group, 2015-12-03)
      There are inefficiencies in current approaches to monitoring patients on antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa. Patients typically attend clinics every 1 to 3 months for clinical assessment. The clinic costs are comparable with the costs of the drugs themselves and CD4 counts are measured every 6 months, but patients are rarely switched to second-line therapies. To ensure sustainability of treatment programmes, a transition to more cost-effective delivery of antiretroviral therapy is needed. In contrast to the CD4 count, measurement of the level of HIV RNA in plasma (the viral load) provides a direct measure of the current treatment effect. Viral-load-informed differentiated care is a means of tailoring care so that those with suppressed viral load visit the clinic less frequently and attention is focussed on those with unsuppressed viral load to promote adherence and timely switching to a second-line regimen. The most feasible approach to measuring viral load in many countries is to collect dried blood spot samples for testing in regional laboratories; however, there have been concerns over the sensitivity and specificity of this approach to define treatment failure and the delay in returning results to the clinic. We use modelling to synthesize evidence and evaluate the cost-effectiveness of viral-load-informed differentiated care, accounting for limitations of dried blood sample testing. We find that viral-load-informed differentiated care using dried blood sample testing is cost-effective and is a recommended strategy for patient monitoring, although further empirical evidence as the approach is rolled out would be of value. We also explore the potential benefits of point-of-care viral load tests that may become available in the future.