Complementary hypothesis concerning the community sexually transmitted disease mass treatment puzzle in Rakai, Uganda

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ObjectivesTo study the dynamics of a mass treatment programme for sexually transmitted diseases (STD) on prevalence of STD and HIV incidence in order to help explain the results of the STD mass treatment community trial in Rakai, Uganda.MethodsThe analysis is based on simulations of STD mass treatment interventions using a deterministic model describing the course of STD and HIV transmission over time and incorporating demographic, biological and behavioural parameters. The mass intervention modelled mimics that used in the Rakai community trial.ResultsMass treatment decreases STD prevalence to a very low level compared with baseline but is unsuccessful at eradicating the infection. STD prevalences return to baseline fairly rapidly after each round of mass treatment. Under different realistic scenarios, the fraction of HIV cases prevented by STD mass treatment assuming uniform 80% coverage of high- and low- risk groups, over the 20-month period following the first round of treatment, was greater than 35%. If, however, differential coverage is assumed, for example that while the total coverage is still 80%, only 40 or 25% of those at high risk are treated, the HIV preventable fraction is reduced, to 19 and 15% respectively (undetectable given the statistical power of the study). The tremendous impact of differential coverage can also be observed even in the early stage of the HIV epidemic.ConclusionsIn the Rakai trial, mass treatment may have had an effect, although transient, on all STD prevalences, which could have had positive repercussions for HIV incidence. This modelling exercise suggests that although an 80%coverage appears high, the differential coverage of low- and high-risk populations may seriously impair our ability to test the STD–HIV interaction hypothesis.

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