Simplifying switch to second-line antiretroviral therapy in sub Saharan Africa: predicted effect of using a single viral load to define efavirenz-based first-line failure


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Abstract

Background:Many individuals failing first-line antiretroviral therapy (ART) in sub-Saharan Africa never initiate second-line ART or do so after significant delay. For people on ART with a viral load more than 1000 copies/ml, the WHO recommends a second viral load measurement 3 months after the first viral load and enhanced adherence support. Switch to a second-line regimen is contingent upon a persistently elevated viral load more than 1000 copies/ml. Delayed second-line switch places patients at increased risk for opportunistic infections and mortality.Methods:To assess the potential benefits of a simplified second-line ART switch strategy, we use an individual-based model of HIV transmission, progression and the effect of ART which incorporates consideration of adherence and drug resistance, to compare predicted outcomes of two policies, defining first-line regimen failure for patients on efavirenz-based ART as either two consecutive viral load values more than 1000 copies/ml, with the second after an enhanced adherence intervention (implemented as per current WHO guidelines) or a single viral load value more than 1000 copies/ml. We simulated a range of setting-scenarios reflecting the breadth of the sub-Saharan African HIV epidemic, taking into account potential delays in defining failure and switch to second-line ART.Findings:The use of a single viral load more than 1000 copies/ml to define ART failure would lead to a higher proportion of persons with nonnucleoside reverse-transcriptase inhibitor resistance switched to second-line ART [65 vs. 48%; difference 17% (90% range 14–20%)], resulting in a median 18% reduction in the rate of AIDS-related death over setting scenarios (90% range 6–30%; from a median of 3.1 to 2.5 per 100 person-years) over 3 years. The simplified strategy also is predicted to reduce the rate of AIDS conditions by a median of 31% (90% range 8–49%) among people on first-line ART with a viral load more than 1000 copies/ml in the past 6 months. For a country of 10 million adults (and a median of 880 000 people with HIV), we estimate that this approach would lead to a median of 1322 (90% range 67–3513) AIDS deaths averted per year over 3 years. For South Africa this would represent around 10 215 deaths averted annually.Interpretation:As a step towards reducing unnecessary mortality associated with delayed second-line ART switch, defining failure of first-line efavirenz-based regimens as a single viral load more than 1000 copies/ml should be considered.

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