Lack of Virological Suppression Among Young HIV-Positive Adults in Botswana

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HIV-1 RNA load is the best biological predictor of HIV transmission and treatment response. The rate of virologic suppression among key subpopulations can guide HIV prevention programs.


The Botswana Combination Prevention Project performed a population-based household survey among adults in 30 communities in Botswana. Data collected included knowledge of HIV-positive status, antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage, and virologic suppression (HIV-1 RNA ≤400 copies per milliliter). Individuals aged 16–29 years were considered young adults.


Among 552 young people living with HIV enrolled with RNA load data and ART status available, 51% (n = 279) had undetectable HIV-1 RNA, including 54% of young women and 32% of young men [sex prevalence ratio (PR): 0.53; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.43 to 0.80; P < 0.001]. Compared with older adults (30–64 years old), young HIV-infected adults were significantly less likely to have undetectable HIV-1 RNA (PR: 0.65; 95% CI: 0.59 to 0.70; P < 0.0001), including both men (PR: 0.43; 95% CI: 0.34 to 0.56; P < 0.0001) and women (PR: 0.67; 95% CI: 0.62 to 0.74; P < 0.0001). Among a subset of people living with HIV receiving ART, young adults also were less likely to have undetectable HIV-1 RNA load than older adults (PR: 0.93; 95% CI: 0.90 to 0.95; P = <0.0001). Analysis of the care continuum revealed that inferior HIV diagnosis and suboptimal linkage to care are the primary reasons for low virologic suppression among young adults.


Young adults in Botswana are significantly less likely to have undetectable HIV-1 RNA load compared with older adults. In the era of broad scale-up of ART, interventions able to diagnose young adults living with HIV and link them to effective therapy are urgently needed.

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