Spline-based modelling of trends in the force of HIV infection, with application to the UNAIDS Estimation and Projection Package

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Abstract

Objective

We previously developed a flexible specification of the UNAIDS Estimation and Projection Package (EPP) that relied on splines to generate time-varying values for the force of infection parameter. Here, we test the feasibility of this approach for concentrated HIV/AIDS epidemics with very sparse data and compare two methods for making short-term future projections with the spline-based model.

Methods

Penalised B-splines are used to model the average infection risk over time within the EPP 2011 modelling framework, which includes antiretroviral treatment effects and CD4 cell count progression, and is fit to sentinel surveillance prevalence data with a Bayesian algorithm. We compare two approaches for future projections: (1) an informative prior related to equilibrium prevalence and (2) a random walk formulation.

Results

The spline-based model produced plausible fits across a range of epidemics, which included 87 subpopulations from 14 countries with concentrated epidemics and 75 subpopulations from 33 countries with generalised epidemics. The equilibrium prior and random walk approaches to future projections yielded similar prevalence estimates, and both performed well in tests of out-of-sample predictive validity for prevalence. In contrast, in some cases the two approaches varied substantially in estimates of incidence, with the random walk formulation avoiding extreme changes in incidence.

Conclusions

A spline-based approach to allowing the force of infection parameter to vary over time within EPP 2011 is robust across a diverse array of epidemics, including concentrated ones with limited surveillance data. Future work on the EPP model should consider the impact that different modelling approaches have on estimates of HIV incidence.

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