Big breakthroughs in HIV science, such as antiretroviral therapy and the “universal test and treat” policy, create hope and galvanize efforts to bring the epidemic to an end. Yet, no matter how promising the strategy, we know from experience that it is not easy to incorporate the latest approaches into poorly resourced, over-stretched health systems. Nor is it reasonable to expect that health systems can absorb the increased volume of patients that seems to go hand in hand with innovations.
Tagged: antiretroviral therapy
Chelsea Polis, Senior Research Associate, Guttmacher Institute
Kavita Nanda, Senior Medical Scientist, Contraceptive Technology Innovation Department, FHI 360
Extraordinary gains have been made in the last decade toward increasing access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV. With an eye toward ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, UNAIDS recently released bold targets related to HIV diagnosis and treatment. By the year 2020, their aim is to have 90 percent of all people living with HIV aware of their status, 90 percent of people diagnosed with HIV receiving sustained ART and 90 percent of people on ART achieving viral suppression. As we move closer to these laudable public health goals, we must also consider how expansion of ART may affect and be affected by other health issues, such as prevention of unintended pregnancy among women living with HIV.
An increasingly important issue is whether certain ART regimens are expected to have drug interactions when used with certain hormonal contraceptive methods. In theory, an interaction could affect the efficacy of either medication or cause side effects or toxicity. If contraceptive efficacy decreases, the chances of contraceptive failure, unintended pregnancy and the accompanying consequences increase. A decrease in ART efficacy could lead to treatment failure, viral resistance and greater likelihood of subsequent HIV transmission. Increases in side effects or toxicity can affect quality of life and medication adherence. Yet, despite the importance of this issue, relatively few studies (particularly those with clinical outcomes such as ovulation, pregnancy or treatment failure) have been conducted.
Dominick Shattuck, PhD, Technical Director and Scientist, Social and Behavioral Health Sciences, FHI 360
In a rural village in central Africa, my colleagues and I stood over a registration book for antenatal care clients with the goal of identifying clinic-level data that could be extracted for a project evaluation. As we made our way through the book, the left sides of the pages were filled with names of women, dates and HIV test results — it was clear that almost all of the women who tested HIV positive received some form of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As my eyes ran to the right across spaces for follow-up records, however, the fields became increasingly emptier, and our team began to discuss the various barriers to services, even a highly effective service like prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT).
Access and adherence to the greater continuum of HIV care is influenced by several factors, including community-level gender norms and related behaviors. For example, HIV-positive men may avoid HIV testing and may spend a significant amount of their income attempting to address symptoms of their illness rather than confirming their HIV status. Often, these behaviors are driven by fear that knowledge of a positive HIV test result could compromise their leadership at home and cause family instability. Research has also identified instances when men undermine their wives’ access and adherence to ART, even taking their wives’ medication for themselves. Interestingly, despite such challenges, women are more likely to access and adhere to HIV-related treatment and care than men.