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Long-term HIV care outcomes under universal HIV treatment guidelines: A retrospective cohort study in 25 countries.

PLoS Medicine 2024 March 19
BACKGROUND: While national adoption of universal HIV treatment guidelines has led to improved, timely uptake of antiretroviral therapy (ART), longer-term care outcomes are understudied. There is little data from real-world service delivery settings on patient attrition, viral load (VL) monitoring, and viral suppression (VS) at 24 and 36 months after HIV treatment initiation.

METHODS AND FINDINGS: For this retrospective cohort analysis, we used observational data from 25 countries in the International epidemiology Databases to Evaluate AIDS (IeDEA) consortium's Asia-Pacific, Central Africa, East Africa, Central/South America, and North America regions for patients who were ART naïve and aged ≥15 years at care enrollment between 24 months before and 12 months after national adoption of universal treatment guidelines, occurring 2012 to 2018. We estimated crude cumulative incidence of loss-to-clinic (CI-LTC) at 12, 24, and 36 months after enrollment among patients enrolling in care before and after guideline adoption using competing risks regression. Guideline change-associated hazard ratios of LTC at each time point after enrollment were estimated via cause-specific Cox proportional hazards regression models. Modified Poisson regression was used to estimate relative risks of retention, VL monitoring, and VS at 12, 24, and 36 months after ART initiation. There were 66,963 patients enrolling in HIV care at 109 clinics with ≥12 months of follow-up time after enrollment (46,484 [69.4%] enrolling before guideline adoption and 20,479 [30.6%] enrolling afterwards). More than half (54.9%) were females, and median age was 34 years (interquartile range [IQR]: 27 to 43). Mean follow-up time was 51 months (standard deviation: 17 months; range: 12, 110 months). Among patients enrolling before guideline adoption, crude CI-LTC was 23.8% (95% confidence interval [95% CI] 23.4, 24.2) at 12 months, 31.0% (95% CI [30.6, 31.5]) at 24 months, and 37.2% (95% [CI 36.8, 37.7]) at 36 months after enrollment. Adjusting for sex, age group, enrollment CD4, clinic location and type, and country income level, enrolling in care and initiating ART after guideline adoption was associated with increased hazard of LTC at 12 months (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] 1.25 [95% CI 1.08, 1.44]; p = 0.003); 24 months (aHR 1.38 [95% CI 1.19, 1.59]; p < .001); and 36 months (aHR 1.34 [95% CI 1.18, 1.53], p < .001) compared with enrollment before guideline adoption, with no before-after differences among patients with no record of ART initiation by end of follow-up. Among patients retained after ART initiation, VL monitoring was low, with marginal improvements associated with guideline adoption only at 12 months after ART initiation. Among those with VL monitoring, VS was high at each time point among patients enrolling before guideline adoption (86.0% to 88.8%) and afterwards (86.2% to 90.3%), with no substantive difference associated with guideline adoption. Study limitations include lags in and potential underascertainment of care outcomes in real-world service delivery data and potential lack of generalizability beyond IeDEA sites and regions included in this analysis.

CONCLUSIONS: In this study, adoption of universal HIV treatment guidelines was associated with lower retention after ART initiation out to 36 months of follow-up, with little change in VL monitoring or VS among retained patients. Monitoring long-term HIV care outcomes remains critical to identify and address causes of attrition and gaps in HIV care quality.

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