HIV program in Botswana increases viral suppression, decreases new infections: study

Source: Xinhua| 2019-07-21 04:26:45|Editor: Wu Qin
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WASHINGTON, July 20 (Xinhua) -- A Harvard study showed that an intervention to test for and treat HIV infection in Botswana proved effective in raising viral suppression to very high levels.

The study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the virus became undetectable and could not be transmitted in all adult residents while patients are taking effective treatment.

Also, the intervention likely contributed to a nearly one-third reduction in the incidence of HIV infection in the 15 participating communities, according to the study.

"We achieved levels of HIV diagnosis, treatment, and viral suppression that are among the highest levels reported globally," the paper's senior author Shahin Lockman, associate professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard, said in a statement.

HIV prevalence in Botswana is high, and an estimated 23 percent of adults had HIV in 2017, according to the study.

Researchers analyzed data from 23,401 people in the country, a randomized trial in 30 rural and semi-urban communities, with a total population of about 180,000.

From 2013 to 2018, 15 communities received an intervention that included universal HIV testing and counseling, support for accessing care, expanded and more rapid antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation, and increased access to male circumcision services.

Also, a control group of another 15 communities received standard HIV testing and treatment.

By the end of the study period, in the intervention group, the proportion of persons living with HIV who had a suppressed viral load increased from 70 percent to 88 percent, while the proportion in the standard care group increased from 75 percent to 83 percent.

The population level of viral suppression in the intervention group is among the highest to be reported globally.

The successful HIV testing campaigns in homes and mobile venues, along with support for linkage to care, both contributed to the very high ART initiation and viral suppression achieved.

According to the researchers, these efforts in turn likely led to the nearly one-third reduction in the rate of new HIV infections in the intervention communities.

"Universal HIV testing and treatment can contribute substantially toward improving health and reducing the rate of new HIV infections in the community," said Lockman. "This reduction, if sustained over time, will help us achieve the UNAIDS target of 90 percent reduction in the rate of new HIV infections by 2030."