HIV drug resistance rising in parts of Africa

23 July 2012

Dr Ravindra Gupta, UCL Infection and Immunity

Drug-resistant HIV has been increasing in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa since the roll-out of antiretroviral therapy (ART) nearly a decade ago according to new research led by UCL and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Without continued and increased national and international efforts, rising HIV drug resistance could jeopardize a decade-long trend of decreasing HIV/AIDS-related illness and death in low- and middle-income countries”, warn Dr Ravindra Gupta, UCL Infection and Immunity, and Dr Silvia Bertagnolio from the WHO, who led the research.

“Nevertheless, estimated levels, although increasing, are not unexpected in view of the large expansion of antiretroviral treatment coverage seen in low-income and middle-income countries. In 2011, about 8 million people in these countries received ART, a figure 26 times greater than the number in 2003.”

The study, published in The Lancet today, is the first to systematically assess the prevalence of HIV drug resistance in low-income and middle-income countries, where over 90% of people with HIV live and 97% of new infections worldwide are to be found.

After searching systematically for studies over the past 10 years containing data on HIV drug resistance in untreated adults, and using data from the WHO HIV drug resistance surveillance programme, the researchers identified 162 reports and 27 unpublished datasets including over 26 000 individuals (aged 15 years or older) from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America. They estimated levels and changes in the prevalence of HIV-1 drug resistance since the scale-up of ART.

Without continued and increased national and international efforts, rising HIV drug resistance could jeopardize a decade-long trend of decreasing HIV/AIDS-related illness and death in low- and middle-income countries

Dr Ravindra Gupta, UCL Infection & Immunity

Overall, their findings suggest a significant increase in prevalence of drug resistance over time since antiretroviral roll-out in regions of sub Saharan Africa. This rise is mainly driven by non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTI) resistance in East and Southern Africa.

The most rapid increase in drug resistance occurred in East Africa, at 29% per year, reaching an overall prevalence of 7.4% eight years after rollout. This was considerably higher than the estimated 14% rise in Southern Africa, where the prevalence of drug resistance reached 3% six years after roll out.  Rates of resistance for NNRTIs were slightly higher, rising by 36% per year in East Africa and 23% per year in Southern Africa.

Dr Gupta and the team noted no change in resistance over time in Latin America and in West and Central Africa, while the heterogeneity between countries in Asia made it impossible for them to assess time trends in this region.

“In view of these findings, urgent action is clearly needed to maximise the long-term effectiveness of available first-line regimens and to enhance population-level resistance surveillance and prevention efforts in national HIV treatment programmes," says Dr Gupta. "This should include the establishment of robust supply chains to prevent drug stock-outs and treatment interruptions and early identification of individuals failing therapy.”

In a linked comment piece in The Lancet, Douglas D Richman from the University of California San Diego says: “Many of these missing resources and capabilities are components of the WHO/UNAIDS Treatment 2.0 goals, which if achieved could avert an additional 10 million deaths by 2025".

-Ends-


Media contact: David Weston

Image caption: Co-author Dr Ravindra Gupta, UCL Infection and Immunity


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