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Achieving UNAIDS 90-90-90: More haste less speed?

31 Aug, 17 | by Leslie Goode, Blogmaster

UNAIDS (2014) has set targets for HIV management that seem ambitious, if not unrealistically so  (UNAIDS: 90-90-90): 90% of those living with HIV to know their status; 90% of known HIV+ individuals to undergo ART initiation; 90% of ART+ initiated to achieve viral suppression. A one-year-in report from a large cluster-randomized study of home-based testing and treatment in four Zambian communities, HPTN-071 (Hayes & Fidler (H&F)), recently discussed in this blog (Mountainous challenge of 90-90-90/STI/blogs), suggests that engagement with care may constitute a significant challenge. It gives rates of engagement after six months and one year of care of 42% and 53% respectively. It also confirms what earlier studies (Schwartz & Baral/STIs)  (http://sti.bmj.com/content/early/2016/11/25/sextrans-2016-052773) say about the difficulty of attaining this second target. Estimates as of 2015 for engagement with care in southern and eastern Africa range from 17% to 78% (Wringe & Skovdal/STIs).

Against this somewhat gloomy backdrop, the 2016-17 results from the Swaziland HIV Incidence Measurement Survey (SHIMS2)(http://phia.icap.columbia.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/ZWAZILAND-Factsheet.A4_LR.pdf) from a house-hold based national survey strike a surprisingly hopeful note. 84% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) aged 15 or over report knowing their HIV status; 87.4% of PLHIV knowing their status self-report current use of ART; 91.9% of PLHIV on ART are virally suppressed. Furthermore, rates of response to the survey, at 84.5% (=6,417 eligible households) are impressive. However, PLHIV who are diagnosed but not engaged in care and PLHIV who have become disengaged from care are notoriously difficult to reach (Wringe & Skovdal (STIs)), and likely to be among the non-respondents.

So maybe there is some hope that the UNAIDS targets can be realized by the deadline of 2020 …..

Yet amidst all the anxiety to achieve these targets, a series of qualitative studies reported in the recent supplementary issue of STIs sound a note of caution (STIs: July 2017: 93-3: Understanding the Bottlenecks). This work emphasizes the importance of clients’ personal experiences of health care as a factor in determining likely success in terms of retention in care over time. Among factors likely to have an impact are the painful or disagreeable side-effects from treatment (Renju & Wringe (STIs), or the coercive nature of testing itself (Wringe & Renju (STIs). They also include the attitudes of health-care workers, who are often ‘expert patients’, as well as inappropriate or pressurizing assumptions that test social and moral expectations regarding women’s relationship with men and invoke their moral duty as mothers (Kielmann & Cataldo (STIs). In short, achievement of the benefits of viral suppression requires cooperation of individuals over the longer-term. This in turn depends on trust and good will that are easily forfeited where the pressure to achieve quick results leads health systems to overlook the dimension of personal experience.

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