ASHM Report Back

Clinical posts from members and guests of the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) from various international medical and scientific conferences on HIV, AIDS, viral hepatitis, and sexual health.

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The Implications of HIVSTI on Sex Workers

Udesha Chandrasena - Policy Officer at Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association

This was an very interesting session focusing on the accessibility of "self-test" HIV test kits that are currently available online and that have been made available to people in rural areas of Australia. With the changes and increase in availability of technologies that will allow for fast results, with some accuracy, to determine someone's HIV status, Udesha presented that this has potential to impact positively and negatively on sex workers.

The ability to have people attend tests at non-clinical locations can have great potential benefit in allowing for confidential testing in a private setting but can also have potential for significant issues.

Sex workers in Australia have been shown across Australia to have lower rates of HIV than the general population and also when compared to rates of sex workers overseas. This has been made possible through strong peer group programs in Australia and can only be measured in this population as a success, something that should be recognised. However this is not new data and across Australia every state and territory has it's own legislation regarding sex workers and a persons HIV status. This has potential to impact this population at risk with emerging new technologies that laws may not be keeping up with.

The advent of technologies with the ability to test a person on site or that need to be sent elsewhere for results may lead to an increase in the number of people tested but could also open workers up to potentially dangerous practices in their workplace. This could lead to bullying within brothels to be tested, to have workers be coerced by other workers, clients or brothel owners or managers to test in their presence. This has potential to impact on the workers safety, ability to work or force people to change practices or even be stopped from working. With differences between testing kits, techniques and potential technical issues with these technologies, this could lead to issues with false negative outcomes which would be managed differently in a clinical setting or with more "traditional" testing techniques.

Udesha argues that the current high rates of voluntary testing among the sex worker population be acknowledged and that changes to legislation across the country be made to ensure safety for workers.

In conclusion, there is potential for an increase in the numbers and scope of testing, however this can also negatively impact on sex workers. Changes in legislation across Australia is necessary to accompany this new technology.

"So, what are you doing about TB?"

There’s a particular gentleman at the AIDS 2016 Conference who causes a kerfuffle wherever he goes and I’ve witnessed his performance a number of times over the past few days.

At the end of every session he asks the lecturer “So, what are you doing about TB?”

It’s an AIDS Conference so most speakers are caught off guard when they don’t get a question about AIDS, but on Tuesday a speaker retorted “Well Anton, I didn’t know you were in the room, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked if there were any questions”.

I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear that Dr Anton Pozniak finally got his own platform to speak in the plenary session.

He informed his captive audience that it’s all very good to treat HIV, but every year in Africa, Tuberculosis causes more deaths. He reminded us that our current TB vaccination is 95 years old and we need a new one.

Tuberculosis is diagnosed too late, with half the diagnoses made at post-mortem. HIV testing is improving, but we also need to be using a rapid test for TB. Whether it’s spitting in a pot or peeing in a jar, we already have the technology to test for Tuberculosis - but we need it to be quick, portable and affordable. 

We know Tuberculosis causes significant morbidity and mortality for people living with HIV (PLHIV). We also know that using Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) by itself is not sufficient to treat Tuberculosis. ALL patients co-infected with HIV & Tuberculosis need to be treated by a combination of ART and anti-TB medications.

We cannot shorten the duration of Tuberculosis treatment to any less than 6 months using our current anti-TB medications. New drugs are being trialled and some appear promising, but we’re even trialling old drugs to see if they might possibly work for Tuberculosis too.

Nelson Mandela once said “We can’t fight AIDS unless we do much more to fight TB”, but Anton isn’t keen to stop there. He not only wants to fight HIV and Tuberculosis, but he’s keen to eradicate viral hepatitis too.

Anton's dream is for everyone with viral hepatitis to be treated, but this dream comes with a price.

Hepatitis B treatment costs ~$15,000 in the USA, but the estimated true cost is $36. Hepatitis C treatment in the USA costs ~$84,000, but the estimated true cost is $62. Affordable medication can truly change the lives of millions of people around the world, but that's not yet happening.

Anton urged everyone to communicate and combine efforts to provide integrated health services for people in need. Testing and treatment should not only be for HIV, but also for Tuberculosis, Hepatitis B & Hepatitis C. 

We’re aiming to end HIV by 2030, but let’s aim to eliminate Hepatitis C and Tuberculosis too.

Anton closed his speech by saying that we need new 90:90:90 goals. We should aim for the cost of HIV treatment to be $90 per year, Hepatitis B treatment should be $90, and Hepatitis C cures should be $90 too.

NB - There was no kerfuffle at the end of his presentation as Dr Anton Pozniak wisely did not ask the audience if they had any questions. 

John Brooks from the CDC in Atlanta provided an update on the HIV outbreak first identified in Indiana in December 2014. I reported on his first update from the IAS Conference in Vancouver in July last year.

A couple of things are very noteworthy from these presentations. The response to the outbreak was dramatic, all be it very costly, and effective. What is hugely upsetting is that it could have been prevented with a good public health approach to HIV in the first instance.

A small cluster of HIV infections were identified in a rural county in Indiana. Case follow-up and contact tracing has identified 188 infections. The vast majority of these were identified in the first half of last year with only 11 being identified more recently, and of those the majority had been approached but declined testing previously.

A lot of features made this a perfect storm: no needle and syringe program; high levels of injecting (4 - 15 times daily and sharing with 1 - 6 partners) the reason for this is that the main drug injected was oxymorphone, which sells on the street for up to $140 per tablet, so people inject small doses, regularly to manage withdrawal. High levels of intergenerational sharing, with the belief that this was protective.

The county has the lowest socio-economic profile. Access to health care was limited, many people were uninsured and not registered for social security, unlicensed, not working and did not have common documents such as birth certificates.

This is an excellent presentation which show how a significant epidemic can occur in close knit community with limited access to resources, education and information. Viral sequencing has demonstrated that these were very recent infections and all linked. 

The plenary

http://www.croiwebcasts.org/console/player/29695?mediaType=podiumVideo&

and all of the slides amd MP3 are available at http://www.croiwebcasts.org/y/2016/25?link=nav&linkc=date

There was an HCV positive rate of >90%. But the HCV, unlike the HIV was well established in the cohort, coming from multiple sources over many years. A complementary presentation by Sumathi Ramachandran, Networks of HCV Transmissions Among Persons Who Inject Drugs: Indiana, 2015  looks at hepattiis C infection in this community can be found at http://www.croiwebcasts.org/console/player/29742?mediaType=slideVideo& 

There has been considerable discussion about the potential for outbreaks in rural and remote communities in Australia. This experience is one which should be viewed by all involved in the public health response to HIV and by all those involved in policy making which impacts public health.

 
Panel Discussion on Stigma, Trauma and Stress: Considerations for HIV Research and Programs

Monday 22nd Feb

Session MD – Panel Discussion on Stigma, Trauma and Stress: Considerations for HIV Research and Programs.

Moderator: Morenike Ukpong-Folayan (Nigeria)

Diversity in panelists: Laurel Sprague, Sethembiso Mthembu and Keith Green.

 

Speaker 1

Laurel Sprague: Limits and Complexity Research on Stigma and HIV. (Milford, PA, USA)

Complex topic for discussion and opening panelist Laurel Sprague opened with Stigma, fear, and anxiety around disease is just as important as the focus on reaching undetectable viral loads.

She continued to highlight that HIV positive people surveyed actually want not disclosing ones HIV status to be decriminalised, and it is the ongoing impact of the possibility for incarceration that is continuing HIV stigma within the US.

Discussion around the Stigma Index Questionnaire within the US and globally. http://www.stigmaindex.org

 

Speaker 2

Sethembiso Mthembu: Women’s Rights and Decision Making in Hormonal Contraception. (Durban, South Africa)

Presented on how there are overriding political issues that continue to impact on the provision of care for women, different contraception is offered in northern regions to southern regions, and based on religion and race.

Increasing awareness into the effects of hormonal contraception – in particular depo provera injection has on vaginal pH levels and thus is actually increasing the risk of HIV transmission for African women, as well as an increased link with higher rates of cervical cancer.

ECHO Study is currently looking at the direct links between administration of hormonal contraception and increased rates of HIV.

http://echo-consortium.com

Current government programs push hormonal contraception onto African women with little education or communication of possible side effects, in HIV positive females, provision of ARVs is withheld until the person can prove they have had their depo provera injection

Ongoing provisions of care complications are highlighted with African women being provided with ‘contraception only’ clinics, which will not and do not address any other complex care needs of women’s health.

We can all argue how effect depo provera is as a form of contraception that is discreet, effective and economically accessible around the world. The point raised by Sethembiso is that we need to consider and understand the impact however such hormonal contraception is being pushed in Africa not as an option but with forced prescription and the impact in relation to HIV risk.

 

Speaker 3

Keith Green: Engaging Young Men of Color in Community HIV Prevention Studies. (Chicago, USA)

Emphasis on multi-disciplinary approach and peer lead and consumer inclusion into study development and implantation.

He notes a major aspect of barriers in engaging youth consumers and participants into new studies and trials is not due to just their own stigma concerns but rather also the fact that youth inherently rebels and does not like to follow set orders or rules, and is just part of their nature as humans.

Keith also highlighted that we should not be so quick at labelling and using terms as MSM to communicate with young people, in todays day and age the better options is to ask the person how they wish the be identified and then use that term.

He has raised some interesting points, but also it does seem that it is increasingly difficult to allow interactions across all politically correct and non judgmental levels without making the research less valid, or repeatable in other settings, if allowing too many broad topics, and individual approaches helps gain numbers of consumers to participate will it then also indirectly make the research less scientifically valid?

The use of facebook and twitter proved valuable to their team in engaging and maintaining participation from youth consumers. The importance of privacy and sensitivity was highlighted but most participants were very happy to communicate via social media rather than phones. In considering the youth of today, mobile numbers change frequently, however very few will ever change their facebook or their email. Putting privacy and internet safety of information aside and assuming all was protected, one would think that this approach could not only benefit in youth interactions but also for all consumer/ client groups that are often lost to follow-up, low retention of care populations and indigenous and/or remote populations within geographically diverse Australia.

Keith repeatedly emphasis the importance of health provision to always remain culturally competent and relevant. This is of course a huge challenge in any community and country around the world especially as technology and communication avenues evolve so rapidly.

 

Open Q&A - Discussion:

The open discussion highlighted some global issues on the topic and some interesting specific examples were given. To summarize the main points of the discussion;

-       HIV prevention and control act implemented in Uganda has actually increased stigma, trauma and stress with the implantation of heavy fines on HIV positive people.

-       Is incarceration as punishment actually discrimination? In South Africa women are targeting for testing drives esp in antenatal screening – however if testing positive are indirectly persecuted, hence promoting fear towards testing.

-       Is the threat of incarceration a why in which governments globally can still impose authority.

-       Fears for women was further highlighted by the following scenario: If a man rapes a women in South Africa he is charged with rape and undergoes mandatory HIV testing, if positive he is then also charged with infecting people. On the flip side, the women raped is also tested, and if she is found to be the source, then she goes from being the rape victim to potentially facing a charge for HIV transmission to the rapist!

-       Do HIV, MSM and Sex worker clinics promote health care and reduce stigma or do they promote isolation and less integration and public understanding by segregation.

-       How can we reduced the distrust between consumer populations and research communities. Is it by educating, training and giving voice in positions to consumer/ peers. Would a society then specifically place aside allocated funding and positions for consumers/ peers to enter the industry and become researchers. In the Australian context how would this be rolled out? Similar to indigenous program models and would this encounter any population bias or speculation, helping reduce stigma or increasing it?

 

Session OS  - Opening Session - Fighting AIDS with Style 

On an additional note the final speaker of the day at the opening session was a special event guest, designer Kenneth Cole, now chairman of amfAR. He has dedicated his social and influential career in the fashion industry since 1985 to helping reduce stigma by being an individual public voice. From his efforts to not live in the dark or silence and instead pushing controversial AIDs and HIV issues into the public light.  https://www.kennethcole.com/lgfg-making-aids-history.html

It is something about the concept of stigma, trauma and stress in relation to HIV in all aspects including research barriers that should be challenged by more people speaking out and making it an acceptable public topic for discussion. When society is forced to fell comfortable about what is actually going on around it and within it, it is then that ignorance and bigotry can be overcome and help reduce stigma and hence promote public health.

HIV and Migration: All is NOT fair in Love and War

Slightly belated report back from Friday morning's session.

President of AFAO, Dr Bridget Haire opened this session - in the absence of Dr John-Paul Sanggaran, the former Medical Officer, Christmas Island, Queensland. Bridget read extracts from a moving letter Dr John penned to highlight to governing bodies the multiple inadequacies in health management of HIV testing and treatment on Christmas island.

In it he pointed out that often an HIV test result takes at least 1-2 weeks due to logistical factors, by which time the patient has usually been "processed" and moved on to another island and so they will not receive their result in time.  If the HIV result is positive then there are further problems once the patient has been tracked down, as they have been transferred to places such as Nauru where treatment access and roll-out is sub-optimal.  He then described how HIV positive refugees on the island had often been placed in the "White Building" - usually reserved for people with behavioural difficulties.  His experiences really highlighted the challenges faced by clinicians and patients alike, in difficult health care settings, in stark contrast to my own, well resourced Sexual Health Clinic in Sydney.

Then in the second session Dr Kathy Petoumenos presented findings from the ATRAS Study Group: The Australian HIV Observational Database Temporary Residence Access Study, of which several patients from my clinic have been gladly enrolled.

The NAPWHA group engaged various pharma companies to provide free ART to 180 medicare-ineligible patients for up to 4 years.

This study aimed to determine reasons for Medicare ineligibility, time to become eligible for HIV treatment on Medicare, and assess their long-term clinical outcomes once on ARTs. Enrolment was from 2011 - 2012. Results from the 24 month findings were presented.

Interesting results from baseline showed that 73% were male, most common visa status was Student Visa (34%) and 63% of the cohort had experienced prior ARTs (either as self-funded, trial participant, origin country or compassionate access).

Encouragingly over the period of the study, the mean CD4 count increased from a baseline of 376 to 534 at 24 months. Even more pleasing was that the percentage of patients with an undetectable viral load increased from 47% at the start of the study to a fantastic 94% at 24 months, with 100% of females achieving undetectable viral load.

So far 74% of participants have dropped out as they became Medicare Eligible, 17% have gone overseas and 9% were lost to follow up. Students were least likely to have stopped requiring ATRAS medications.

In the 2nd part of the presentation the group attempted to estimate cost benefit of expanding ARTS to all medicare-ineligible patients. The survey findings estimates there are approximately 450 medicare-ineligble HIV clients in Australia.  After 2 years patients with a detectable viral load reduced from 53% to 6%.  i.e. a 93% risk reduction in onward transmission of the infection.  Thus 81 new infections would be averted/ 5 years. 

Mathematical modelling using these figures shows that expanding ARTS access and treating all the temporary resident HIV+ population was determined to be at least cost-neutral - i.e. it saves as much as it costs.   Of course, the public health benefit and the benefits to the HIV-supressed individuals alike is so much more than that.

Aaron Cogle (Exective Director for NAPWHA) pointed out that medicare-ineligible people are not recognised as a priority population nationally, this and other federal and state barriers to ART access need to be tackled imminently.   If universal test-and-treat policy is to be realised then this population needs to be included.

Atras Ceases Nov 2015.

Sadly I was unable to attend the last presentations in this session as I had to catch my flight.

What a great conference, see you all in Adelaide (and Rio) and thanks to all or any who managed to read this far into my blog!!

 

Please join us for a memorial event celebrating the life of one of Australia’s leading HIV advocates, Levinia Crook… https://t.co/N7dof5xaGa

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