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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This was an interactive session and panel discussion based on various case studies that may be met within the clinical area of working with people living with HIV.

The backdrop to various discussions was some information indicating indicating the link between HIV, discrimination and legal issues. This is further complicated by recent changes in legislation in NSW as well as the disparity in legislation throughout Australia, with potential for further confusion due to lack of uniformity across the states.

currently, it appears to be abundantly clear for example that sexual transmission of HIV with an undetectable viral load does not occur. Not as clear however is what precautions a person must take when having a sexual relationship with a person who does not have ZhIV, even in the e end of an undetectable viral load. 

various case presentations highlighted some of the ethical issues around transmission of HIV and overall, supported the clinicians need to support their patients by engaging well with them, using research evidence to provide up to date information but also being aware that medical advice is not the same as legal advice. Various situations may occur therefore that medical advice requires back up with advice and input  from agencies such as those that care for refugees or  legal organisations for people living with HIV. 


The session provided plenty of 'food for thought' for conversations within the clinical setting. 

Psychosocial Complexity in HIV care. Senior Psychologist, Ruth Hennessy presented a snap shot of data from a 65 participant audit collected in 2009 and again in 2016. The audit identified the increasing complexity of psychosocial issues among HIV clients.


The focus of the data identified the increase use of crystal use, increase in social isolation and mental health issues associated with HIV positive clients and thus the importance of a complexity of care model to identify risk. The data also represented the increasing level of clinical comorbidity in clients presenting for psychological therapy at an inner Sydney public health HIV clinic. This increase in comorbidity often equates to an increase in clinical complexity, and the need for an expert interdisciplinary team of clinicians to effectively manage their care in a holistic way.

Follow the Conference on Twitter with @ASHMMEDIA and with #ASHM17.

Day 1 ASHM HIV & AIDS Conference 2017 - Canberra


Day one, it's wet. Bring an umbrella. It is worthwhile to mention to the conference bag from SEW Conference bags, made by women in Tanzania living with HIV, they are made from recycled wheat flour sacks. It's a fair trade set up where employees are paid a fair wage, which is fantastic as well. They're pretty funky, I tried looking up their website but the domain expired a couple of weeks ago, so hoping it's only temporary. 

First up is the Opening plenary with Martin Holt and Denise Kraus chairing.

Acknowledgement of the Ngunnawal people on whose lands we meet with a welcome to country by Wally Bell, a Ngunnuwal man. Wally reminds us that if you take care of the land, the land takes care of you. I can't agree more with that sentiment.

A welcome from the government from Senator Richard Di Natale was next with a reflective Senator considering his own previous work in public health and HIV prevention in India prior to his career in politics. Senator Di Natale then spoke to how Australia was once leading in many ways for it's response to the emergence of HIV, the care and dedication of healthcare workers and how early implementation of Needle Syringe Programs helped stem infection rates. However we have more work to do as a nation, with examples given specifically as the still anticipated approval by the PBAC for PrEP on the PBS and that of our collective position as a leader in our region from a funding and policy standpoint with ending HIV. A final sobering example was given; the disparity between the Indigenous population and non-Indigenous persons. Among other indicators, preventable disease being five times greater in the ATSI population compared to the people not of indigenous background remains a stark reminder that we have far to go.

The Acting CEO of ASHM Scott McGill followed with his opening remarks and paying respects to Levinia Crooks who recently passed, who will be sorely missed. Later, In memoriam of Levinia Crooks will be conducted by Edwina Wright at the end of this session.

Dr Bridget Haire, President of Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations AFAO also welcomed us with again further reminders that work is yet to be done across the nation, highlighting that "Best practice depends on where you live". City to country, we have large gaps within our reach as clinicians despite the hard work we all do. A few take home messages for me, that advances in the field of HIV treatment, prevention and screening are not always technology based (such as the advent of home testing), but community based programs can be of even greater significance. Also, that we need to ensure equitable action to ensure proper prevention, screening and treatment.

The last welcome of the morning was from Cipri Martinez, President of the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA). The important news that undetectable viral loads in people living with HIV means it is sexually untransmissible. This still has not resonated across society and the stigma associated with HIV still remains, to quote "letting go of our fears and the modern reality of U equals U".

I will end this post with Cipri's last quote, "People deserve our care, and our best. Thank you for continuing to care and welcome to ASHM 2017".



Day 1: SARAH Bell - Research Officer, University of Queensland

 It is interesting to know of such a project in Queensland:  HIV Self Testing (HIVST) service.

 The aim of the service is to pilot and evaluate the efficacy of the program, determining if it increases access to HIVST particularly for gay and other men who have sex with men (MSM), infrequent and new testers and those in regional and remote areas. A model was formulated which includes recruitment pathways through dating apps, word of mouth, gay apps and social media sites; all designed to engage those mentioned population. Ordering of the HIVST kit along with a completed survey were all done on-line. They receive and return the kit. Once test was done, they receive a follow-up phone call giving contacts to organizational support if test was reactive and an option for test reminders if non-reactive.

 As of 30 September 2017, 630 kits were ordered of which 516 are from Queensland and the rest are from different states. Main reason stated for availing of the service was unprotected sex and test access convenience.

These are the preliminary results from the targeted population:

  • 71.9% reside in Major QLD city compared to only 1.4% from remote or very remote QLD.
  • 65% of gay and other MSM used the service.
  • 38.3% are those that have never had any form of HIV testing
  • 23.9% those who have had HIV tests done >12 months

In the light of these findings, it can be said that the service will be a success if rolled out state-wide or nationally mainly because of its dicreteness and test accessibility. However more should be done to somehow tap those in remote places and to also target Aboriginal and TSI populaion. These findings will inform further improvements to better the service and provide more access to marginalized population.  



The talk was by Ruth Hennessy who is a clinical psychologist based at the Albion centre in Sydney.

Although relevant to any area of HIV care, I was interested due to my work with children and young people living with HIV as well as my work with women living with HIV and prevention of transmission of HIV to their infants where I experience a high level of psychosocial needs. 

The speaker, Ruth stated that people living with HIV have higher incidence of mental health issues and then went onto highlight that marginalised groups are affected by HIV. It has been established that Psychosocial issues affect access to care and care outcomes and therefore treatment of psychococial issues can remove obstacles to care.

The psychology team at the Albion centre collected data around presenting psychosocial issues in their client group and compared the data over a number of years. 

Age range was 23-68 years with a high proportion of men. 44 % of sample were born OS. 

An  overall increase in issues around depression, self harm, welfare issues, alcohol and drug misuse was found. Interestingly, a reduction in adherance issues was found, which is encouraging.  This probably reflects the relatively simple medications increasingly available now to treat HIV.  The data collected overall supported the teams belief that their clients psychosicial needs  had increased in complexity.

What might help in the future to support this client group?

it was  suggested that having 'Complexity predictors' and interdisciplinary intensive support would assist in identifying which clients who may need extra  support. It was also suggested that Establishing standards for psychological support for adults living with HIV would assist in providing appropriate care. 

In the paediatric population within Australia, HIV is largely not a sexually transmitted disease and is further complicated by issues such as adoption,history of trauma and of course  the child or young person may not know ( or understand) their diagnosis and must, at some stage, learn of it and how it was contracted. The availability of complexity predictors could be a useful resource in assisting and supporting families and their children living with HIV. Despite more simple and available drug formularies, psychosocial issues are a large part of care required it seems across many age groups and therefore require further attention. 

Posted by on in Testing and Treatment

Dr Adam Bourne, Associated Professor, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, Latrobe University, Melbourne VIC, Australian delivered an interesting talk on global PrEP use within the MSM community and the stigma associated with taking PrEP called  "sl*t shamming". To tackle this perception, Dr. Bourne highlighted the importance of a "good sex life" within the MSM community and mentioned various lived experience PrEP studies, one found that 76% of the PrEP participants since taking PrEP are now happier with there sex life. At a clinic level this reminds us that a "good sex life" is a key motivator and if discussed with every client will help increase PrEP use and help address the associated “sl*t Shamming” stigma associated with PrEP.  

The final information station on this Italian inspired food for thought train was a digestive Espresso of Epidemiology “Understanding our evolving epidemic”. 


First up was HIV and Ageing – Rosan van Zoest (PhD student at the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development) used cohort data from large studies to separate the Myths from Reality. The opener of the talk was a review of all the suggested AANCC’s (age-associated non-communicable comorbidities). The following speech-bubbles were presented for unpacking “HIV causes accelerated ageing”, “Ongoing inflammation is the cause of comorbidities”, “Comorbidities are due to antiretroviral toxicity”, “AANCC’s occur more often in PLHIV” and “HIV causes premature ageing”.  Data from the COBRA, POPPY and AGEHIV studies were used to respond to the statements and one of the key factors strengthening the evidence was the importance of recruitment of appropriate HIV-negative controls and reference was given to the COBRA study that used HIV- and age matched blood bank donors as a comparison.  After reviewing the evidence, Rosen concluded when reviewing evidence one should be careful not compare ‘apples and oranges’, control groups are vital, AANCC’s are more prevalent in PLHIV, comorbidity risk in PLHIV is likely multifactorial and when considering the above speech-bubbles the following should be considered; smoking, drug and alcohol use, CVD risk and DM, weight related conditions such as obesity and anorexia, HCV, systemic and intrathecal immune activation, certain ARVs and nadir CD4.


As Milan is one of the fashion capitals of the world it seemed appropriate at some point that we talk about Modelling… kind of… Supporting the development of evidence based police/management guidelines was presented by Mikaela Smitt from Imperial College London.  This session was focussed on the “black box” of modelling studies and for those that can comprehend this analogy she used a picture of big yellow minion and thought bubble “WHAAA?!?!?!” as the opening slide…a sentiment I am familiar when trying to get my head around modelling.  Needless to say, she unravelled it brilliantly.

What is modelling and what does it do? It predicts the future, compares interventions, uses epidemiological mechanisms, uses fundamental parameters and suggests resource allocation.

What is good model practice? A new acronym was given to use here (and a picture of the popular Harry Potter Hogwarts popular sport) QUEDDACH.   The QUESTION is concise and specific including outcomes, measures, settings and timelines.  The DESIGN includes what key elements and interactions are represented.  The DATA is underpinned by key/strong data sources.  The ASSUMPTIONS should be defined as well as what impact they have on the results. The CHECKS and sensitivity/uncertainty analyses should be done.

And finally what are the potential problems with modelling data? Wrong tool is used for the job, garbage in = garbage out, Complex questions = greater uncertainty



And so for my final blog of Mind stimulating Mozzarella… (Sorry am running out of cheesy puns.. whoops and again!)


“What is happening with new HIV diagnoses in gay men in England and why? Interpreting monitoring (outputs) and surveillance (outcomes) information” presented by Professor Noel Gill from Public Health England.  Noel started by commenting on England as a high-income setting, the open access network of 200 STI clinics held in high regard by at risk community and excellent surveillance and monitoring systems.  He posed the temporal changes from 2010 onwards noting the HIV complacency with increasing survival and better ARV regimens, problematic increasing density of sexual networking driven by the arrival of geospatial hook-up smartphone apps and a marked increase in bacterial STI’s.  Trends in common STI diagnoses were examined as well as reviewing some of the policy developments affecting them such as behavioural interventions, lower thresholds of access to HIV testing (e.g. the Dean St 1hr promise, self-sampling and Self-testing), Increases in HIV testing frequency following recommendations of 3 monthly testing for those having condomless AI with new or casual partners and HIV PrEP (PROUD trial commencing in 2013). 


Noel concluded with the following information on Preventing HIV in MSM.  Combination prevention has seen a 50% increase in MSM clinic attendees from 2011 – 2016, intensified testing of those at risk has seen an average of 2.5 test annually in 2016 and suggested the question clinicians should be asking is “How frequently are you testing, not when did you last test”.  Shortening the time to treatment initiation in PLWHIV and HIV PrEP has all had a significant contribution. Noel closed by highlighting the commencement of the IMPACT study a pragmatic health technology assessment of PrEP and its implementation that aims to answer the key questions under real world conditions and at sufficient scale.  The results will inform service commissioners on how to support clinical and cost-effective PrEP access in the future.




Thank you to ASHM for your generous scholarship funding for myself and the other Australian sexual health clinicians who benefited from this – we had a blast!  Ciao x

Day 3 at #EACS2017 and my neurone nourishment started with an Antipasto of "Abstract Writing" by Caroline Sabin (Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at University College London (UCL)). This was an early morning session and the smaller audience lent itself well to an interactive tutorial style where we were asked to critique a ‘poorly written abstract’.  Here are the bite-sized “do’s and don’ts”.


TITLE – Should be short and snappy. DO NOT inaccurately represent the project.  Questions are often great to pose in a title.

INTRO – V. brief!  One sentence to describe the problem and one to describe the research. Hook the reader here by this point the reader should know what you are going to do.

METHOD – Population, location & dates. Identify assessments and methods, endpoints and outcomes.  Describe the stats method (no need to mention the stats model used), DO mention confounders. DO NOT put results here and no need to mention detail such as assay types etc.

RESULTS – DO mention brief demographics of sample, this section should be numbers rich, confidence intervals and comparative statistics.  DO NOT discuss interpretations here. 

CONCLUSIONS – DO NOT repeat results (keep it brief).  DO aim for one or two statements – How will this help?  What is the future? Any major limitations?


Having reviewed many of the abstracts for EACS Caroline’s feeling is that the abstracts tell the reviewer as much about you as it does about your research.  With this in mind her final tips included ensuring correct English language and grammar, is this the right conference for you?, no need for references, use ‘dashes’ effectively they will help your word count, be careful with bold and italics it does not always translate, a little tip …if you must use a table JPEG images often only use one character, avoid jargon.  Finally she commented that abstracts that did not get accepted are largely due to lack of clarity on the project, inappropriate for the conference, poor study design, no sample size mentioned, no bias acknowledged, no clinical value. 




Next up for something to chew on was the first plenary Eradication of Hepatitis C in HIV coinfection presented by Andri Rauch (Associate professor of infectious diseases, University Hospital Bern, Switzerland).  Andri reminded us of the WHO goals of Hepatitis C management.  He discussed the higher the HCV prevalence, the more treatment is needed to achieve elimination.  Scaling up harm reduction reduces the required treatment rates.  He demonstrated a colourful “spaghetti junction” of graphical information showing clusters of behaviours and phylogenetic analysis of international transmission networks to show areas where trends of information can be used to improve counselling and behavioural interventions and where targets for disruption of transmission needs to occur to aim for elimination.  Focusing on Europe he showed data which demonstrated the hurdles to HCV elimination in Europe which are largely around access to therapy, affordability and reimbursement restrictions.  The proportion of re-infections increases with treatment upscale but overall incidence and prevalence decrease if risk behaviour stabilises.  Fear of re-infections is NOT an argument against treatment upscale. In conclusion he stated the central elements of HCV elimination include 1) Optimized screening and diagnosis strategies, 2) Optimized prevention and risk counselling, 3) Increased treatment uptake and access to IFN-free DAA for all at affordable prices, 4) Coordinated national and international HCV strategies and leadership. 

Just after lunch I attended a session chaired by Gus Cairns, an HIV activist from the UK who spoke passionately about the need for PrEP in Eastern Europe earlier in the conference. A few speakers provided their thoughts on what might be holding things up with PrEP:


Justyna Rowalska from Poland presented HIV practitioners perspectives on PrEP in East, Central and South-Eastern Europe, the findings of a survey of many clinicians about PrEP. The findings concluded that the main obstacle to prescribing is not being covered or paid by public health, and that there was no official medical approval for the medication in many countries yet. She stated most said they would prescribe it if it was approved, but that clinicians needed guidelines in their countries, wanted a government strategy that includes PrEP and off label approval.

Gennady Roshchupkin from Georgia then presented Georgia’s PrEP demonstration project that has recently commenced with 100 places in 2017 and a further 100 in 2018, funded by the Global Fund but proposed his concern about what will happen when/if the Global Fund revokes funding. He suggested that the logical solution would be to involve some local NGO’s but that they were used to deal with people in crisis, and PrEP isn’t really a crisis. He thinks co-payment schemes and de-medicalising the delivery of PrEP may also keep costs down.

The panel then commenced discussions. Italy’s comments are of note: Italy has no reimbursement for PrEP and most are sourcing over the internet. The panellist (I have not recorded his name, apologies) stated that the discussion should no longer be medical or scientific, it works, and medical staff need to start advocating for MSM and working with MSM if they are ever going to reach the 90 90 90 targets by 2020.

I saw many other presentations today which will be blogged about by my fellow ASHM scholarship recipients, all of which have been equally as thought provoking and my brain is ticking over with ideas to bring home to Clinic 275. Witnessing the European perspective has been really enlightening.


I’m very grateful to ASHM for the opportunity to attend this wonderful international event and strongly encourage other nurses to apply for scholarships in the future– sure, a bit of the science that was over my head but there was still plenty of research that I could sink my teeth into and learn a lot from. Buona sera from Milan, Emma

A topical presentation by Adam Bourne from London UK on the last day of EACS conference.
Different countries tend to have their own favourite chems .The main drugs being used are GHB/GBL, crystal, ketamine, and mephedrone. Drug taking with sex isn’t a new practice but the facilitation through social apps such as Grindr is, as well as increased use in group sex settings .
A recent UK study showed 6.6% of MSM had used one of the above drugs in the previous 4 weeks during or before sex. So although topical in the media, Chemsex use is a minority behaviour at a population level at the moment. Chemsex was commoner in HIV positive individuals with almost 21.9% having used in the last 4 weeks. The reasons for using chems during sex were varied and included sexual disinhibition, enhanced sexual pleasure, overcoming negativity/low esteem associated with HIV diagnosis and dealing with impaired libido.
Chemsex is associated with a higher risk of HIV/STI transmission behaviors. The strongest association was between crystal meth and unprotected anal intercourse and binge alcohol use.
The presenter didn’t have time to discuss other physical/mental or social problems of Chemsex, only mentioning risks of dependence for sexual performance and also OD risks especially with GHB.
Social apps such as Grindr have been targeted as an important means for sexual health harm minimization in Chemsex users.

Adam Bourne (La Trobe University, Melbourne) defined “chem sex” as recreational drugs, (usually crystal meth, methedrone, GHB , GBL, or ketamine) taken immediately before and/or during sex between men. It is facilitated by sexual networking apps and SOP venues. In his study of MSM: 6.6% had used in the previous 4/52 but 21.95 of HIV+ve  men. The figure rose to 32.7% in London.

The figures varied from 5-15% in a European MSM internet survey. Participating in chem sex was strongly associated with previous drug use, STI, PEP use and group sex. It came with an increased risk of UAI and new partners. It may be used to overcome a reduced libido but once indulged can lead to difficulty in enjoying “sober”sex.


Dominic Rowley (consultant in sexual health and HIV medicine at The GUIDE Clinic at St James’s Hospital in Dublin) talked about emerging STI’s and resistance:

50% of HIV diagnosis in 2014 were late presenters and synergy with STI’s is well known. For example the presence of urethritis is associated with an 8 fold increase in vRNA. He reviewed the state of play of STI’s:


NG 80,000 in Europe 2015. MSM majority and increasing. Ceftriaxone resistance emerged in Japan in 2012 and is a great concern.

CT 350000, and commoner in heterosexual population. There is a 10% failure oral infection clearance with azithromycin when compared to 2% with doxycycline. It has been suggested that a single dose of  azithromycin may not be enough. He recommended a test for cure in all patients or to use doxycycline 100mg BD for 1/52. He highlighted the anomaly of not performing anal/throat swabs in heterosexual females despite the knowledge that UAI/oral sex is common.

MG he referred to the Melbourne study recommending an initial 1/52 doxycycline course followed by azith or moxifloxacin.

Syph increasing incidence and increasing macrolide resistance

Shigella  emerging as an STI associated with oro/anal contact like HepA

LGV increasing incidence in Europe


Luisa Salazar-Vizcaya (Postdoctoral researcher; Inselspital, Bern University Hospital, University of Bern ) looked at nsCAI (condomless AI with non steady partner) in MSM. she found a general increase over the past 10yrs. She described 4 behavioural clusters and postulated that awareness of reduced HIV transmission with ART, and awareness/availability of PrEP had led to this finding.


David Zucman (Internal Medicine, Hopital Foch, Suresnes, France) reported a recent Hepatitis A outbreak in MSM , the largest in history and an emerging worldwide problem. There is now a worldwide shortage of HepA vaccine as well as HepB which I was unaware of; I suggest ordering supplies immediately! He found that although 76% of HIV +ve were immune only 39% of HIV-ve were.


David Stuart (ChemSex support programmes at 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic in London) and David Atefi (Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates) described the provision of chem-sex support at the Dean St Clinic in London. This has been running since 2011 as a walk-in clinic. They see 40-50 clients/week. His study showed significantly higher rates of STI/HIV testing rates and self-reported improvement in  confidence in managing their chem use and risk taking behaviour.


Teymur Noori (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control Solna, Sweden) reported from the Hornet/ECDC study showing attitudes to take up of PrEP. 17 questions were presented in 8 languages via the Hornet MSM app. They had 12,053 responders of which 11%HIV+ve. 10% were using PrEP of which 50% was from a doctor but 50% was informal supply. 31% had not informed their health provider. 

Of those taking PrEP, 50% had also taken PEP, were more likely to be  tested for, and diagnosed with STI’s. They also reported greater happiness with their sex life!


Valentina Cambiano (Research Associate in the Department of Infection & Population Health at the Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care at University College London) presented some results from the aurah2 study. This study was conducted in three sexual health clinics in U.K. Between 2013-2017. 668 completed annual questionnaires. She found increased PrEP awareness from 43-92% in the period and 23% rate of use. she made the point  that these clinics had  taken part in the PROUD study and that awareness may have been higher. I was also surprised at the 85%+ caucasian / 75% tertiary educated demographic which I thought underrepresented the lower SE classes in London particularly.


Overall this was a very interesting session although, as one of the chairs mentioned: no one had addressed the definition of “bad sex!”

This morning I attended a series of presentations under the heading ‘Understanding our Evolving Epidemic’ and witnessed some of the most interesting sessions I’d seen so far, some even getting a bit heated!  A few topics were about mathematical modelling and these poor statisticians are clearly used to having people leave their talks as they were very apologetic before presenting. What does it say about me that I really found them very interesting?! I’ll attempt to summarise the key messages below:


Mikaela Smit (Research Associate at the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College, London) discussed how mathematical modelling can support the development of evidence based policy and guidelines in relation to HIV. One model they had developed to forecast non-communicable disease burden in HIV positive patients from the Netherlands concluded that in the future most medical issues would be cardiovascular, and that 40% of these patients would have issues with medications.

In another modelling study Katharina Kusejko (ETH, Zurich, Switzerland) looked at HIV epidemiology in Switzerland and concluded that PrEP had a higher influence on HIV acquisition that condoms and ART; the modelling demonstrated that providing PrEP for 50% of MSM would prevent 250 new cases of HIV. There is currently no PrEP in Switzerland, so this study may assist the case for it.

One further modelling study was presented by a very lively David van de Nijver from the Netherlands on the Cost effectiveness of PrEP in Germany. In Germany a generic brand of PrEP has become available at the cost of €834/year compared to branded PrEP at €9512/year. His study showed that the cheaper brand could save 4 billion Euros and that Germany would break even after 10 years while most importantly averting 10,000 cases of HIV after 12 years. He insisted that Germany needs to invest now to get the savings and gain money for the future. 


It seems sitting through modelling studies is worth it in the end as I learned a lot! Such powerful findings that can influence public health policy. 

As my patients are almost all women living with HIV and from an African background who are very keen to breastfeed, this session was number one on my priorities to attend despite being yet an another 7:30am presentation. 


The presentation was set up as a debate with three speakers although in the end, they all came to a similar conclusion!


First was Dr Karoline Aebi-Popp (Obstetrician & Gynecologist (German Certification), MSc Infectious Diseases – Specialized in Sexually Transmitted Diseases, University Hospital Bern,Switzerland) who presented the ‘no’ side to the question of whether all women is Europe living with HIV should breastfeed. 


Worldwide, 150,000 child acquired HIV in 2015 and 1/3 of these acquired their infection from breastfeeding. Karoline did point out that most of this data is African data. Although ART reduces the HIV RNA levels in breastmilk it does not reduce the HIV DNA levels. There is also evidence that some of the ARTs get into the breastmilk such as dolutegravir which has a number of potential problems. 

There is a risk of resistance if the infant is exposed to monotherapy via breastmilk. Also there is a risk of delayed diagnosis if the baby is positive but ART suppresses virus replication.

Overall from meta-analysis of all evidence of breast feeding in HIV, the risk of MTCT ranges from 0.9%-4%.  Is this acceptable given in high income countries we have access to a safe alternative which has a 0% risk of MTCT?



Dr Fiona Lyons (consultant in Genitourinary and HIV Medicine at the GUIDE clinic, St. James’s Hospital, Dublin, Ireland)spoke next on the ‘yes’ side supporting breastfeeding in maternal HIV. 

Fiona made the important point that we need to not just look at MTCT but also benefits of breastfeeding for the mother including breast cancer reduction. She produced evidence that MTCT in an ideal world is less than 1%. All the evidence we have about breastfeeding in maternal HIV Infection includes low and middle income countries which may not reflect the potential in high income countries with safe access to bottle feeding and high quality HIV care and follow up. 

She emphasised a patient-centred approach with an individual assessment of each patient and their circumstances. 



Dr Karina Butler O’Connell (UCD Clinical Professor of Paediatrics, Consultant Paediatrician and Infectious Diseases Specialist at Our Lady's Children's Hospital and The Children's University Hospital, Temple Street, Dublin, Ireland) spoke on behalf of the child. She presented the evidence that in low and middle income countries breastfeeding actually decreases mortality due to reduction in diarrheal diseases. However even in high income countries, the MTCT rate was not zero. This risk goes up when we look at actual behaviour not just ideal behaviour (reduced adherence to medication, lost to follow up etc). For the child, she felt this was not an acceptable risk. 



I look forward to the prospective cohort study that Karoline is involved in looking at transmission rates in breastfeeding. 


In summary

  • have an individualised approach
  • Better to allow the mother to discuss in an open environment. 
  • We need more research particularly around models for supporting breastfeeding

Below is a link to Lancet review and discussion of evidence in HIV and breastfeeding.


I found this session particularly good and relevant to my practice. I also ran into my mentor for HIV prescribing Dr Olga Vujovic from The Alfred hospital in Melbourne at this session which was great!






Posters; PrEPX findings, and mobile apps


BBetween sessions I had an opportunity to view some posters highlighting excellent research from around the world. I was happy to see some findings from PrEPX in Victoria:


Sexually transmissible infections as HIV risk markers at baseline in PrEPX, a large Australian PrEP trial – An analysis of formal eligibility criteria; Dr Vincent Cornelisse (Prahan Market Clinic, Melbourne) concluded that participants who were enrolled despite not meeting eligibility criteria still had substantial prevalence of STI’s (7.1%) which suggests that someone requesting PrEP is likely to be at considerable risk of HIV, even if they do not meet the eligibility criteria.

Comparison between HIV risk reported by clinicians and HIV risk reported by participants at enrolment in PrEPX, a large Australian HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis study; a finding of this analysis showed that patients may over-report CLAI with HIV + receptive sexual partners to their PrEP providing clinicians, but under-report methamphetamine use and CLAI with casual partners.

There were 2 interesting posters on smartphone app use to reach target populations. This research builds on what we learned earlier in the day’s plenary sessions about utilising low cost technologies where possible in resource poor environments:

Understanding the Impact of Smartphone Applications on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and HIV prevention among Men who Have Sex with Men (MSM) in the EU/EEA, highlighted that smartphone apps are currently under-utilised and that realising their potential requires support, engagement, and coordination from EU stakeholders and engagement with the private sector.

Harnessing the Power of Smartphone Dating Apps and Online Tools to Increase MSM testing in Europe and Central Asia through a Community, Business and Public Health Partnership, described a partnership between 3 smartphone apps (Hornet, Grindr and PlanetRomeo), the ECDC and European HIV/Hepatitis Testing Week where the apps provided free advertising to promote a site with information about testing sites across Europe and Central Asia (European Test Finder). The app pushed out information to millions of users in 40 local languages in 53 countries resulting in 65,614 hits. This demonstrates the power of partnerships between public health and private sector business in improving access to education about testing for HIV.


Tagged in: EACS 2017

Next up for me today was the Epidemiological challenges of HIV surveillance presented by Anastasia Pharris.European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in Stockholm, Sweden  Anastasia showed data highlighting the contrast in reported routes of HIV transmission by European sub-regions in 2015 across the West, Centre and East.  Heterosexual transmission accounting for a significant portion across all areas, injecting drug use significantly more in the East and MSM transmission more in the west and centre.  She demonstrated that sex between men is significantly underreported and stigma and discrimination is still a huge barrier. Anastasia commented that Europe is lagging behind in its response to the HIV epidemic and it is not on track to reach the 2020 targets.  She highlighted there are some issues urgently still needing to be tackled, one in particular is the development of policy to include undocumented migrants which account for a proportion of the late presentations and also community viral load which has public health implication.  Finally she talked about more wide scale role out of some successful models such as community based testing, home sampling, PrEP scale up, harm reduction efforts such as needle syringe programmes and opiate substitution programmes and reduction of stigma.


Following on from the breakfast buffet of the bright future for ART and European epidemiology I moved on to the Industry sponsored degustation menu of case studies entitled “Seeing the whole picture” presented by Giovanni Di Perri, Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Turin, Italy  & Jürgen Rockstroh, Professor of Medicine and Head of the HIV Outpatient Clinic at the University of Bonn in Germany and a panel of experts. 


Giovanni Di Perri opened the session discussing the prevention of harm in patients with HIV and detailed the common comorbidities associated with HIV and the impact of long term ART such as neurological impairments, cancer, CVD, Bone disease, liver and kidney disease. He highlights the need to carefully manage our patients as a whole, going beyond undetectable, to improve their overall health by considering comorbidities (prevent and treat), counselling our patients on lifestyle risk factors and careful selection of ARTs that balance HIV efficacy, durability and toxicity.  3 case studies were then presented by panel members focusing on differing disease burdens such as bone density, renal function, and prevention in the healthy client with lifestyle factors such as smoking.  Audience participation was required for responses on care priorities, comorbidity treatment options, ART switches and perhaps the one with the most diverse spread of results was in answer to the question when to start ART treatment in the case of a 23yr old MSM diagnosed with HIV that day.  40.4% of the audience said ‘immediately (today)’, 43.8% said ‘once all baseline data were available’, 1.1% answered ‘CD4<500’, 1.7% said ‘Wait, this patient is too young to start lifelong therapy’, and 12.9% said ‘Wait – I need to assess whether this patient will be adherent’.  In this panel discussion reference was made to the San Francisco experience of same-day observed ART initiation versus standard of care and its benefits to viral suppression.  Overall feeling from the panel was a slightly more cautious approach to treatment initiation where one awaits resistance profiling and other baseline assessments before commencing ART to allow for adequate characterisation of any co-morbidities and also time to spend with the client getting to understand their wishes, likely adherence and willingness to start therapy.


And so concludes the second day of yet more mouthwatering (or rather thought provoking) messages and i look forward once again to more palate pleasers tomorrow! 



Posted by on in Testing and Treatment

So having digested all the scrumptious brain teasing morsels at yesterday’s info picnic what was on the menu for Day 2 at #EACS2017?


To begin the day Dr Roy Gulick, Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Weill Medical College of Cornell University (also see Mark Ryan’s post) presented the Future of HIV Therapy.  He began by summarising approved ART first line regimens in 2017 and the world-wide opinion to start at all CD4 counts whenever the patient is ready.  He discussed the developments of ART properties in terms of

1)           Antiretroviral activity - mentioning the future of two new classes of drugs HIV Maturation Inhibitors and HIV Capsid Inhibitors,

2)           Safety and tolerability- giving TDF -> TAF switch as an example of similar viralogical efficacy but improvements in renal and bone markers. 

3)           Convenience- recapping the history of ART with many daily pills to the current single tablet regimes and then the possibilities in the future of new co-formulations with longer half-lives lending themselves of less frequent dosing, and long acting methods in the form of injectables and subdermal implants.

4)           Access and Cost – Highlighting the numbers of people living with HIV globally and improvements in those accessing treatment as the cost of ARV’s decreases.

5)           Life expectancy as those with HIV live longer and healthier lives and in closing stated “possibly longer than the general population … apparently getting healthier is good for you”



Dr Anastasia Pharris from ECDC in Stockholm gave a detailed and insightful presentation on the state of HIV in Europe.


Current situation 

  • Globally HIV incidence is decreasing due to ART and viral suppression, but Europe is still increasing, mainly in the east
  • 80% of new HIV infections in Europe in 2015 were in Eastern Europe and mostly attributable to IDU but this is declining over time
  • MSM may be under-reported in the East
  • Mother to child transmission is very low in virtually all countries

Is Europe's response to HIV sufficient?

  • Probably not as many people are diagnosed too late
  • There is a big move now to test and treat regardless of CD4 but in undocumented migrants this falls short
  • Viral suppression is achieved in many countries, but Russia and the East are well below targets

Challenges and opportunities moving forwards

  • Europe needs to implement what they already know works
  • Harm reduction coverage remains low in parts of Europe and should be improved
  • Changing the culture of testing to community based, home sampling and non-medical staff will expand in the next 10 years
  • Many countries are still on the fence about PrEP, particularly in the East
  • 2/3 countries in Europe report that funds for HIV prevention are insufficient to implement the necessary prevention strategies
  • Low cost interventions should be utilised to target populations at risk e.g. Health promotion through apps (I will discuss an interesting poster about this in a later post)

Stigma remains an issue and Europe is not addressing this adequately

This was a very interesting discussion and there are points to consider in the Australian context – the use of mobile technologies and partnering with the private sector in this space; maximising access to harm reduction strategies as we know this works; and looking at expanded opportunities for testing outside the medical model to engage high risk populations.






Tagged in: EACS 2017

Robert Zangerle (Austrian Society of Dermatology and Venereology) found thatanal cancer is 300x more common in HIV+ MSM in Austria. He studied the extensive database of the HIV cohort  2003-2015 where he identified invasive anal Ca in 47/7500 patients; of these, 7 died of their cancer and 4 of AIDS related illness. There was no information available on sexual habits and HPV vaccination rates (assumed to be very low.)


Carmen Hidalgo-Tenorio (Infectious Disease Unit, University Hospital Virgen de las Nieves, Granada, Spain) looked at HSIL in HIV +ve women in Spain. Of the 95 women,  28.4% had had anal intercourse. Anal cytology was normal in 46%, 22.1% were positive for HPV with a negative smear, and 13% were  atypical. She found HSIL IN 16/100,000. Significant predictors for HSIL were number of sexual partners >3 and abnormal cytology. Interestingly atypical anal cytology was commoner than cervical in HIV positive women.


Alessandra Vergori (Rome, Italy) reminded us that PLWH have 15-25 x rate for  anal ca and 2.1 x that for oral. She studied 395 HIV +ve men. 96% were on ART, 47% were smokers. The average number of sexual partners were 100 for MSM and 12% in heterosexual men. HPV was present in 20% oral, 83% anal testing and 50% of anoscopy samples showed atypia. Significant associations were the number of sexual partners and a low CD4 count.


Deborah Konopnicki (Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Saint-Pierre, Brussels) gavethe stark statistic that the mortality rate for invasive anal Ca is 31%. Screening for anal and oral HPV is difficult and a more practical approach is vaccination. HPV vaccines are virus-like particles and completely non- infectious. 9vHPV is now available covering serotypes 16/18/31/33/45/52/58/6/11. Good AB levels persist for at least 12 yrs following vaccination. Vaccination has been proved to be safe and effective in HIV+ Patients but vaccination is much more effective in everyone when given before significant HPV exposure ie. in early teens. EACS recommendations are to vaccinate all women up to age 26y and all MSM to 40y if HIV +ve or 26 if -ve

Vaccination reduces relapses in treated HPV by 65% in women and 50% in men.

It has been shown that if vaccinated under 15yrs, 2 doses and probably 1 dose are as effective as the triple dose regime. The consensus appears to be that single dose vaccination will be recommended in primary vaccination of teens but 3 doses are still required in HIV patients.



Laura Benjamin (Wellcome Trust Liverpool Glasgow Centre for Global Health Research) presented her research on a cohort of HIV patients suffering stroke in Malawi. She found an increased risk associated with lower CD4 count but not with viral load. The strokes were mainly ischaemic rather than haemorrhagic. There is increasing evidence of stroke as a co-morbidity and it is thought to be due to HIV- related vasculopathy causing inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. It is important to consider treatment failure with opportunistic infection if stroke occurs in someone on ART. 


Neurocognitive impairment remains an important problem in HIV patients despite ART. Carmela Pinnetti (Italian Ministry of Health) presented a study exploring the  association between neuronal injury markers and NCI. She confirmed that plasma and CSF markers were important indicators of impending NCI. Valentina De Zan (Department of Microbiology, Verona University) then pointed out that despite ART, the HIV  virus may persist in CSF and can escape causing neurological symptoms. She studied 46 neuro-symptomatic. She found CSF viral detection at a higher rate than plasma as well as undiscovered viral resistance. Optimisation of ART led to 65% recovery although a few relapsed at a later date.


Aoife Cotter (Consultant in Infectious Diseases at the Mater Misericordiae and St Vincent’s University Hospitals)presented the POPPY study. This looked at an aging group of HIV patients, over and under 50yrs against controls over 50yrs. The older patients had lower BMD after correcting  for other variables. A higher CD4 count and current  ART were associated with lower BMD. Tara McGinty (Clinical Research Fellow, UCD School of Medicine, Dublin) confirmed HIV as an independent predictor of reduced BMD but stressed the need to assess trabecular bone score as well, (this is also reduced in HIV.) The lumbar spine is more effected and predictably smoking, and prior fracture were the most important predictors of more severe osteoporosis 


Pablo Ryan (Hospital Universitario infant Leonor, Madrid) pointed out that osteonecrosis is more common in people living with HIV (PLWH.) They require THR. He compared complication rates in HIV vs controls in 348,000 patients who underwent THR in Spain including 1018 HIV+ve. ON rates were higher in HIV but there were no differences in surgical complication rates.



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