To determine the potential of treatment as prevention for reducing HIV incidence among injecting drug users (IDU).
Transmission dynamics of HIV as influenced by cART uptake and demographic changes were studied using an individual-based model. Parameters were based on data of the Amsterdam Cohort Study, and counterfactual treatment scenarios were examined for this city. Demography of the modeled population was also varied to allow for more general conclusions.
We estimated that over the complete HIV epidemic among IDU in Amsterdam the historic use of cART has led to only 2% less incidence. As individuals were treated from low CD4+ cell counts, their decreased infectiousness was offset by increased infectious lifetime. Large reduction in incidence could result from a test and immediate treat strategy, with elimination of HIV occurring when the average time from infection to starting treatment was less than 2 months. However, substantial proportions of new infections were prevented only if the test and treat intervention was implemented within the first few years after HIV-epidemic onset, especially for a declining IDU population. Ignoring heterogeneity in risk-behavior led to overly optimistic expectations of the prevention effects of treatment. In general, treatment led to much greater reduction in incidence compared with stopping HIV-infected IDU from lending out syringes.
A test and immediate treat strategy for HIV among IDU could lead to great reductions in incidence. To fully eliminate the spread of HIV, treatment as prevention should be combined with other interventions, with behavioral intervention directed at those not yet HIV infected.