To the Editors:
In sub-Saharan Africa, stable heterosexual HIV-1 serodiscordant couples (ie, one member is HIV-1 infected and the other uninfected) account for a substantial proportion of new infections and are a priority population for novel prevention interventions.1 Serodiscordant couples frequently have high pregnancy incidence and intentionally risk HIV-1 transmission to conceive.2,3 Earlier antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation (ie, at CD4 counts >350 cells/μL) substantially reduces the risk of HIV-1 transmission within HIV-1 serodiscordant couples.4 Early ART may reduce periconception HIV-1 transmission risk due to decreased HIV-1 viral load and infectiousness.5,6 We investigated fertility intentions and interest in early ART for HIV-1 prevention among East African HIV-1–infected individuals in serodiscordant partnerships.
Between July and December 2011, we conducted a cross-sectional study among Kenyan and Ugandan heterosexual HIV-1 serodiscordant couples participating in the Partners preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) Study, a phase III, multisite, randomized placebo-controlled trial of oral PrEP for HIV-1 prevention.7 During the trial, participants received standard HIV-1 prevention services including regular HIV-1 risk-reduction counseling and free condoms. They were informed and counseled about the results of clinical trials of new interventions for HIV-1 prevention, including HPTN 052 and the clinical and prevention benefits of early ART.4,8 In July 2011, the independent data and safety monitoring board recommended that the placebo arm of the trial be discontinued due to clear demonstration of PrEP efficacy for HIV-1 prevention.8 Unblinding visits were conducted at which the results of the study were conveyed. HIV-1 uninfected partners in the placebo arm were thereafter offered active PrEP. Standardized questionnaires were administered regarding partnership status, willingness to have the HIV-1–infected partner start ART at CD4 counts >350 cells/μL if it would lower the risk of transmitting HIV-1 to their partner, perceived benefits and concerns about early ART, and the number and timing of additional children.
For this analysis, data were analyzed from couples having HIV-1–infected participants with CD4 counts >350 cells/μL and did not have World Health Organization (WHO) stage 3 or 4 HIV-1 disease [ie, did not meet the criteria for initiation of ART under the WHO guidelines at the time], were not already on ART, and whose serodiscordant partnership was intact. We used descriptive analytical methods and multivariate logistic regression models to evaluate the association between fertility intentions and interest in early ART after adjusting for a priori confounders (age, sex, education, partnership duration, number of children, coital frequency, unprotected sex, and contraception). Data were analyzed using Stata 12.1 (StataCorp, College Station, TX). The University of Washington Human Subjects Review Committee and ethics review committees at collaborating institutions at each of the study sites approved the study procedures. All participants provided written informed consent.
A total of 571 HIV-1 serodiscordant couples completed the questionnaire and were included in the analysis, of which 368 (64%) were couples where the HIV-1–infected partner was female. For HIV-1–infected partners, the median age was 34 years [interquartile range (IQR) 28–40] and the median CD4 cell count was 586 cells/μL (IQR 461–765). Couples had a median duration of partnership of 8.3 years (IQR 3.6–14.8) and a median of 2 children (IQR 1–4).
Fertility intentions were common, expressed by 36% of the HIV-1–infected women and 28% of the HIV-1–infected men. For the majority of the couples (76%), HIV-1-uninfected partners were in agreement with the fertility intentions of their HIV-1–infected partners: for 314 couples (55%), both members did not want more children, whereas for 121 couples (21%), both members desired additional children. One hundred thirty-six couples (24%) had discordant fertility intentions, the majority of which (74%) were couples in which the HIV-1-uninfected male partner desired additional children but their HIV-1–infected female partner did not.
A majority of the 571 HIV-1–infected participants with CD4 >350 cells/μL indicated willingness to start early ART for HIV-1 prevention: 76% and 71% of men and women, respectively. HIV-1–infected partners with fertility intentions were significantly more likely to express interest in early ART for HIV-1 prevention [adjusted odds ratio 1.83, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.12% to 2.99%, P = 0.02] than those without fertility intentions. Younger age (<25 years), male sex, lack of children with their partner, and unprotected sex in the previous month were also associated with fertility intentions among the HIV-1–infected partners (Table 1).
In summary, fertility intentions were common and interest in early ART for HIV-1 prevention was high among East African HIV-1–infected individuals in heterosexual, mutually disclosed serodiscordant partnerships. All couples had received counseling about the efficacy of ART for HIV-1 prevention, and those who desired to have children were nearly twice as likely to express interest in early ART as those without fertility intentions.
Our finding that HIV-1–infected individuals with fertility intentions were more likely to report unprotected sex is consistent with other studies from sub-Saharan Africa2,9 and reflects the need for safer conception counseling and services for HIV-1 serodiscordant couples. Our findings suggest that both men and women in HIV-1 serodiscordant partnerships desire children, with somewhat higher interest for men, possibly reflecting desire to have biologic children with a current partner, the perception of fertility as proof of virility, or sociocultural pressures.10,11
The WHO has recently recommended early ART for HIV-1–infected members of serodiscordant couples to reduce risk of HIV-1 transmission to uninfected partners.12 Our results emphasize that a majority of HIV-1–infected persons with higher CD4 counts may be interested in early ART, particularly those who desire to conceive. Future studies should explore the feasibility and acceptability of implementing early ART for HIV-1 prevention in African HIV-1 serodiscordant couples desiring children.
The authors are grateful to the study participants for their participation and dedication. The authors thank the study team members at the research sites and at the University of Washington for their contributions to data collection.
Partners PrEP Study Team: University of Washington Coordinating Center and Central Laboratories, Seattle, WA; Connie Celum (principal investigator, protocol co-chair), Jared M. Baeten (medical director, protocol co-chair), Deborah Donnell (protocol statistician), Robert W. Coombs, Jairam Lingappa, and M. Juliana McElrath.
Study sites and site principal investigators: Eldoret, Kenya (Moi University, Indiana University): Kenneth Fife, Edwin Were; Kabwohe, Uganda (Kabwohe Clinical Research Center): Elioda Tumwesigye; Jinja, Uganda (Makerere University, University of Washington): Patrick Ndase, Elly Katabira; Kampala, Uganda (Makerere University): Elly Katabira, Allan Ronald; Kisumu, Kenya (Kenya Medical Research Institute, University of California San Francisco): Elizabeth Bukusi, Craig Cohen; Mbale, Uganda (the AIDS Support Organization, CDC-Uganda): Jonathan Wangisi, James Campbell, Jordan Tappero; Nairobi, Kenya (University of Nairobi, University of Washington): James Kiarie, Carey Farquhar, Grace John-Stewart; Thika, Kenya (University of Nairobi, University of Washington): Nelly Rwamba Mugo; Tororo, Uganda (CDC-Uganda, the AIDS Support Organization): James Campbell, Jordan Tappero, Jonathan Wangisi.
Data management was provided by DF/Net Research, Inc. (Seattle, WA), and site laboratory oversight was provided by Contract Laboratory Services (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa).
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