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HIV treatment as prevention: considerations in the design, conduct, and analysis of cluster randomized controlled trials of combination HIV prevention.

Abstract

The rigorous evaluation of the impact of combination HIV prevention packages at the population level will be critical for the future of HIV prevention. In this review, we discuss important considerations for the design and interpretation of cluster randomized controlled trials (C-RCTs) of combination prevention interventions. We focus on three large C-RCTs that will start soon and are designed to test the hypothesis that combination prevention packages, including expanded access to antiretroviral therapy, can substantially reduce HIV incidence. Using a general framework to integrate mathematical modelling analysis into the design, conduct, and analysis of C-RCTs will complement traditional statistical analyses and strengthen the evaluation of the interventions. Importantly, even with combination interventions, it may be challenging to substantially reduce HIV incidence over the 2- to 3-y duration of a C-RCT, unless interventions are scaled up rapidly and key populations are reached. Thus, we propose the innovative use of mathematical modelling to conduct interim analyses, when interim HIV incidence data are not available, to allow the ongoing trials to be modified or adapted to reduce the likelihood of inconclusive outcomes. The preplanned, interactive use of mathematical models during C-RCTs will also provide a valuable opportunity to validate and refine model projections.

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