University of Washington
Predominantly heterosexual HIV-1 epidemics like those in sub-Saharan Africa continue to have high HIV incidence in young people. We used a stochastic, agent-based model for age-disparate networks to test the hypothesis that focusing uptake and retention of ART among youth could enhance the efficiency of treatment as prevention (TasP) campaigns. We used the model to identify strategies that reduce incidence to negligible levels (i.e., < 0.1 cases/100 person-years) 20-25 years after initiation of a targeted TasP campaign. The model was parameterized using behavioral, demographic, and clinical data from published papers and national reports. To keep a focus on the underlying age effects we model a generalized heterosexual population with average risks (i.e., no MSM, no PWIDs, no sex workers) and no entry of HIV+ people from other regions. The model assumes that most people (default 95%, range in variant simulations 60-95%) are "linkable"; i.e., could get linked to effective care given sufficient resources. To simplify the accounting, we assume a rapid jump in the number of people receiving treatment at the start of the TasP campaign, followed by a 2% annual increase that continues until all linkable HIV+ people have been treated. Under historical scenarios of CD4-based targeted ART allocation and current policies of untargeted (random) ART allocation, our model predicts that viral replication would need to be suppressed in 60-85% of infected people at the start of the TasP campaign to drive incidence to negligible levels. Under age-based strategies, by contrast, this percentage dropped by 18-54%, depending on the strength of the epidemic and the age target. For our baseline model, targeting those under age 30 halved the number of people who need to be treated. Age-based targeting also minimized total and time-discounted AIDS deaths over 25 years. Age-based targeting yielded benefits without being highly exclusive; in a model in which 60% of infected people were treated, ~87% and ~58% of those initiating therapy during a campaign targeting those <25 and <30 years, respectively, fell outside the target group. Sensitivity analyses revealed that youth-focused TasP is beneficial due to age-related risk factors (e.g. shorter relationship durations), and an age-specific herd immunity (ASHI) effect that protects uninfected adolescents entering the sexually active population. As testing rates increase in response to UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals, efforts to link all young people to care and treatment could contribute enormously to ending the HIV epidemic.