HIV Viral Load Trends in Six Eastern Caribbean Countries Utilizing a Regional Laboratory Referral Service: Implications for Treatment as Prevention.


OBJECTIVE: Since 2009, seven countries in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines, have been utilizing a laboratory referral service for HIV-1 viral load (VL) offered by The Ladymeade Reference Unit (LRU) Laboratory, Barbados. The objective of this study was to evaluate 5 year VL trends in the six larger OECS countries participating in this regional referral service. METHODS: Blood samples were collected in source countries and transported to Barbados as frozen plasma according to a standardized protocol. Plasma specimens were amplified by RT PCR on a Roche TaqMan 48 analyser (Roche Diagnostics, Panama City, Panama). VL was considered optimally suppressed below a threshold level of < 200 HIV-1 copies/mL of blood. The same threshold was used as a binary indicator in an analysis of the secular change in VL suppression. Montserrat was excluded due to insufficient number of samples. RESULTS: A steady rise in VL referrals from OECS countries was recorded, rising from 312 samples in 2009 to 1,060 samples in 2013. A total of 3,543 samples were tested, with a sample rejection rate (9.2%) mostly due to breaks in the cold chain. Aggregate VL data showed the odds of VL suppression in the Eastern Caribbean improved by 66% for each additional year after 2009 (Odds Ratio 1.66 [95% CI 1.46 to 1.88]; p<0.001). CONCLUSION: We demonstrate the feasibility of establishing a regional laboratory referral service for HIV VL monitoring in the Eastern Caribbean. Aggregate VL trends showed a significant year-on-year improvement in VL suppression, implying public health benefits through treatment as prevention in the OECS. VL provides a powerful monitoring & evaluation tool for strengthening HIV programs at country level among the small island states participating in this regional referral network.

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