As access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) expands, increasing numbers of older patients will start treatment and need specialised long-term care. However, the effect of age in ART programmes in resource-constrained settings is poorly understood. The HIV epidemic is ageing rapidly and South Africa has one of the highest HIV population prevalences worldwide. We explored the effect of age on mortality of patients on ART in South Africa and whether this effect is mediated by baseline immunological status.
In this retrospective cohort analysis, we studied HIV-positive patients aged 16–80 years who started ART for the first time in six large South African cohorts of the International Epidemiologic Databases to Evaluate AIDS-Southern Africa collaboration, in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, and Western Cape (two primary care clinics, three hospitals, and a large rural cohort). The primary outcome was mortality. We ascertained patients’ vital status through linkage to the National Population Register. We used inverse probability weighting to correct mortality for loss to follow-up. We estimated mortality using Cox’s proportional hazards and competing risks regression. We tested the interaction between baseline CD4 cell count and age.
Between Jan 1, 2004, and Dec 31, 2013, 84 078 eligible adults started ART. Of these, we followed up 83 566 patients for 174 640 patient-years. 8% (1817 of 23 258) of patients aged 16–29 years died compared with 19% (93 of 492) of patients aged 65 years or older. The age adjusted mortality hazard ratio was 2·52 (95% CI 2·01–3·17) for people aged 65 years or older compared with those 16–29 years of age. In patients starting ART with a CD4 count of less than 50 cells per μL, the adjusted mortality hazard ratio was 2·52 (2·04–3·11) for people aged 50 years or older compared with those 16–39 years old. Mortality was highest in patients with CD4 counts of less than 50 cells per μL, and 15% (1103 of 7295) of all patients aged 50 years or older starting ART were in this group. The proportion of patients aged 50 years or older enrolling in ART increased with successive years, from 6% (290 of 4999) in 2004 to 10% (961 of 9657) in 2012–13, comprising 9% of total enrolment (7295 of 83 566). At the end of the study, 6304 (14%) of 44 909 patients still alive and in care were aged 50 years or older.
Health services need reorientation towards HIV diagnosis and starting of ART in older individuals. Policies are needed for long-term care of older people with HIV.