HIV-1 viral load (VL) testing is recommended to monitor antiretroviral therapy (ART) but not universally available. We examined monitoring of first-line and switching to second-line ART in sub-Saharan Africa, 2004–2013.
Adult HIV-1 infected patients starting combination ART in 16 countries were included. Switching was defined as a change from a non-nucleoside reverse-transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI)-based regimen to a protease inhibitor (PI)-based regimen, with a change of ≥1 NRTI. Virological and immunological failures were defined per World Health Organization criteria. We calculated cumulative probabilities of switching and hazard ratios with 95% confidence intervals (CI) comparing routine VL monitoring, targeted VL monitoring, CD4 cell monitoring and clinical monitoring, adjusted for programme and individual characteristics.
Of 297,825 eligible patients, 10,352 patients (3·5%) switched during 782,412 person-years of follow-up. Compared to CD4 monitoring hazard ratios for switching were 3·15 (95% CI 2·92–3·40) for routine VL, 1·21 (1·13–1·30) for targeted VL and 0·49 (0·43–0·56) for clinical monitoring. Overall 58.0% of patients with confirmed virological and 19·3% of patients with confirmed immunological failure switched within 2 years. Among patients who switched the percentage with evidence of treatment failure based on a single CD4 or VL measurement ranged from 32·1% with clinical to 84.3% with targeted VL monitoring. Median CD4 counts at switching were 215 cells/µl under routine VL monitoring but lower with other monitoring (114–133 cells/µl).
Overall few patients switched to second-line ART and switching occurred late in the absence of routine viral load monitoring. Switching was more common and occurred earlier with targeted or routine viral load testing.