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Sexual risk after HIV diagnosis: a comparison of pre-ART individuals with CD4 > 500 cells/µl and ART-eligible individuals in a HIV treatment and care programme in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Nuala McGrath, Linda Richter, Marie-Louise Newell


Introduction: Little is known about people diagnosed as HIV-positive who access HIV care early in their disease. In pre-ART studies published to date, only a minority of the participants have CD4500 cells/µl.

Methods: This cross-sectional study compared individuals presenting for HIV care with CD4>500 cells/µl, ‘‘pre-ART’’ (N247), with individuals who had CD4>200 cells/µl or WHO Stage IV, ‘‘ART-eligible’’ (N=385). Baseline characteristics were contrasted between the two groups and logistic regression models used to explore group differences in: (a) being sexually active in the last month; (b) disclosure of HIV status to current partner; (c) knowing the HIV status of one’s current partner; and (d) condom use at last sex.

Results: Pre-ART and ART-eligible individuals were similar in terms of a wide range of socio-demographic characteristics. Controlling for gender, only current sexual behaviour and HIV-testing history were significantly different between ART groups. In multivariable models, participants in the pre-ART group were twice as likely to be sexually active in the last month, OR 2.06 95% CI (1.32, 3.21), and to know their partner’s status, OR 1.95 (1.18, 3.22) compared to those in the ART-eligible group. Self-reported disclosure of HIV status to current sexual partner (71%), condom use at last sex (61%) and HIV concordancy within relationships were not significantly different between the two ART groups. Overall, 39% of the study participants reported knowing that they were in concordant HIV-positive relationships. Fifty-five percent of all participants reported not knowing their partner’s HIV status, only half of whom reported using a condom at last sex. Pre-ART individuals were significantly less likely to have tested HIV-positive for the first time in the last year and to have tested for sickness-related reasons than the ART-eligible group.

Conclusions: Reported sexual risk behaviours by pre-ART individuals with CD4>500 cells/ml suggest a continued risk of onward HIV transmission. There is a need for positive prevention efforts to target this group given that current treatment guidelines do not provide them with ART. Strengthening support regarding disclosure, partner HIV testing and consistent condom use, and further promotion of HIV testing in the community to assist earlier diagnosis are urgently required.

Keywords: AIDS; antiretroviral therapy; HIV; sexual risk behaviours; ART-eligible; pre-ART.

(Published: 5 August 2013)

Citation: McGrath N et al. Journal of the International AIDS Society 2013, 16:18048 |

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Journal of the International AIDS Society | eISSN 1758-2652 | Editors-in-Chief: Susan Kippax and Kenneth Mayer

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