Tag Archives: HIV

Cuba Eliminates Transmission of HIV from Mother to Child

By ThinkReliability Staff

On June 30, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV in Cuba eliminated. Clearly, this is fantastic news. Says Dr. Margaret Chen, WHO Director-General, “Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible. This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation.” The fight against HIV continues, with a global target of less than 40,000 new child infections per year by 2015.   (In 2013, there were 240,000 children born with HIV worldwide.) It’s hoped that the progress made in Cuba can be extended to the rest of the world.

How did Cuba do it? Root cause analysis can be used to determine causes of positive impacts as well as negatives. Here we will use a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, to determine the causes that resulted in Cuba being declared free of MTCT of HIV. Instead of defining the “problem” in a problem outline, we will define the success using the same format. In this case, the elimination of transmission of HIV from mother to child is the success we’ll be looking at. This success impacts goals as well, though positively. The child safety goal is impacted because it is now very rare (only 2 in 2013) for children to receive HIV from their mothers. The maternal safety goal is impacted because mothers are receiving effective treatment for HIV. Other goals are impacted because of the decreased need for services for children who might otherwise have been infected with HIV.

Beginning with an impacted goal, we can ask Why questions. Why is it rare for children to receive HIV from their mothers? Because the risk of passing HIV from mother to child has been lessened. Why? Because when children are born to HIV-infected mothers, there is decreased exposure to infants from their mother’s bodily fluids, and both mothers and children are being treated effectively for HIV. Decreased exposure to bodily fluids has been accomplished by the use of Cesarean sections and substitution for breastfeeding. Effective HIV treatment results from awareness of the presence of HIV infection from testing performed by healthcare providers, seen as part of a five-year initiative that gave universal healthcare coverage and access. That same access allowed treatment for infected moms and their children with antiretrovirals.

Although this Cause Map is presented as a positive impact to the goals, it could also be presented as an analysis of the problem of HIV transmission from mother to child. The causes would be baby’s exposure to mom’s body fluids, and lack of effective treatment due to lack of knowledge of infection and/or lack of access. The solutions to that Cause Map are the causes presented here in the positive Cause Map. (For example, use of Cesarean sections and substitutions for breastfeeding are solutions to the cause of baby being exposed to mom’s body fluids.)

In order to receive validation from WHO of the elimination of MTCT of HIV, Cuba had to meet very specific indicators for a defined period of time. These indicators do not just measure the overall success of the program (impact indicators), but also measure the success of the initiatives meant to achieve those goals (process indicators). Impact indicators included reducing MTCT of HIV to less than 50 cases per 100,000 live births, less than 5% in breastfeeding populations, and less than 2% in non-breastfeeding populations for at least 1 year. Process indicators included more than 95% of all pregnant women receiving at least one antenatal visit, more than 95% of pregnant women knowing their HIV status, and more than 95% of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving antiretroviral drugs for at least 2 years.

With implementation of similar initiatives across the world, it is hoped that MTCT of HIV will continue to decrease rapidly.

To view the outline, Cause Map, and indicators, click on “Download PDF” above. Click here to read the release from the WHO.

What Caused an HIV Outbreak in Rural Indiana?

By Kim Smiley

A public health emergency has been declared after 79 cases of HIV were confirmed in rural Indiana, the worst outbreak of HIV the state has ever seen.  Individuals potentially at risk have been encouraged to get tested and the number of cases is expected to rise as more cases are identified. The epidemic has been tied to intravenous drug use, although other risky behaviors may also have spread the disease.

In order to effectively fight this HIV epidemic and hopefully reduce the risk of outbreaks in the future, the factors that have led to these HIV cases needs to be understood. This region has been struggling with the use of Opana, a powerful opioid painkiller, for years.  Opana is commonly injected and health officials believe that the use of dirty needles has been the primary driver of HIV infections although unprotected sex was also a potential pathway for infection for some.  Needle exchange programs are illegal in Indiana and access to clean needles is limited so needles are being shared.  In an environment where needle sharing is common, it takes only one individual infected with HIV to rapidly spread the virus to many other drug users.

HIV is also more likely to be spread if infected individuals are unaware that they are infected and are not being treated.   Identifying an individual who has contracted HIV as early as possible and providing treatment helps prevent the disease from spreading because an HIV-positive person who receives sustained treatment is drastically less infectious, even if they continue to engage in high risk behaviors. Access to healthcare and HIV testing is limited in this region where many residents are uninsured and may lack transportation. Heroin use has long been tied to HIV, but users of Opana (a licensed pharmaceutical) may not have been fully aware of the potential risk from sharing needles.

Now that the HIV epidemic has been identified, healthcare officials are working to reduce the risk of more infections by providing testing and treatment.  One physician is even driving door to door, offering free HIV testing and trying to educate residents on drug addiction and HIV treatment.  Austin, Indiana has established its first ever HIV clinic to provide testing, counseling and treatment.  Targeted resources to help educate residents on drug use and to assist addicts seeking to get clean are also being provided.  The governor of Indiana has approved a short term needle exchange program.  Indiana has also created a public awareness campaign to help inform people about the risks of intravenous drug use.  Drug addiction is a notoriously difficult problem to battle, but the additional resources should help reduce the rate of future HIV cases.

To view a high level Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, of this issue, click on “Download PDF” above.

Increased Risk of HIV Transmission with Injectable Contraceptives

By Kim Smiley

A recent study has brought to light some disturbing news for women using injectable contraceptives.  The study, published October 4, 2011, has discovered that the transmission rate of HIV is nearly doubled for both women who use injectable hormones for contraception and their partners.  Specifically, the rate of HIV transmission for women is 6.61 per 100 people per year when using injectable contraceptives, compared to 3.78 for those who do not.  For men whose partners use injectable contraceptives, the rate is 2.61, compared to 1.51 whose partners do not use injectable contraception.

This study may have profound implications.  More than 12 million women in eastern and southern Africa use injectable contraceptives.  Their popularity is likely due to the cost and convenience of the once-quarterly shots, used to prevent unintended pregnancies, long an issue for maternal health in the developing world.  Although the injectable contraception is not meant to prevent transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, the hormones (namely progestin) in the injectables appear to cause a biological change that actually increases the rate of HIV infection ABOVE that of using no contraception at all.  Previous studies have also suggested this is the case, and have found that pregnancy also increases the rate of HIV.  Birth control pills (taken once daily) may also increase the risk, though so far the increase is statistically insignificant, possibly because daily pills involve   much smaller amounts of hormone.  (Although the increased transmission risk is true for all who use injectable contraception, the focus is on sub-Saharan Africa because of the high rate of HIV.)

The World Health Organization (WHO) will be reconsidering its contraception recommendations as a result of this study.  Woman using contraceptives are unlikely to use additional means of preventing HIV infection so wide spread use of a birth control method that doubles the risk of HIV infection creates a very real, global health risk.  However, the risk of death or serious health issues from unintended pregnancy have still not decreased, leading health officials unsure what the best path forward will be.  Removing an effective pregnancy control without other equally attractive options could leave more women at risk.  Officials at WHO will be working through this issue to see if both health risks from unintended pregnancy and HIV transmission can be minimized together.  It will be a tough job, but the lives of millions are at stake.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.

A Controversial Approach to the Fight Against AIDS

By Kim Smiley

Not too long ago, the Downtown Eastside neighborhood in Vancouver, British Columbia had the fastest-growing AIDS epidemic in North America.  But that has is no longer true.  Vancouver has succeeded where many cities have failed and has recently seen a decrease in the rate of new AIDS infections.

How did Vancouver do it?  And can it be done elsewhere?

In order to understand how Vancouver has been successful in fighting the AIDS epidemic, we first need to understand why there were such high infection rates to begin with.  This problem can be approached by building a Cause Map, an intuitive visual root cause analysis method that lays out the Causes to a problem.  (Click on the “Download PDF button” to see a high level Cause Map of this example.)

A little research shows that one of the major contributors to this problem is that a significant percentage of the population in this area is engaged in high risk behavior.  The Downtown Eastside area has been called the center of the injection drug epidemic.  Along with rampant drug problems, this area is also home to a thriving sex trade.  Shared needles and unprotected sex significantly contributed to the fast growing rate of new infections in the area.

As many cities have found out, it is difficult to change behavior.  Drug addicts are typically one of the hardest to reach populations.

Vancouver’s approach has been to create a “safe injection site”, called Insite.  At Insite, addicts can inject drugs they bought on the street under the supervisor of nurses.  They are provided clean needles and a safe location.  To make this work, Insite currently has a special exemption from narcotics laws.

Insite also tests for HIV and provides aggressive treatment for those infected.  Aggressive treatment seems to be one of the main factors that has slowed the infection rate in Vancouver.  Antiretroviral medications lower the amount of virus in the blood, which in turn makes a person 90 percent less infective.

Research has shown that the rate at which the AIDS virus is transmitted can be lowered by treating infected people even if they still engage in high risk behavior.

Unfortunately, treatment can be expensive.  One of the reasons that aggressive treatment works in Canada is that the government provides free healthcare.  In the US, the fastest growing epidemics are typically in low income areas where health insurance is limited.

The antiretroviral medication can also have some unpleasant side effects so many doctors don’t prescribe it until there are signs that their patient’s immune system is compromised.

Vancouver’s approach is also obviously controversial.  Using government funds to provide a place for individuals to inject illegal drugs is going to raise a lot of questions.  Insite was created under a more liberal government and the issue is due to be reviewed by the Canadian supreme court this year.