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Original article

Recording of HIV viral loads and viral suppression in South African patients receiving antiretroviral treatment: a multicentre cohort study

Tameryn Pillay, Morna Cornell, Matthew P Fox, Jonathan Euvrard, Geoffrey Fatti, Karl-Günter Technau, Nosisa Sipambo, Hans Prozesky, Brian Eley, Frank Tanser, Leigh F Johnson

Corresponding author name: Leigh F Johnson
Corresponding author e-mail: Leigh.Johnson@uct.ac.za

Citation: Antiviral Therapy 2020; 25:257-266
doi: 10.3851/IMP3371

Date accepted: 09 September 2020
Date published online: 22 September 2020


Background: Viral suppression in patients on antiretroviral treatment (ART) is critical to reducing HIV transmission and HIV-related mortality. Although many studies have evaluated factors associated with viral suppression, few have assessed the extent to which missing viral load data may bias results.

Methods: We included data on all patients starting ART from 2005 to 2019 in eight South African cohorts participating in the International epidemiology Databases to Evaluate AIDS (IeDEA) collaboration. Multivariable logistic regression models were used to determine factors associated with having a viral load measurement within 2 months of a scheduled testing date and having a viral load <400 RNA copies/ml (‘viral suppression’). In a sensitivity analysis, missing viral loads were imputed based on patients’ clinical and demographic characteristics and outcomes.

Results: Viral load tests were scheduled in 603,549 and 77,423 intervals in adults and children, respectively, but test results were recorded in only 40.7% and 41.2%, respectively. The proportion of recorded results suppressed was 85.7% in adults and 72.4% in children. After imputation of missing viral load measurements, viral suppression reduced slightly in adults (85.3%) and increased in children (73.2%). Predictors of virological suppression in adults, which included female sex, older age, higher baseline CD4+ T-cell count and recent testing year, were similar in the main analysis and after imputing missing viral loads.

Conclusions: Although viral load information was frequently missing in the South African setting, estimates of viral suppression and predictors of viral suppression did not change substantially after adjusting for missing data.


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