Objective: Most antiretroviral treatment program in resource-limited settings use immunologic or clinical monitoring to measure response to therapy and to decide when to change to a second-line regimen. Our objective was to evaluate immunologic failure criteria against gold standard virologic monitoring.
Design: Observational cohort.
Methods: Participants enrolled in an antiretroviral treatment program in rural Uganda who had at least 6 months of follow-up were included in this analysis. Immunologic monitoring was performed by CD4 cell counts every 3 months during the first year, and every 6 months thereafter. HIV-1 viral loads were performed every 6 months.
Results: A total of 1133 participants enrolled in the Rakai Health Sciences Program antiretroviral treatment program between June 2004 and September 2007 were followed for up to 44.4 months (median follow-up 20.2 months; IQR 12.4-29.5 months). WHO immunologic failure criteria were reached by 125 (11.0%) participants. A virologic failure endpoint defined as HIV-1 viral load more than 400 copies/ml on two measurements was reached by 112 participants (9.9%). Only 26 participants (2.3%) experienced both an immunologic and virologic failure endpoint (2 viral load > 400 copies/ml) during follow-up.
Conclusion: Immunologic failure criteria performed poorly in our setting and would have resulted in a substantial proportion of participants with suppressed HIV-1 viral load being switched unnecessarily. These criteria also lacked sensitivity to identify participants failing virologically. Periodic viral load measurements may be a better marker for treatment failure in our setting.