Background: We systematically reviewed observational studies of early mortality post-antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, as defined by the World Bank, to summarize what is known.
Methods and findings: Studies published in English between January 1996 and December 2010 were searched in Medline and EMBASE. Three independent reviewers examined studies of mortality within one year post-ART. An article was included if the study was conducted in a LMIC, participants were initiating ART in a non-clinical trial setting and were ≥15 years. Fifty studies were included; 38 (76%) from sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), 5 (10%) from Asia, 2 (4%) from the Americas, and 5 (10%) were multi-regional. Median follow-up time and pre-ART CD4 cell count ranged from 3-55 months and 11-192 cells/mm(3), respectively. Loss-to-follow-up, reported in 40 (80%) studies, ranged from 0.3%-27%. Overall, SSA had the highest pooled 12-month mortality probability of 0.17 (95% CI 0.11-0.24) versus 0.11 (95% CI 0.10-0.13) for Asia, and 0.07 (95% CI 0.007-0.20) for the Americas. Of 14 (28%) studies reporting cause-specific mortality, tuberculosis (TB) (5%-44%), wasting (5%-53%), advanced HIV (20%-37%), and chronic diarrhea (10%-25%) were most common. Independent factors associated with early mortality in 30 (60%) studies included: low baseline CD4 cell count, male sex, advanced World Health Organization clinical stage, low body mass index, anemia, age greater than 40 years, and pre-ART quantitative HIV RNA.
Conclusions: Significant heterogeneity in outcomes and in methods of reporting outcomes exist among published studies evaluating mortality in the first year after ART initiation in LMIC. Early mortality rates are highest in SSA, and opportunistic illnesses such as TB and wasting syndrome are the most common reported causes of death. Strategies addressing modifiable risk factors associated with early death are urgently needed.