Objectives: In Europe and elsewhere, health inequalities among HIV-positive individuals are of concern. We investigated late HIV diagnosis and late initiation of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) by educational level, a proxy of socioeconomic position.
Design and methods: We used data from nine HIV cohorts within COHERE in Austria, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland, collecting data on level of education in categories of the UNESCO/International Standard Classification of Education standard classification: non-completed basic, basic, secondary and tertiary education. We included individuals diagnosed with HIV between 1996 and 2011, aged at least 16 years, with known educational level and at least one CD4 cell count within 6 months of HIV diagnosis. We examined trends by education level in presentation with advanced HIV disease (AHD) (CD4 <200 cells/μl or AIDS within 6 months) using logistic regression, and distribution of CD4 cell count at cART initiation overall and among presenters without AHD using median regression.
Results: Among 15 414 individuals, 52, 45,37, and 31% with uncompleted basic, basic, secondary and tertiary education, respectively, presented with AHD (P trend <0.001). Compared to patients with tertiary education, adjusted odds ratios of AHD were 1.72 (95% confidence interval 1.48-2.00) for uncompleted basic, 1.39 (1.24-1.56) for basic and 1.20 (1.08-1.34) for secondary education (P < 0.001). In unadjusted and adjusted analyses, median CD4 cell count at cART initiation was lower with poorer educational level.
Conclusions: Socioeconomic inequalities in delayed HIV diagnosis and initiation of cART are present in European countries with universal healthcare systems and individuals with lower educational level do not equally benefit from timely cART initiation.