Background: Throughout the world, there are antiretroviral therapy-naive HIV+ individuals who maintain elevated peripheral CD4 T-cell counts, historically referred to as long-term nonprogressors (LTNPs). With recent improvements in viral load (VL) detection methods to levels as low as 20 copies per milliliter, 2 subsets of LTNPs have been defined: elite controllers (ECs), with undetectable VLs for at least 6-12 months, and viremic controllers (VCs), with VLs between 200 and 2000 copies per milliliter. ECs and VCs have been extensively studied in the developed world to determine underlying mechanisms responsible for virologic control. In sub-Saharan Africa, most studies have characterized LTNPs based on immunologic criteria making it difficult to compare findings with the Western cohorts, which use virologic criteria. Here, we describe a cohort of Uganda ECs and VCs attending a large HIV ambulatory center in Kampala, Uganda, based initially on CD4 counts and confirmed by repeated VL measurements.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted among 14,492 HIV-infected, antiretroviral therapy-naive individuals aged 18 years and older under care for at least 5 years with serial peripheral CD4 counts ≥500 cells/μL. Among those, we determined the frequency of individuals with VLs <2000 copies per milliliter for at least 6 months.
Results: We report a prevalence of 0.26% (38/14,492) of HIV controllers in the clinic. We identified 36 ECs and 2 VCs. These individuals were middle-aged with an average CD4 count of 858 ± 172 (mean ± SD, 95% confidence interval: 795 to 921). Their average duration in HIV care was 7.4 ± 2.1 years (mean ± SD, 95% confidence interval: 6.6 to 8.1). The majority of EC/VCs were women (87%, 33/38), reflecting the demographics of the urban clinic.
Conclusions: For the first time, this study demonstrates the frequency of EC/VCs in a large urban clinic in Uganda. Further study of these East African subjects may provide insights into how some individuals are able to control HIV in the absence of medications.