Background: Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is highly effective and an important prevention tool for African adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), but adherence and persistence are challenging. PrEP adherence support strategies for African AGYW were studied in an implementation study.
Methods and findings: HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 082 was conducted in Cape Town, Johannesburg (South Africa) and Harare (Zimbabwe) from October 2016 to October 2018 to evaluate PrEP uptake, persistence, and the effect of drug level feedback on adherence. Sexually active HIV-negative women ages 16-25 were offered PrEP and followed for 12 months; women who accepted PrEP were randomized to standard adherence support (counseling, 2-way SMS, and adherence clubs) or enhanced adherence support with adherence feedback from intracellular tenofovir-diphosphate (TFV-DP) levels in dried blood spots (DBS). PrEP uptake, persistence through 12 months (no PrEP hold or missed visits), and adherence were assessed. The primary outcome was high adherence (TFV-DP ≥700 fmol/punch) at 6 months, compared by study arm. Of 451 women enrolled, median age was 21 years, and 39% had curable sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Most (95%) started PrEP, of whom 55% had uninterrupted PrEP refills through 12 months. Of those with DBS, 84% had detectable TFV-DP levels at month 3, 57% at month 6, and 31% at month 12. At 6 months, 36/179 (21%) of AGYW in the enhanced arm had high adherence and 40/184 (22%) in the standard adherence support arm (adjusted odds ratio [OR] of 0.92; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.55, 1.34; p = 0.76). Four women acquired HIV (incidence 1.0/100 person-years), with low or undetectable TFV-DP levels at or prior to seroconversion, and none of whom had tenofovir or emtricitabine resistance mutations. The study had limited power to detect a modest effect of drug level feedback on adherence, and there was limited awareness of PrEP at the time the study was conducted.
Conclusions: In this study, PrEP initiation was high, over half of study participants persisted with PrEP through month 12, and the majority of young African women had detectable TFV-DP levels through month 6 with one-fifth having high adherence. Drug level feedback in the first 3 months of PrEP use did not increase the proportion with high adherence at month 6. HIV incidence was 1% in this cohort with 39% prevalence of curable STIs and moderate PrEP adherence. Strategies to support PrEP use and less adherence-dependent formulations are needed for this population.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02732730.