Public Release:  Swaziland HIV incidence results announced at AIDS 2012

Study indicates that the rate of new infection is beginning to level off in the nation with the world's highest prevalence of HIV

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

The results from a nationally representative HIV incidence study in Swaziland indicate that the national rate of new HIV infections is 2.38% among adults ages 18-49. This figure, comparable to the 2009 UNAIDS estimate of 2.66% for Swaziland adults ages 15-49, suggests that the HIV epidemic in Swaziland may have begun to stabilize in the past few years. The findings of the Swaziland HIV Incidence Measurement Survey (SHIMS) were presented today at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington DC.

"The country continues to have very high HIV incidence rates. Since HIV services in Swaziland are more widely available now and we understand that ART treatment prevents the spread of new infections, the Ministry of Health will use these new results to plan HIV prevention, care, and treatment programs in Swaziland," said Rejoice Nkambule, deputy director of health services - public health at the Ministry of Health. SHIMS was led by the Swaziland Ministry of Health and supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ICAP at Columbia University through the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

SHIMS is a multi-phase study designed to evaluate the impact of HIV prevention and treatment services in the country. The first phase of the SHIMS survey included approximately 13,000 households in Swaziland, representing a cross-section of the national population and consisting of 18,154 men and women, ages 18-49. Findings from the first phase indicated that the national prevalence of HIV in Swaziland is the highest in the world, with 31% of adults infected.

HIV-negative adults from the survey who gave permission were retested six months later and the number of new HIV infections were assessed using state-of-the-art laboratory methods. Retention rates were high, with 94% of participants completing follow-up at six months. "This is the gold standard method for measuring HIV incidence and it hasn't been attempted before at a national level," said Jessica Justman, MD, ICAP's senior technical director, and Associate Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. While overall HIV incidence is 2.4 %, HIV incidence among women in Swaziland peaks among those 20-24 and 35-39 years old, with rates of 4.2 % and 4.1 %. Among men, HIV incidence peaks among those 30-34 years old, at 3.0 %. Not knowing the HIV status of the current partner predicts new HIV infection for both men and women and suggests prevention and treatment programs need to target this specific problem.

"SHIMS provides a remarkable epidemiologic look into the most severe national HIV epidemic in the world. Clearly, the strategic scale-up of effective HIV interventions in combination is warranted. SHIMS has established an unequivocal baseline incidence rate against which to judge the effectiveness of such strategies for an entire national population. This may not be feasible anywhere else," said Dr. Jason Reed of the CDC.

While SHIMS is primarily assessing new HIV infections, the study has several other goals such as enhancing laboratory infrastructure and strengthening research capacity in Swaziland.

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Along with Ms. Nkambule, the principal investigators on SHIMS include Dr. Jessica Justman, ICAP senior technical director; Dr. George Bicego, CDCcountry director in Swaziland; and Dr. Jason Reed, CDC Atlanta, medical epidemiologist in the Center for Global Health, Division of GlobalHIV/AIDS. Additional support for SHIMS has been provided by Swaziland's National Reference Laboratory and Central Statistical Office, Statistical Center for HIV/AIDS Research & Prevention(SCHARP) at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in the United States, and Maromi Health Research and EpiCentre in South Africa.

About the Swaziland Ministry of Health

The Ministry of Health seeks to improve the health status of the people of Swaziland by providing preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative services that are of high quality, relevant, accessible, affordable, equitable and socially acceptable.

About ICAP

ICAP at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health is a global leader in public health, with a broad portfolio of research, training, health system strengthening, and service delivery programs in the United States and around the world. Founded in 2004, ICAP is committed to addressing critical health issues and to bettering lives by improving access to high-quality, equitable, and affordable health services. Working hand-in-hand with in-country partners, ICAP has supported more than 1,200 health facilities across 21 countries. More than one million people have received HIV services through ICAP-supported programs. For more information about ICAP, visit http://www.columbia-icap.org.

About PEPFAR

The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was launched in 2003 to combat global HIV/AIDS, and is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in history. Working in partnership with host nations, over ten years PEPFAR plans to support treatment for at least 3 million people, prevention of 12 million new infections, and care for 12 million people, including 5 million orphans and vulnerable children. For more information, please visit http://www.PEPFAR.gov.

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