Age-targeted HIV treatment and primary prevention as a ‘ring fence’ to efficiently interrupt the age patterns of transmission in generalized epidemic settings in South Africa

April 5, 2016


Background Generalized HIV epidemics propagate to future generations according to the age patterns of transmission. We hypothesized that future generations could be protected from infection using age-targeted prevention, analogous to the ring-fencing strategies used to control the spread of smallpox.

Methods We modeled age-targeted or cohort-targeted outreach with HIV treatment and/or prevention using EMOD-HIV v0·8, an individual-based network model of HIV transmission in South Africa.

Results Targeting ages 20 to 30 with intensified outreach, linkage, and eligibility for antiretroviral therapy (ART) averted 45% as many infections as universal outreach for approximately one-fifth the cost beyond existing HIV services. Though cost-effective, targeting failed to eliminate all infections to those under 20 due to vertical and inter-generational transmission. Cost-effectiveness of optimal prevention strategies included US$6238 per infection averted targeting ages 10–30, US$5031 targeting 20–30, US$4279 targeting 22–27, and US$3967 targeting 25–27, compared to US$10 812 for full-population test-and-treat. Minimizing burden (disability-adjusted life years [DALYs]) rather than infections resulted in older target age ranges because older adults were more likely to receive a direct health benefit from treatment.

Conclusions Age-targeted treatment for HIV prevention is unlikely to eliminate HIV epidemics, but is an efficient strategy for reducing new infections in generalized epidemics settings.

Figure 1.

Schematic of age-based targeting and cohort-based targeting of outreach. Teal regions show the age range of the (A) age or (B) birth cohort receiving intensified HIV services. People can age in and out of the target group with age targeting, but not with birth cohort targeting.