Potential challenges to sustained viral load suppression in the HIV treatment programme in South Africa: A narrative overview


BACKGROUND: South Africa, with one of the highest HIV prevalences in the world, introduced the universal test and treat (UTT) programme in September 2016. Barriers to sustained viral suppression may include drug resistance in the pre-treated population, non-adherence, acquired resistance; pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, and concurrent use of alternative treatments. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this review is to highlight potential challenges to achieving sustained viral load suppression in South Africa (SA), a major expectation of the UTT initiative. METHODOLOGY: Through the PRISMA approach, published articles from South Africa on transmitted drug resistance; adherence to ARV; host genetic factors in drug pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, and interactions between ARV and herbal medicine were searched and reviewed. RESULTS: The level of drug resistance in the pre-treated population in South Africa has increased over the years, although it is heterogeneous across and within Provinces. At least one study has documented a pre-treated population with moderate (>5%) or high (>15%) levels of drug resistance in eight of the nine Provinces. The concurrent use of ARV and medicinal herbal preparation is fairly common in SA, and may be impacting negatively on adherence to ARV. Only few studies have investigated the association between the genetically diverse South African population and pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of ARVs. CONCLUSION: The increasing levels of drug resistant viruses in the pre-treated population poses a threat to viral load suppression and the sustainability of first line regimens. Drug resistance surveillance systems to track the emergence of resistant viruses, study the burden of prior exposure to ARV and the parallel use of alternative medicines, with the goal of minimizing resistance development and virologic failure are proposed for all the Provinces of South Africa. Optimal management of the different drivers of drug resistance in the pre-treated population, non-adherence, and acquired drug resistance will be beneficial in ensuring sustained viral suppression in at least 90% of those on treatment, a key component of the 90-90-90 strategy.


Bessong PO, Matume ND, Tebit DM




  • Epidemiology and Determinants of Health
    • Epidemiology
  • Population(s)
    • General HIV+ population
  • Engagement and Care Cascade
    • Treatment


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