Associations between highly active antiretroviral therapy and the presence of HPV, premalignant and malignant cervical lesions in sub-Saharan Africa, a systematic review : current evidence and directions for future research

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Sonia Menon, Rodolfo Rossi, Natasha Zdraveska, Mbabazi Kariisa, Sushama D Acharya, Davy Vanden Broeck, Steven Callens


Objectives: In sub-Saharan Africa, substantial international funding along with evidence-based clinical practice have resulted in an unparalleled scale-up of access to antiretroviral treatment at a higher CD4 count. The role and timing of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in mediating cervical disease remains unclear. The aim of this article is to systematically review all evidence pertaining to Africa and identify research gaps regarding the epidemiological association between HAART use and the presence of premalignant/malignant cervical lesions. Method: Five databases were searched until January 2017 to retrieve relevant literature from sub-Saharan Africa. Publications were included if they addressed prevalence, incidence or clearance of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in women undergoing HAART as well as cytological or histological neoplastic abnormalities. Results: 22 studies were included, of which seven were prospective studies. Women receiving HAART are less likely to develop squamous intraepithelial lesions (SILs). There is evidence that duration of HAART along with the CD4 count may reduce the prevalence of high-risk HPV (HR-HPV), suggesting that without HAART, severe immunosuppression increases the risk of becoming or remaining infected with HR-HPV. Furthermore, according to existent literature, the CD4 count, rather than HAART coverage or its duration, plays a central role in the prevalence of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) 2 and CIN 3. Conclusion: Our findings suggest a positive impact of HAART duration, in conjunction and interaction with CD4 count, on reducing the prevalence of HR-HPV. The greatest treatment effect might be seen among women starting at the lowest CD4 count, which may have a more instrumental role in cervical oncogenesis than either HAART use or the treatment duration on the prevalence of CIN 2 and CIN 3. There is still insufficient evidence to show a clear association between HAART coverage and the incidence of invasive cervical cancer. Enhanced surveillance on the impact of HAART treatment is crucial.

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