ICAP at Columbia University has received funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand a novel HIV testing method that promises to advance efforts for the prevention and treatment of HIV.
As part of the five-year Tracking with Recency Assays to Control the Epidemic (TRACE) project, ICAP will expand the use of a new supplemental rapid HIV test that can distinguish a recent infection (acquired within the last 12 months) from a long-term infection. This test, developed by CDC, takes advantage of a specific antibody response that develops after the first several months of HIV infection and therefore is generally not found in blood samples from individuals with a recent infection. The rapid test provides results in a few minutes.
“Individuals with recent HIV infection often have higher viral loads than individuals with a long-term infection,” said Jessica Justman, MD, ICAP’s senior technical director and ICAP principal investigator of the TRACE project. “This means it’s especially important to identify recently infected individuals so they can rapidly start HIV treatment and gain the health benefits that follow. In addition, the new test makes it possible to track clusters of recent infections and mobilize testing and prevention efforts to prevent HIV transmission.”
In the first year of the project, ICAP will support the roll-out of rapid recency testing in six countries in sub-Saharan Africa—Eswatini, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe—in close collaboration with CDC, ministries of health, and local organizations. Partnerships with civil society groups will enable dissemination of information regarding this new approach and help garner support from communities for this effort. Through trainings, supportive supervision, and development of reporting tools and health information systems, ICAP will enable ministries of health to develop robust surveillance for recent HIV infections. ICAP will also help countries to use the recency data to guide program design and allocate resources effectively and efficiently.
“One of ICAP’s key innovations for this project will be a standardized data dashboard that will make it easier for each country to examine its recency data from testing sites, identify and describe clusters with large numbers of recent infections, and tailor efforts to halt ongoing transmission,” said Suzue Saito, PhD, MIA, MA, project director for the initiative.
With a 15-year history as a leading PEPFAR implementing partner, ICAP has expertise in introducing and scaling up new technologies and approaches. In undertaking this project, ICAP will leverage its experience supporting a range of large-scale surveillance projects, including the Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (PHIA) Project, which used recency assay testing to provide some of the first directly measured estimates of national HIV incidence.
“This is a critical time in the global HIV response,” said Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, MPH, MPA, ICAP’s global director. “To continue making gains, new tools such as recency testing will enable countries and communities to act with precision as they take a major leap forward in advancing the health of their populations.”
A global health leader since 2003, ICAP was founded at Columbia University with one overarching goal: to improve the health of families and communities. Together with its partners—ministries of health, large multilaterals, health care providers, and patients—ICAP strives for a world where health is available to all. To date, ICAP has addressed major public health challenges and the needs of local health systems through 6,000 sites across 30 countries.