UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Plasma HIV-1 RNA viral load rebound among people who inject drugs receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) in a Canadian setting: an ethno-epidemiological study Small, Will; Milloy, M. J; McNeil, Ryan; Maher, Lisa; Kerr, Thomas


Background: People who inject drugs (PWID) living with HIV often experience sub-optimal antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatment outcomes, including HIV plasma viral load (PVL) rebound. While previous studies have identified risk factors for PVL rebound among PWID, no study has examined the perspectives of PWID who have experienced PVL rebound episodes. We conducted an ethno-epidemiological study to investigate the circumstances surrounding the emergence of rebound episodes among PWID in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Methods Comprehensive clinical records linked to a community-based prospective observational cohort of HIV-positive drug users were used to identify PWID who had recently experienced viral rebound. In-depth qualitative interviews with 16 male and 11 female participants explored participant perspectives regarding the emergence of viral rebound. A timeline depicting each participant’s HIV viral load and adherence to ART was used to elicit discussion of circumstances surrounding viral rebound. Findings Viral rebound episodes were shaped by interplay between various individual, social, and environmental factors that disrupted routines facilitating adherence. Structural-environmental influences resulting in non-adherence included housing transitions, changes in drug use patterns and intense drug scene involvement, and inadequate care for co-morbid health conditions. Social-environmental influences on ART adherence included poor interactions between care providers and patients producing non-adherence, and understandings of HIV treatment that fostered intentional treatment discontinuation. Conclusions This study describes key pathways which led to rebound episodes among PWID receiving ART and illustrates how environmental forces may increase vulnerability for non-adherence leading to treatment failure. Our findings have potential to help inform interventions and supports that address social-structural forces that foster non-adherence among PWID.

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