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OBJECTIVE - Low BMI is a major risk factor for early mortality among HIV-infected persons starting antiretrovial therapy (ART) in sub-Saharan Africa and the common patient belief that antiretroviral medications produce distressing levels of hunger is a barrier to treatment adherence. We assessed relationships between appetite, dietary intake and treatment outcome 12 weeks after ART initiation among HIV-infected adults with advanced malnutrition and immunosuppression.
DESIGN - A prospective, observational cohort study. Dietary intake was assessed using a 24 h recall survey. The relationships of appetite, intake and treatment outcome were analysed using time-varying Cox models.
SETTING - A public-sector HIV clinic in Lusaka, Zambia.
SUBJECTS - One hundred and forty-two HIV-infected adults starting ART with BMI <16 kg/m2 and/or CD4+ lymphocyte count <50 cells/μl.
RESULTS - Median age, BMI and CD4+ lymphocyte count were 32 years, 16 kg/m2 and 34 cells/μl, respectively. Twenty-five participants (18%) died before 12 weeks and another thirty-three (23%) were lost to care. A 500 kJ/d higher energy intake at any time after ART initiation was associated with an approximate 16% reduction in the hazard of death (adjusted hazard ratio = 0.84; P = 0.01), but the relative contribution of carbohydrate, protein or fat to total energy was not a significant predictor of outcome. Appetite normalized gradually among survivors and hunger was rarely reported.
CONCLUSIONS - Poor early ART outcomes were strikingly high in a cohort of HIV-infected adults with advanced malnutrition and mortality was predicted by lower dietary intake. Intervention trials to promote post-ART intake in this population may benefit survival and are warranted.