Facility-level costs for antiretroviral therapy are much lower than previously understood

Multi-country analysis of treatment costs for HIV/AIDS (MATCH): facility-level ART unit cost analysis in Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa and Zambia.

Tagar E, Sundaram M, Condliffe K, Matatiyo B, Chimbwandira F, Chilima B, Mwanamanga R, Moyo C, Chitah BM, Nyemazi JP, Assefa Y, Pillay Y, Mayer S, Shear L, Dain M, Hurley R, Kumar R, McCarthy T, Batra P, Gwinnell D, Diamond S, Over M. PLoS One. 2014 Nov 12;9(11):e108304. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0108304. eCollection 2014.

Background: Today's uncertain HIV funding landscape threatens to slow progress towards treatment goals. Understanding the costs of antiretroviral therapy (ART) will be essential for governments to make informed policy decisions about the pace of scale-up under the 2013 WHO HIV Treatment Guidelines, which increase the number of people eligible for treatment from 17.6 million to 28.6 million. The study presented here is one of the largest of its kind and the first to describe the facility-level cost of ART in a random sample of facilities in Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa and Zambia.

Methods & Findings: In 2010-2011, comprehensive data on one year of facility-level ART costs and patient outcomes were collected from 161 facilities, selected using stratified random sampling. Overall, facility-level ART costs were significantly lower than expected in four of the five countries, with a simple average of $208 per patient-year (ppy) across Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia. Costs were higher in South Africa, at $682 ppy. This included medications, laboratory services, direct and indirect personnel, patient support, equipment and administrative services. Facilities demonstrated the ability to retain patients alive and on treatment at these costs, although outcomes for established patients (2-8% annual loss to follow-up or death) were better than outcomes for new patients in their first year of ART (77-95% alive and on treatment).

Conclusions: This study illustrated that the facility-level costs of ART are lower than previously understood in these five countries. While limitations must be considered, and costs will vary across countries, this suggests that expanded treatment coverage may be affordable. Further research is needed to understand investment costs of treatment scale-up, non-facility costs and opportunities for more efficient resource allocation.

Abstract [1] Full-text [free] access [2]

Editor’s notes: This paper describes the facility-level costs for antiretroviral therapy (ART) delivery in 161 facilities across five countries. The scale of this study is impressive. At 161 facilities, it is one of the largest existing evaluations of facility-level costs for delivering ART. Collecting detailed cost data is a time- and resource-intensive process, and there is remarkable value in this quantity of cost data being made available.

The results are also surprising. The average cost for ART at the facility level in four of five countries ($208 per person per year) is consistently much lower than previously understood. Primary costing studies in low- and middle-income settings typically find some level of inconsistency between facilities, reflecting room to improve efficiency. This study found more variation in South Africa than in other settings, but relatively little variation overall. It would be interesting to find out in more detail whether this was a function of missing data, or whether the facilities included in the analysis were consistently efficient. If the latter, this may be an indication of improving efficiency in delivery of HIV treatment services.

The most exciting outcome from this study is the low costs found across settings. A number of existing studies of ART costs, all published between 2004-2008, find average facility costs ranging from $650 to $1000 per person, per year. The authors explain their lower costs as a reflection of reduced ART drug prices over the last ten years. Such a dramatic drop in costs is encouraging, particularly in the context of current efforts to expand access to ART.

Africa [8]
Ethiopia [9], Malawi [10], Rwanda [11], South Africa [12], Zambia [13]
  • [14]