Expanding ART access: increasing costs

The HIV treatment gap: estimates of the financial resources needed versus available for scale-up of antiretroviral therapy in 97 countries from 2015 to 2020.

Dutta A, Barker C, Kallarakal A. PLoS Med. 2015 Nov 24;12(11):e1001907. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001907. eCollection 2015.

Background: The World Health Organization (WHO) released revised guidelines in 2015 recommending that all people living with HIV, regardless of CD4 count, initiate antiretroviral therapy (ART) upon diagnosis. However, few studies have projected the global resources needed for rapid scale-up of ART. Under the Health Policy Project, we conducted modeling analyses for 97 countries to estimate eligibility for and numbers on ART from 2015 to 2020, along with the facility-level financial resources required. We compared the estimated financial requirements to estimated funding available.

Methods and findings: Current coverage levels and future need for treatment were based on country-specific epidemiological and demographic data. Simulated annual numbers of individuals on treatment were derived from three scenarios: (1) continuation of countries' current policies of eligibility for ART, (2) universal adoption of aspects of the WHO 2013 eligibility guidelines, and (3) expanded eligibility as per the WHO 2015 guidelines and meeting the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS "90-90-90" ART targets. We modeled uncertainty in the annual resource requirements for antiretroviral drugs, laboratory tests, and facility-level personnel and overhead.

We estimate that 25.7 (95% CI 25.5, 26.0) million adults and 1.57 (95% CI 1.55, 1.60) million children could receive ART by 2020 if countries maintain current eligibility plans and increase coverage based on historical rates, which may be ambitious. If countries uniformly adopt aspects of the WHO 2013 guidelines, 26.5 (95% CI 26.0 27.0) million adults and 1.53 (95% CI 1.52, 1.55) million children could be on ART by 2020. Under the 90-90-90 scenario, 30.4 (95% CI 30.1, 30.7) million adults and 1.68 (95% CI 1.63, 1.73) million children could receive treatment by 2020. The facility-level financial resources needed for scaling up ART in these countries from 2015 to 2020 are estimated to be US$45.8 (95% CI 45.4, 46.2) billion under the current scenario, US$48.7 (95% CI 47.8, 49.6) billion under the WHO 2013 scenario, and US$52.5 (95% CI 51.4, 53.6) billion under the 90-90-90 scenario. After projecting recent external and domestic funding trends, the estimated 6-y financing gap ranges from US$19.8 billion to US$25.0 billion, depending on the costing scenario and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief contribution level, with the gap for ART commodities alone ranging from US$14.0 to US$16.8 billion. The study is limited by excluding above-facility and other costs essential to ART service delivery and by the availability and quality of country- and region-specific data.

Conclusions: The projected number of people receiving ART across three scenarios suggests that countries are unlikely to meet the 90-90-90 treatment target (81% of people living with HIV on ART by 2020) unless they adopt a test-and-offer approach and increase ART coverage. Our results suggest that future resource needs for ART scale-up are smaller than stated elsewhere but still significantly threaten the sustainability of the global HIV response without additional resource mobilization from domestic or innovative financing sources or efficiency gains. As the world moves towards adopting the WHO 2015 guidelines, advances in technology, including the introduction of lower-cost, highly effective antiretroviral regimens, whose value are assessed here, may prove to be "game changers" that allow more people to be on ART with the resources available.

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

Editor’s notes: This is a complex and important paper that seeks to understand the financial requirements necessary to: a) continue countries’ current policies of eligibility for ART, b) roll out universal adoption of certain aspects of WHO 2013 eligibility guidelines, and c) expand eligibility as per WHO 2015 guidelines and meeting the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS ‘90-90-90’ targets.

The authors estimated the number of adults and children eligible for and receiving HIV treatment, as well as the cost of providing ART in 97 countries across six regions, covering different income levels. They estimated that 25.7 million adults and 1.57 million children could receive ART by 2020 if countries maintain the current eligibility strategies. If countries adopted WHO 2013 eligibility guidelines, 26.5 million adults and 1.53 million children would be on ART by 2020, and if they adopted the 90-90-90 scenario, 30.4 million adults and 1.68 million children could receive treatment by then. The financial resources necessary for this scale up are estimated to be US$ 45.8 billion under current eligibility, US$ 48.7 billion under WHO 2013 scenario and US$ 52.5 billion under the 90-90-90 scenario. The estimated funding gap for the six year period ranges between US$ 20 and US$ 25 billion. In this study, the costs of commodities were taken directly from data collated by other organisations.  No empirical cost estimates of service delivery were made.  Nor was there an attempt to understand the cost implications of the development synergies and social and programme enablers that may be needed to increase the number of people living with HIV knowing their status.  The new WHO recommendations need to be actively pursued if we are to meet targets, rather than passively continuing with “business as usual”. 

Nonetheless, the findings of this study highlight the gap between guidelines written by WHO and very real programmatic obstacles on the ground. There is evidence to suggest that universal test-and-treat strategies could lead to substantially improved health outcomes at the population level, as well as potentially being cost-saving in the long-term. However, as the authors have illustrated, it would require increased levels of funding. What needs to be explored further now is how to overcome the logistical hurdles of rolling out such an initiative. Changing systems and practices is costly and takes time. Health workers will have to be retrained, data collection strategies will have to be revised. Expanding treatment may also mean increasing the number of health staff working on this initiative, which has an opportunity cost that may reverberate in other parts of the health system. Substantially altering health service provision, particularly in weak health systems, may have knock-on effects with unexpected and unintended consequences.

WHO guidelines serve a vital purpose of giving us a goal to aim for. But studies like this one help us know if and how we can get there. 

Africa [9], Asia [10], Europe [11], Latin America [12], Oceania [13]
Algeria [14], Angola [15], Armenia [16], Azerbaijan [17], Bahamas [18], Bangladesh [19], Barbados [20], Belarus [21], Belize [22], Benin [23], Bhutan [24], Bolivia [25], Botswana [26], Bulgaria [27], Burkina Faso [28], Burundi [29], Cambodia [30], Cameroon [31], Central African Republic [32], Chad [33], China [34], Comoros [35], Côte d'Ivoire [36], Cuba [37], Democratic Republic of the Congo [38], Djibouti [39], Dominican Republic [40], Egypt [41], Equatorial Guinea [42], Eritrea [43], Ethiopia [44], Gabon [45], Gambia [46], Georgia [47], Ghana [48], Guatemala [49], Guinea [50], Guinea-Bissau [51], Guyana [52], Haiti [53], Honduras [54], India [55], Indonesia [56], Iran (Islamic Republic of) [57], Jamaica [58], Kazakhstan [59], Kenya [60], Kyrgyzstan [61], Lao People's Democratic Republic [62], Lesotho [63], Liberia [64], Madagascar [65], Malawi [66], Malaysia [67], Mali [68], Mauritania [69], Mauritius [70], Moldova [71], Mongolia [72], Morocco [73], Mozambique [74], Myanmar [75], Namibia [76], Nepal [77], Nicaragua [78], Niger [79], Nigeria [80], Pakistan [81], Papua New Guinea [82], Philippines [83], Republic of the Congo [84], Romania [85], Russia [86], Rwanda [87], Senegal [88], Serbia and Montenegro [89], Sierra Leone [90], Somalia [91], South Africa [92], Sri Lanka [93], Sudan [94], Suriname [95], Swaziland [96], Tajikistan [97], Thailand [98], Togo [99], Trinidad and Tobago [100], Tunisia [101], Uganda [102], Ukraine [103], United Republic of Tanzania [104], Uzbekistan [105], Viet Nam [106], Yemen [107], Zambia [108], Zimbabwe [109]
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