Immediate initiation of HIV treatment is cost-effective, but needs a large portion of health system spending

Changing HIV treatment eligibility under health system constraints in sub-Saharan Africa: Investment needs, population health gains, and cost-effectiveness.

Hontelez JA, Chang AY, Ogbuoji O, Vlas SJ, Barnighausen T, Atun R. AIDS. 2016 Jun 29. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective: We estimated the investment need, population health gains, and cost-effectiveness of different policy options for scaling-up prevention and treatment of HIV in the 10 countries that currently comprise 80% of all people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe).

Design: We adapted the established STDSIM model, to capture the health system dynamics: demand-side and supply-side constraints in the delivery of antiretroviral treatment (ART).

Methods: We compared different scenarios of supply-side (i.e. health system capacity) and demand-side (i.e. health seeking behavior) constraints, and determined the impact of changing guidelines to ART eligibility at any CD4 cell count within these constraints.

Results: Continuing current scale-up would require US$178 billion by 2050. Changing guidelines to ART at any CD4 cell count is cost-effective under all constraints tested in the model, especially in demand-side constrained health systems because earlier initiation prevents loss to follow-up of patients not yet eligible. Changing guidelines under current demand-side constraints would avert 1.8 million infections at US$208 per life-year saved.

Conclusions: Treatment eligibility at any CD4 cell count would be cost-effective, even under health system constraints. Excessive loss to follow up and mortality in patients not eligible for treatment can be avoided by changing guidelines in demand-side constrained systems. The financial obligation for sustaining the AIDS response in sub-Saharan Africa over the next 35 years is substantial, and requires strong, long-term commitment of policy makers and donors to continue to allocate substantial parts of their budgets.

Abstract access [1]

Editor’s notes: Recent WHO guidelines recommend that everyone who is diagnosed as HIV positive should be allowed to start treatment immediately, a change to the former guideline where their CD4 count (a measure of disease progression) was the main criteria for starting treatment. This paper uses a model to look at the costs and benefits of changing to this immediate treatment regimen in the sub-Saharan African countries most affected by the epidemic. The authors find that allowing all HIV people living with HIV to access treatment is cost-effective, and this finding does not change when the model assumptions are varied. However, the impact of this change on the health system budgets in these countries is very substantial, and the authors suggest that a large commitment is necessary from policymakers and donors to sustain this response as short-term spending will not be enough to make an impact.

Africa [7]
Ethiopia [8], Kenya [9], Malawi [10], Mozambique [11], Nigeria [12], South Africa [13], Uganda [14], United Republic of Tanzania [15], Zambia [16], Zimbabwe [17]
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