Earlier Initialization of Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy Is Associated With Long-Term Survival and Is Cost-Effective
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BACKGROUND: Raising the guidelines for the initiation of antiretroviral therapy in resource-limited settings at CD4 T-cell counts of 350 cells per microliter raises concerns about feasibility and cost. We examined costs of this shift using data from Uganda for almost 10 years. METHODS: We projected total costs of earlier initiation with combined antiretroviral therapy, including inpatient and outpatient services, antiretroviral treatment and treatment for limited HIV-related opportunistic diseases, and benefits expressed in years-of-life-saved over 5- and 30-year time horizons using a deterministic economic model to examine the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER), expressed in cost per year-of-life-saved (YLS). RESULTS: The model generated ICERs for 5- and 30-year time horizons. Discounting both costs and benefits at 3% annually, for the 5-year analysis, the ICER was $695/YLS and $769 in the 30-year analysis. The results were most sensitive to program cost and the discount rate applied, but they were less sensitive to opportunistic infection treatment costs or the relative-risk reduction from earlier initiation. Program costs varied from 25% to 125%, and the ICER for the lower bound decreased to $491/YLS at 5-years and $574/YLS at 30 years. For the upper bound, the ICER increased to $899 for 5-years and $964 at 30-years. The budget impact of adoption, assuming the same level of program penetration in the community, is $261,651,942 for 5 years and $872,685,561 for 30 years. CONCLUSIONS: Our model showed that earlier initiation of combined antiretroviral therapy in Uganda is associated with improved long-term survival and is highly cost-effective, as defined by WHO-CHOICE.
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