Cost to patients of obtaining treatment for HIV/AIDS in South Africa

By  Professor Sydney Rosen  Mpefe Ketlhapile  Professor Ian Sanne  Mary Bachman DeSilva  |  | 


Background: South Africa is providing antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for HIV/AIDS free of charge in order to increase access for poorer patients and promote adherence. However, non-drug costs of obtaining treatment may limit access. We estimated the costs that South African patients incur in obtaining antiretroviral therapy (ART). Methods: A random sample of adult pre-ART and ART patients attending a public urban hospital (site 1), a peri-urban (informal settlement) non-governmental organisation (NGO) clinic (site 2), and a rural NGO clinic (site 3) were interviewed during a routine clinic visit. Mean and median costs were calculated for each site. Results: Ninety-one per cent of subjects paid for transport to attend the clinic. The median cost was modest (R10 – R28), but patients in the top decile at sites 1 and 3 paid R50 or more. Mean transport costs were substantially higher at site 1 (R75) than at site 2 (R18) or Site 3 (R47). Site 1 waived its R45 visit fee for most subjects, but more than 80% of subjects at sites 2 and 3 paid fees of R30 and R70, respectively. Few subjects at any site paid for substitute labour (7%) or suffered income loss (12%) during the visit. In the previous week, 60% of all subjects purchased non-prescription medicines or special foods, at a median cost of R81, R45 and R50 for sites 1, 2 and 3, respectively. The upper quartile of patients paid more than R150 for these purchases. Twelve per cent of patients reported paying for other medical care in the previous week, while 48% said that they had utilised caretakers’ time. Conclusions: Patients must visit a treatment clinic at least 6 times in the year in which they start ART. The average cost per visit is R120, plus travel and waiting time. Patients and caregivers also spend considerable time and money between visits. Patient costs should be considered in efforts to sustain adherence and expand access.

Publication details

South African Medical Journal