Introduction: In 2016, under its new National Adherence Guidelines (AGL), South Africa formalized an existing model of fast-track HIV treatment initiation counselling (FTIC). Rollout of the AGL included an evaluation study at 24 clinics, with staggered AGL implementation. Using routinely collected data extracted as part of the evaluation study, we estimated and compared the costs of HIV care and treatment from the provider’s perspective at the 12 clinics implementing the new, formalized model (AGL-FTIC) to costs at the 12 clinics continuing to implement some earlier, less formalized, model that likely varied across clinics (denoted here as early-FTIC).
Methods: This was a cost-outcome analysis using standard methods and a composite outcome defined as initiated antiretroviral therapy (ART) within 30 days of treatment eligibility and retained in care at 9 months. Using patient-level, bottom-up resource-utilization data and local unit costs, we estimated patient-level costs of care and treatment in 2017 U.S. dollars over the 9-month evaluation follow-up period for the two models of care. Resource use and
costs, disaggregated by antiretroviral medications, laboratory tests, and clinic visits, are reported by model of care and stratified by the composite outcome.
Results: A total of 350/343 patients in the early-FTIC/AGL-FTIC models of care are included in this
analysis. Mean/median costs were similar for both models of care ($135/$153 for early- FTIC, $130/$151 for AGL-FTIC). For the subset achieving the composite outcome, resource use and therefore mean/median costs were similar but slightly higher, reflecting care consistent with treatment guidelines ($163/$166 for early-FTIC, $168/$170 for AGL-FTIC). Not surprisingly, costs for patients not achieving the composite outcome were substantially less, mainly because they only had two or fewer follow-up visits and, therefore, received substantially less ART than patients who achieved the composite outcome.
Conclusion: The 2016 adherence guidelines clarified expectations for the content and timing of adherence counselling sessions in relation to ART initiation. Because clinics were already initiating patients on ART quickly by 2016, little room existed for the new model of fast-track initiation counseling to reduce the number of pre-ART clinic visits at the study sites and therefore to
reduce costs of care and treatment.