Clinical Impact and Cost-effectiveness of Diagnosing HIV Infection During Early Infancy in South Africa: Test Timing and Frequency

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Background. Diagnosis of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection during early infancy (commonly known as “early infant HIV diagnosis” [EID]) followed by prompt initiation of antiretroviral therapy dramatically reduces mortality. EID testing is recommended at 6 weeks of age, but many infant infections are missed.

Design/Methods. We simulated 4 EID testing strategies for HIV-exposed infants in South Africa: no EID (diagnosis only after illness; hereafter, “no EID”), testing once (at birth alone or at 6 weeks of age alone; hereafter, “birth alone” and “6 weeks alone,” respectively), and testing twice (at birth and 6 weeks of age; hereafter “birth and 6 weeks”). We calculated incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs), using discounted costs and life expectancies for all HIV-exposed (infected and uninfected) infants.

Results. In the base case (guideline-concordant care), the no EID strategy produced a life expectancy of 21.1 years (in the HIV-infected group) and 61.1 years (in the HIV-exposed group); lifetime cost averaged $1430/HIV-exposed infant. The birth and 6 weeks strategy maximized life expectancy (26.5 years in the HIV-infected group and 61.4 years in the HIV-exposed group), costing $1840/infant tested. The ICER of the 6 weeks alone strategy versus the no EID strategy was $1250/year of life saved (19% of South Africa's per capita gross domestic product); the ICER for the birth and 6 weeks strategy versus the 6 weeks alone strategy was $2900/year of life saved (45% of South Africa's per capita gross domestic product). Increasing the proportion of caregivers who receive test results and the linkage of HIV-positive infants to antiretroviral therapy with the 6 weeks alone strategy improved survival more than adding a second test.

Conclusions. EID at birth and 6 weeks improves outcomes and is cost-effective, compared with EID at 6 weeks alone. If scale-up costs are comparable, programs should add birth testing after strengthening 6-week testing programs.

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