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After patients receive a diagnosis of HIV infection, their eligibility for (antiretroviral therapy) ART initiation is determined by sending a blood sample away to a laboratory for a CD4 cell count (the current threshold for treatment is a CD4 count below 500/mm3, although low- and middle-income countries have yet to update their national guidelines from the threshold CD4 count below 350/mm3). Patients have to return to the clinic to receive their test results and to initiate ART if they are eligible for treatment. Unfortunately, many patients are “lost” during this multistep process in resource-limited settings. Point-of-care CD4 tests at HIV diagnosis—tests that are done on the spot and provide results the same day—might help to improve linkage to care in such settings. Here, the researchers use a mathematical model to assess the clinical outcomes and cost-effectiveness of point-of-care CD4 testing at the time of HIV diagnosis compared to laboratory-based testing in Mozambique, where about 1.5 million HIV-positive individuals live.

At a CD4 threshold for treatment of 250/mm3, the model predicted that 60.9% of newly diagnosed HIV-infected people would survive five years if their immunological status was assessed using the laboratory-based CD4 test, whereas 65% would survive five years if the point-of-care test was used. Predicted life expectancies were 9.6 and 10.3 years with the laboratory-based and point-of-care tests, respectively, and the per person lifetime costs (which mainly reflect treatment costs) associated with the two tests were US$2,440 and $US2,800, respectively. Finally, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio—calculated as the incremental costs of one therapeutic intervention compared to another divided by the incremental benefits—was US$500 per year of life saved, when comparing use of the point-of-care test with a laboratory-based test.

These findings suggest that in Mozambique (and several other resource-limited settings that the researchers modelled), compared to laboratory-based CD4 testing, point-of-care testing at HIV diagnosis could improve survival for HIV-infected individuals and would be very cost-effective compared to laboratory-based testing.

Importantly, these “sensitivity analyses” suggest that point-of-care CD4 testing is likely to have the greatest impact on HIV-related deaths and be economically efficient in settings in sub-Saharan Africa with the most limited health care resources, provided point-of-care CD4 testing improves the linkage to care for HIV-infected people.

Hyle EP, Jani IV, Lehe J, Su AE, Wood R, et al. (2014) The Clinical and Economic Impact of Point-of-Care CD4 Testing in Mozambique and Other Resource-Limited Settings: A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis. PLoS Med 11(9): e1001725. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001725

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