Cost-effectiveness of antenatal HIV-testing: reviewing its pharmaceutical and methodological aspects

Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2004 Mar;5(3):521-8. doi: 10.1517/14656566.5.3.521.


This paper reviews the pharmacoeconomic aspects of antenatal testing for HIV. HIV is a retrovirus which is transmitted among humans through sexual contact, infected blood or blood products (needle sharing or percutaneous accidents) and from mother to child (vertical transmission). Vertical transmission from the HIV-infected mother can occur in utero during and after delivery, through breastfeeding. Effective interventions available to reduce the risk of vertical transmission include: pharmacotherapy prior, during and after delivery; voluntary caesarean section; and replacing breastfeeding by bottle-feeding [1,2]. The existence of these effective interventions underlies the need to detect yet undiagnosed HIV-infection in pregnancy through antenatal testing. Contemporary pharmacotherapy consists of a combination of three or more antiretroviral drugs, also referred to as highly-active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). For newly detected HIV-infected mothers, the Centers for Disease Control suggests the use of a zidovudine-comprising combination with one other nucleoside analogue reverse transcriptase inhibitor and a protease inhibitor (PI) [3]. As HIV in pregnancy may be asymptomatic, structured antenatal HIV-testing therefore seems to offer an attractive prevention strategy. Two broad types of approaches exist: selective or targeted testing versus universal testing. The availability of effective - but expensive - combination therapies since 1996 has greatly enhanced the importance of pharmacoeconomic assessments in the field of HIV-infection. Treatment of the mother will incur additional costs but will also make any programme more effective. Furthermore, avoiding children becoming infected with HIV will also incur monetary benefits, as children are also being treated with HAART. In summary, the background of antenatal HIV-testing has undergone major changes compared with the early 1990s. This review of the pharmacoeconomics of antenatal HIV-testing followed a systematic approach as it was performed according to prespecified criteria, allowing valid comparisons in methodologies and findings of those studies that have yet been conducted in this area.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-HIV Agents / economics
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Fetal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Diseases / economics
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis*
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical / prevention & control
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / economics
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / economics*


  • Anti-HIV Agents