Background: International HIV guidelines have recently shifted from a medium-late to an early-start treatment strategy. As a consequence, more people will be eligible to Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART). We estimate mean life years gained using different treatment indications in low income countries.
Methods: We carried out a systematic search to identify relevant studies on the treatment effect of HAART. Outcome from identified observational studies were combined in a pooled-analyses and we apply these data in a Markov life cycle model based on a hypothetical Tanzanian HIV population. Survival for three different HIV populations with and without any treatment is estimated. The number of patients included in our pooled-analysis is 35,047.
Results: Providing HAART early when CD4 is 200-350 cells/microl is likely to be the best outcome strategy with an expected net benefit of 14.5 life years per patient. The model predicts diminishing treatment benefits for patients starting treatment when CD4 counts are lower. Patients starting treatment at CD4 50-199 and <50 cells/microl have expected net health benefits of 7.6 and 7.3 life years. Without treatment, HIV patients with CD4 counts 200-350; 50-199 and < 50 cells/microl can expect to live 4.8; 2.0 and 0.7 life years respectively.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that HIV patients live longer with early start strategies in low income countries. Since low income countries have many constraints to full coverage of HAART, this study provides input to a more transparent debate regarding where to draw explicit eligibility criteria during further scale up of HAART.