Background: The cost-effectiveness of early antiretroviral therapy (ART) in persons infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in serodiscordant couples is not known. Using a computer simulation of the progression of HIV infection and data from the HIV Prevention Trials Network 052 study, we projected the cost-effectiveness of early ART for such persons.
Methods: For HIV-infected partners in serodiscordant couples in South Africa and India, we compared the early initiation of ART with delayed ART. Five-year and lifetime outcomes included cumulative HIV transmissions, life-years, costs, and cost-effectiveness. We classified early ART as very cost-effective if its incremental cost-effectiveness ratio was less than the annual per capita gross domestic product (GDP; $8,100 in South Africa and $1,500 in India), as cost-effective if the ratio was less than three times the GDP, and as cost-saving if it resulted in a decrease in total costs and an increase in life-years, as compared with delayed ART.
Results: In South Africa, early ART prevented opportunistic diseases and was cost-saving over a 5-year period; over a lifetime, it was very cost-effective ($590 per life-year saved). In India, early ART was cost-effective ($1,800 per life-year saved) over a 5-year period and very cost-effective ($530 per life-year saved) over a lifetime. In both countries, early ART prevented HIV transmission over short periods, but longer survival attenuated this effect; the main driver of life-years saved was a clinical benefit for treated patients. Early ART remained very cost-effective over a lifetime under most modeled assumptions in the two countries.
Conclusions: In South Africa, early ART was cost-saving over a 5-year period. In both South Africa and India, early ART was projected to be very cost-effective over a lifetime. With individual, public health, and economic benefits, there is a compelling case for early ART for serodiscordant couples in resource-limited settings. (Funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and others.).