Background: An integrated tiered service delivery model (ITSDM) has been proposed to provide 'full-coverage' of CD4 services throughout South Africa. Five tiers are described, defined by testing volumes and number of referring health-facilities. These include: (1) Tier-1/decentralized point-of-care service (POC) in a single site; Tier-2/POC-hub servicing processing < 30-40 samples from 8-10 health-clinics; Tier-3/Community laboratories servicing ∼ 50 health-clinics, processing < 150 samples/day; high-volume centralized laboratories (Tier-4 and Tier-5) processing < 300 or > 600 samples/day and serving > 100 or > 200 health-clinics, respectively. The objective of this study was to establish costs of existing and ITSDM-tiers 1, 2 and 3 in a remote, under-serviced district in South Africa.
Methods: Historical health-facility workload volumes from the Pixley-ka-Seme district, and the total volumes of CD4 tests performed by the adjacent district referral CD4 laboratories, linked to locations of all referring clinics and related laboratory-to-result turn-around time (LTR-TAT) data, were extracted from the NHLS Corporate-Data-Warehouse for the period April-2012 to March-2013. Tiers were costed separately (as a cost-per-result) including equipment, staffing, reagents and test consumable costs. A one-way sensitivity analyses provided for changes in reagent price, test volumes and personnel time.
Results: The lowest cost-per-result was noted for the existing laboratory-based Tiers- 4 and 5 ($6.24 and $5.37 respectively), but with related increased LTR-TAT of > 24-48 hours. Full service coverage with TAT < 6-hours could be achieved with placement of twenty-seven Tier-1/POC or eight Tier-2/POC-hubs, at a cost-per-result of $32.32 and $15.88 respectively. A single district Tier-3 laboratory also ensured 'full service coverage' and < 24 hour LTR-TAT for the district at $7.42 per-test.
Conclusion: Implementing a single Tier-3/community laboratory to extend and improve delivery of services in Pixley-ka-Seme, with an estimated local ∼ 12-24-hour LTR-TAT, is ∼ $2 more than existing referred services per-test, but 2-4 fold cheaper than implementing eight Tier-2/POC-hubs or providing twenty-seven Tier-1/POCT CD4 services.