Background: Continuing tuberculosis control with current approaches is unlikely to reach the World Health Organization's objective to eliminate TB by 2035. Innovative interventions such as unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones) and digital adherence monitoring technologies have the potential to enhance patient-centric quality tuberculosis care and help challenged National Tuberculosis Programs leapfrog over the impediments of conventional Directly Observed Therapy (DOTS) implementation. A bundle of innovative interventions referred to for its delivery technology as the Drone Observed Therapy System (DrOTS) was implemented in remote Madagascar. Given the potentially increased cost these interventions represent for health systems, a cost-effectiveness analysis was indicated.
Methods: A decision analysis model was created to calculate the incremental cost-effectiveness of the DrOTS strategy compared to DOTS, the standard of care, in a study population of 200,000 inhabitants in rural Madagascar with tuberculosis disease prevalence of 250/100,000. A mixed top-down and bottom-up costing approach was used to identify costs associated with both models, and net costs were calculated accounting for resulting TB treatment costs. Net cost per disability-adjusted life years averted was calculated. Sensitivity analyses were performed for key input variables to identify main drivers of health and cost outcomes, and cost-effectiveness.
Findings: Net cost per TB patient identified within DOTS and DrOTS were, respectively, $282 and $1,172. The incremental cost per additional TB patient diagnosed in DrOTS was $2,631 and the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of DrOTS compared to DOTS was $177 per DALY averted. Analyses suggest that integrating drones with interventions ensuring highly sensitive laboratory testing and high treatment adherence optimizes cost-effectiveness.
Conclusion: Innovative technology packages including drones, digital adherence monitoring technologies, and molecular diagnostics for TB case finding and retention within the cascade of care can be cost effective. Their integration with other interventions within health systems may further lower costs and support access to universal health coverage.