Economic Issues in the Prevention of Vertical Transmission of HIV
Diana M. Gibb
Mark J. Sculpher
In the absence of interventions, 20% of infants born to women infected with HIV acquire infection from their mother at or before delivery. A further 15% are infected through breast feeding. Prenatal testing for HIV allows infected women to be reliably identified so that they can receive antiretroviral therapy and, in countries with safe water supplies, be advised not to breast feed. These and other interventions can reduce the risk of transmission to 5% or less. Economic evaluations of prenatal testing for HIV are reviewed and compared in this article, and future research priorities outlined. These studies set the costs of testing and intervention against the averted lifetime costs of paediatric infection, and generate estimates of the HIV prevalence threshold above which there would be a net cost saving, or calculate the cost per life-year saved given a particular prevalence. In the developed world, prenatal testing has been adopted in many countries, and recent economic analyses broadly support this. Future research is likely to focus on the incremental benefits of different antiretroviral regimens in lowering transmission rates still further, with or without elective caesarean section, and the possibility that some may lead to adverse effects in uninfected infants exposed to them in utero. Some earlier assessments in resource-poor settings concluded that prenatal testing was unaffordable or of doubtful cost effectiveness. This negative conclusion appears to be the result of very low estimates of the lifetime costs of paediatric HIV infection, together with developed world conceptions of pre-test counselling. The demonstration that nevirapine reduces transmission risk at a low cost has transformed the outlook, and there is hope that antiretrovirals can act prophylactically to prevent infection of the breast-fed child. However, to achieve a sustained reduction in vertical transmission there may be a need to evaluate the need for a strengthened infrastructure to deliver prenatal HIV testing and treatment, as well as programmes to reduce HIV incidence in adults.
Antivirals, Breast feeding, Cost analysis, Fetus, HIV infections, Infants, Neonates, Pharmacoeconomics
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