The Global Impact of Scaling Up HIV/AIDS Prevention Programs in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

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Science  10 Mar 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5766, pp. 1474-1476
DOI: 10.1126/science.1121176


A strong, global commitment to expanded prevention programs targeted at sexual transmission and transmission among injecting drug users, started now, could avert 28 million new HIV infections between 2005 and 2015. This figure is more than half of the new infections that might otherwise occur during that period in 125 low- and middle-income countries. Although preventing these new infections would require investing about U.S.$122 billion over this period, it would reduce future needs for treatment and care. Our analysis suggests that it will cost about U.S.$3900 to prevent each new infection, but that this will produce a savings of U.S.$4700 in forgone treatment and care costs. Thus, greater spending on prevention now would not only prevent more than half the new infections that would occur from 2005 to 2015 but would actually produce a net financial saving as future costs for treatment and care are averted.

Much has changed in the global response to the AIDS epidemic since the late 1990s. Access to treatment and care in the developing world was limited by costs, by the complexity of early treatment regimens, and by a perceived lack of capacity to implement treatment programs even if drug costs were greatly reduced. The pioneering work of Brazil in providing broad access to antiretroviral therapy proved that, with political will, middle-income countries could overcome these limitations (1). In 2001 when governments convened a special session of the United Nations General Assembly, they adopted a new set of commitments on AIDS that included access to effective care and treatment. In preparation for the special session, estimates were made of the resources required for an expanded response to the epidemic, including costs for core prevention and care and treatment activities (2). The impact of these interventions, at the anticipated costs, on the number of new adult infections was estimated subsequently (3). In response, significant financial resources have been mobilized by both donors and the affected governments and communities (4). A recent analysis has explored the interactions of prevention and treatment and care in sub-Saharan Africa (5), and an update and extension of the UNAIDS resource needs estimates was completed in 2005 (4). Increases in funding have produced expansions in prevention services and treatment and care services, but much of the recent advocacy and press attention has focused specifically on the need for antiretroviral therapy. Others have argued that, in the absence of curative therapy, effective prevention is the best way to prevent the premature death of the millions of people being infected with HIV each year (6). Here, we estimate the global net cost of prevention activities in the context of the new global commitment to provide care and treatment for adults and children.

We estimate the costs of an expanded prevention program, including 15 specific interventions, in 125 low- and middle-income countries, calculate the impact in terms of infections averted, and estimate the gross and net cost per infection averted during 2005–2015. Briefly, the total resource needs and corresponding targets for scaling up a range of prevention interventions targeting sexual transmission and transmission among injecting drug users are based on the resource needs estimates prepared by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) during 2005 (4). To calculate averted infections, we first project HIV prevalence in each country under current prevention efforts based on country-specific models used by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop estimates for 2005. Treatment scale-up is added to these baseline scenarios, rising from current levels to 80% coverage of those in need for antiretroviral treatment (ART) for adults and children and for cotrimoxazole prophylaxis for children, as well as to 80% of pregnant women attending antenatal clinics for prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) interventions in all regions by 2010, and with this coverage remaining at 80% through 2015. To estimate the impact of prevention programs, the changes in behavior resulting from exposure to prevention interventions are estimated using impact data from intervention studies, the impact of these behavior changes on incidence is modeled using two different simulation models, and the consequences of the incidence changes are projected using the Spectrum software package. The average cost per case averted is calculated by dividing the total prevention costs (expressed in constant 2004 prices) over the period 2005–2015 by the number of cases averted over the same period.

The forgone treatment and care costs per averted infection are then calculated. The costs of averted treatment and care are consistent with the 2005 UNAIDS resource needs estimates (4). Estimated costs of care and treatment are based on these estimates (a detailed description of the methodology and tools is provided in the supporting online material). Lifetime costs for each AIDS case are calculated on the assumption that the median number of years of ART treatment is 7.5 years in all countries. The net present value of the expected lifetime treatment costs is calculated for the year in which the infection is prevented, on the basis of a discount rate of 5% and an average of 7 years from infection to onset of ART treatment. Sensitivity analyses are conducted for both the cost of averting an infection (by lowering the effectiveness of interventions) and the lifetime cost of treatment and care of these infections (by modifying the average survival to 5 and 10 years, respectively).

At current levels of implementation of prevention programs, the annual number of global infections is expected to increase from 4.8 million in 2005 to 5.9 million in 2015. Over this period, the total number of new infections is estimated to be 62.3 million, 7.9 million in children and 54.4 million in adults (fig. S1).

An estimated 31.1 million new infections (or 50%) between 2005 and 2015 would be averted by implementing the comprehensive prevention package examined here, 3.1 million in children and 28 million in adults. The number of averted infections would vary across regions, with 19.5 million in sub-Saharan Africa, 8.9 million in Asia, 0.7 million in North Africa and the Middle East, 0.7 in Eastern Europe, and 1.3 million in Latin America and the Caribbean (Table 1). The total cost of implementing this package during 2005–2015 would be U.S.$122 billion (see fig. S4 for the distribution of resources by region). UNAIDS has projected that about U.S.$27 billion is already programmed or promised for the period 2005 to 2007. About one-third of this amount is expected to come from local governments and out-of-pocket expenditures, with most of the rest from international donors through bilateral and multilateral mechanisms (4).

Table 1.

Number of new infections and infections averted during 2005–2015 by applying the full prevention and treatment and care package, by region.

103 number of infections103 Infections averted
Current effortExpanded prevention
Sub-Saharan Africa 31,726 6,889 15,069 4,181 16,657 2,708
Asia 16,637 688 8,237 383 8,400 305
North Africa/Middle East 1,160 114 475 68 685 46
Eastern Europe 2,510 47 1,807 32 703 15
Latin America and Caribbean 2,397 144 861 65 1,536 79
Total 54,430 7,882 26,449 4,729 27,981 3,153

In addition to the health benefits described above, the implementation of a comprehensive global prevention approach would significantly reduce the number of people requiring antiretroviral therapy in the future. The weighted global average (considering country-specific costs, intervention coverage, treatment package, and epidemiology) is a cost for prevention activities of U.S.$3900 per infection averted (adults and children combined), which avoids an expenditure for treatment and care with a net present value of U.S.$4700 and results in savings of U.S.$780 per infection averted. The costs by region are presented in Table 2. Sensitivity analyses assuming lower prevention effectiveness indicate that there continue to be net savings in all regions except Asia and Eastern Europe (table S7). Sensitivity analyses assuming a life expectancy of 5 years on treatment indicate that there would still be net savings in all regions except in Asia and Eastern Europe. If one assumes a life expectancy of 10 years after treatment initiation, an even larger savings would accrue in all regions compared with the baseline estimates.

Table 2.

Costs for prevention and averted future treatment and care, 2005–2015, by region.

Cost for prevention per infection averted (U.S.$)Lifetime treatment cost (net present value U.S.$)Savings per infection averted (U.S.$)
Sub-Saharan Africa 2,109 3,469 1,360
Asia 7,417 5,602 -1,815
North Africa/Middle East 2,756 6,822 4,066
Eastern Europe 9,148 11,203 2,055
Latin America and Caribbean 5,045 12,330 7,285
Global 3,923 4,707 784

Compared with estimates of adult infections that would have been averted in adults for 2001–2010 if implementation had ramped up in 2001 (3), the current analyses indicate that an important window of opportunity was missed by not adequately scaling up prevention services in 2001–2005. Indeed, the latest evidence regarding coverage of prevention services shows only limited implementation of prevention services by 2003 (7). Previous analyses have shown that in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people in need of treatment in future years could be drastically reduced if comprehensive prevention programs were implemented (5). Our estimates suggest that scale-up of prevention programs would not only be highly cost effective, but would even be cost saving in most regions. Because of the commitment to provision of universal access to antiretroviral care, averting future treatment needs could free resources to prevent more infections. The unit costs of prevention and treatment vary significantly by region, as do the dynamics of the epidemic, which leads to different net costs for different regions. Even in those regions where net costs are positive, the cost per disability-adjusted life year is well below average gross domestic product (GDP) per capita; highly cost effective by almost any standard (8).

Estimates of cost of prevention interventions per infection averted in this analysis at about $3900 are considerably higher than estimates in the earlier analysis at around $1000 (3). Part of the explanation is that time has been lost by not scaling up as called for in the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, while the number of new infections was growing rapidly between 2001 and 2010. That growth is predicted to be less steep in 2005–2015. Also, baseline estimates are lower than before because of newly available surveillance data. In addition, estimates of the unit costs of prevention are higher than they were in 2001 as a result of extensive consultations with country experts. There may be more cost-effective combinations of preventive interventions than the ones considered here, especially those interventions that are targeted at the major modes of transmission (9). Although the interventions and targets defined in the 2005 global resource needs estimation exercise used in our analyses are ambitious, individual countries are encouraged to set targets that are consistent with past scale-up rates, taking into account current infrastructure, capacity, and resources, as well as foreseeable financing. New preventive technologies may become available in 2005–2015, including male circumcision (10), microbicides, or vaccines. These would lead to additional reductions in the number of new infections.

Our estimates of future cost savings are conservative, given that they do not include savings in programming and infrastructure and human capacity costs, related to the reduced treatment needs. They also exclude savings in lost productivity due to illness and premature death, along with costs of orphanhood, including orphan support costs and reduced investment in their human capital. Finally, they also do not include an increase in prevention effectiveness as treatment programs scale-up (5).

As in any modeling exercise, there are uncertainties around various model inputs. The greatest degree of uncertainty in the estimates reported here regards the likely effectiveness of the array of prevention interventions when implemented at scale. These uncertainties are addressed only partially through sensitivity analysis. For very few interventions, such as PMTCT, do reliable data exist on prevention effectiveness at full scale. For most of the interventions, we made use of the limited data available with highly variable estimates of effectiveness—some of which include zero. Currently available data do not indicate whether there will be economies of scale and scope, or diseconomies as interventions are extended to populations that are more difficult to reach.

The scale-up rates were set by a Policy Steering Committee organized by UNAIDS and composed of representatives of civil society, UN organizations, major donors, and technical experts (4). As with all international goals, these are intended to be ambitious but achievable. A slower scale-up of prevention would provide fewer total benefits, although the cost per infection averted would be about the same. A slower scale-up in treatment coverage would postpone fewer deaths and reduce the savings derived from prevention.

Given the magnitude of the problem and the high level of uncertainly regarding comparative effectiveness of interventions, it is imperative that roll-out of large-scale prevention programs incorporate rigorous prospective evaluations of their effectiveness. Further limitations are that the model does not estimate the effects of expansion of reproductive health services for women that would reduce fertility. However, previous models have shown synergistic effects when prevention of pregnancy in HIV-positive women is introduced (11).

Even with these limitations, the insights from the current analyses are important to inform the necessary long-term planning of investments for health and development in low- and middle income countries. Resources for treatment and care will largely be funded by the same sources as resources for prevention programs, i.e., mostly by national health ministries and international donors. Our analyses suggest that both national governments and donor countries would be well advised to ensure that prevention programs are scaled up as soon as possible, because early investment in prevention will both prevent a greater proportion of future infections and reduce future costs for treatment and care by more than the cost of the prevention programs.

Supporting Online Material

Materials and Methods

Figs. S1 to S4

Tables S1 to S7


References and Notes

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