A cost-effectiveness study by Sabina Alistar and colleagues evaluates the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of different levels of investment in methadone, ART, or both, in the mixed HIV epidemic in Ukraine.
Injection drug use (IDU) and heterosexual virus transmission both contribute to the growing mixed HIV epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In Ukraine—chosen in this study as a representative country—IDU-related risk behaviors cause half of new infections, but few injection drug users (IDUs) receive methadone substitution therapy. Only 10% of eligible individuals receive antiretroviral therapy (ART). The appropriate resource allocation between these programs has not been studied. We estimated the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of strategies for expanding methadone substitution therapy programs and ART in mixed HIV epidemics, using Ukraine as a case study.
Methods and Findings
We developed a dynamic compartmental model of the HIV epidemic in a population of non-IDUs, IDUs using opiates, and IDUs on methadone substitution therapy, stratified by HIV status, and populated it with data from the Ukraine. We considered interventions expanding methadone substitution therapy, increasing access to ART, or both. We measured health care costs, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), HIV prevalence, infections averted, and incremental cost-effectiveness. Without incremental interventions, HIV prevalence reached 67.2% (IDUs) and 0.88% (non-IDUs) after 20 years. Offering methadone substitution therapy to 25% of IDUs reduced prevalence most effectively (to 53.1% IDUs, 0.80% non-IDUs), and was most cost-effective, averting 4,700 infections and adding 76,000 QALYs compared with no intervention at US$530/QALY gained. Expanding both ART (80% coverage of those eligible for ART according to WHO criteria) and methadone substitution therapy (25% coverage) was the next most cost-effective strategy, adding 105,000 QALYs at US$1,120/QALY gained versus the methadone substitution therapy-only strategy and averting 8,300 infections versus no intervention. Expanding only ART (80% coverage) added 38,000 QALYs at US$2,240/QALY gained versus the methadone substitution therapy-only strategy, and averted 4,080 infections versus no intervention. Offering ART to 80% of non-IDUs eligible for treatment by WHO criteria, but only 10% of IDUs, averted only 1,800 infections versus no intervention and was not cost effective.
Methadone substitution therapy is a highly cost-effective option for the growing mixed HIV epidemic in Ukraine. A strategy that expands both methadone substitution therapy and ART to high levels is the most effective intervention, and is very cost effective by WHO criteria. When expanding ART, access to methadone substitution therapy provides additional benefit in infections averted. Our findings are potentially relevant to other settings with mixed HIV epidemics.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
HIV epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are mainly driven by increasing use of injection drugs combined with heterosexual transmission. In the Ukraine, in 2007, there were 82,000 officially registered people living with HIV—three times the number registered in 1999—and an estimated 395,000 HIV infected adults. The epidemic in Ukraine, like other countries in the region, is concentrated in at-risk populations, particularly people who inject drugs: in 2007, an estimated 390,000 Ukrainians were injecting drugs, an increase in drug use over the previous decade, not only in Ukraine, but in other former USSR states, owing to the easy availability of precursors for injection drugs in a climate of economic collapse.
The common practices of people who inject drugs in Ukraine and in other countries in the region, such as social injecting, syringe sharing, and using common containers, increase the risk of transmitting HIV. Public health interventions such as needle exchange can limit these risk factors and have been gradually implemented in these countries. In 2007, Ukraine approved the use of methadone substitution therapy and the current target is for 11,000 people who inject drugs to be enrolled in substitution therapy by 2011. Furthermore, since treatment for HIV-infected individuals is also necessary, national HIV control plans included a target of 90% antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage by 2010 but in 2007 less than 10% of the 91,000 eligible people received treatment. Although the number of people who inject drugs and who receive ART is unknown, physicians are often reluctant to treat people who inject drugs using ART owing to alleged poor compliance.
Why Was This Study Done?
As resources for HIV interventions in the region are limited, it is important to investigate the appropriate balance between investments in methadone substitution therapy and ART in order to maximize benefits to public health. Several studies have analyzed the cost effectiveness of methadone substitution therapy in similar settings but have not considered tradeoffs between ART and methadone substitution therapy. Therefore, to provide insights into the appropriate public health investment in methadone substitution therapy and ART in Ukraine, the researchers evaluated the public health effectiveness and cost effectiveness of different strategies for scaling up methadone substitution therapy and/or expanding ART.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed a model to accommodate different population groups: people who inject drugs on substitution therapy with methadone; people who inject opiates and do not take any substitution therapy; and people who do not inject any drugs, hence do not need substitution therapy. The researchers inputted Ukraine country-level data into this model and used current HIV trends in Ukraine to make rational assumptions on possible future trends and scenarios. They considered scenarios expanding methadone substitution therapy availability, increasing acces to ART, or both. Then, the researchers measured health care costs, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), HIV prevalence, infections averted, and incremental cost effectiveness for the different scenarios. They found that after 20 years, HIV prevalence reached 67.2% in people who inject drugs and 0.88% in people who do not inject drugs without further interventions. Offering methadone substitution therapy to 25% of people who inject drugs was the most effective strategy in reducing prevalence of HIV and was also the most cost effective, averting 4,700 infections and adding 75,700 QALYs versus the status quo at $530/QALY gained. Expanding both methadone substitution therapy and ART was also a highly cost effective option, adding 105,000 QALYs at US$1,120/QALY gained versus the methadone substitution therapy-only strategy. Offering ART to 80% of eligible people who did not inject drugs, and 10% of people who injected drugs averted only 1,800 infections, and added 76,400 QALYs at $1,330/QALY gained.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The results show that methadone substitution-focused therapeutic scenarios are the most cost effective, and that benefits increase with the scale of the project, even among people who do not inject drugs. This makes a methadone substitution strategy a highly cost-effective option for addressing the growing HIV epidemic in Ukraine. Therefore, if it is not feasible to invest in large-scale methadone substitution programs for any reason, political circumstances for example, providing as much methadone substitution as is acceptable is still desirable. While substitution therapy appears to avert the most HIV infections, expanded ART provides the largest total increase in QALYs. Thus, methadone substitution therapy and ART offer complementary benefits. Because the HIV epidemic in Ukraine is representative of the HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the cost-effective strategies that the researchers have identified may help inform all decision makers faced with a mixed HIV epidemic.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000423.
Alliance provides information on its work supporting community action on AIDS in Ukraine
USAID provides an HIV/AIDS Health Profile for Ukraine
UNICEF provides information about its activities to help Ukraine fight rising HIV/AIDS infection rates
International Harm Reduction Association provides information about the status of harm reduction interventions such as methadone substitution therapy around the world