Nicolas Menzies and colleagues investigate the potential impact and cost-effectiveness of implementing Xpert MTB/RIF for diagnosing tuberculosis in five southern African countries.
The Xpert MTB/RIF test enables rapid detection of tuberculosis (TB) and rifampicin resistance. The World Health Organization recommends Xpert for initial diagnosis in individuals suspected of having multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) or HIV-associated TB, and many countries are moving quickly toward adopting Xpert. As roll-out proceeds, it is essential to understand the potential health impact and cost-effectiveness of diagnostic strategies based on Xpert.
Methods and Findings
We evaluated potential health and economic consequences of implementing Xpert in five southern African countries—Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland—where drug resistance and TB-HIV coinfection are prevalent. Using a calibrated, dynamic mathematical model, we compared the status quo diagnostic algorithm, emphasizing sputum smear, against an algorithm incorporating Xpert for initial diagnosis. Results were projected over 10- and 20-y time periods starting from 2012. Compared to status quo, implementation of Xpert would avert 132,000 (95% CI: 55,000–284,000) TB cases and 182,000 (97,000–302,000) TB deaths in southern Africa over the 10 y following introduction, and would reduce prevalence by 28% (14%–40%) by 2022, with more modest reductions in incidence. Health system costs are projected to increase substantially with Xpert, by US$460 million (294–699 million) over 10 y. Antiretroviral therapy for HIV represents a substantial fraction of these additional costs, because of improved survival in TB/HIV-infected populations through better TB case-finding and treatment. Costs for treating MDR-TB are also expected to rise significantly with Xpert scale-up. Relative to status quo, Xpert has an estimated cost-effectiveness of US$959 (633–1,485) per disability-adjusted life-year averted over 10 y. Across countries, cost-effectiveness ratios ranged from US$792 (482–1,785) in Swaziland to US$1,257 (767–2,276) in Botswana. Assessing outcomes over a 10-y period focuses on the near-term consequences of Xpert adoption, but the cost-effectiveness results are conservative, with cost-effectiveness ratios assessed over a 20-y time horizon approximately 20% lower than the 10-y values.
Introduction of Xpert could substantially change TB morbidity and mortality through improved case-finding and treatment, with more limited impact on long-term transmission dynamics. Despite extant uncertainty about TB natural history and intervention impact in southern Africa, adoption of Xpert evidently offers reasonable value for its cost, based on conventional benchmarks for cost-effectiveness. However, the additional financial burden would be substantial, including significant increases in costs for treating HIV and MDR-TB. Given the fundamental influence of HIV on TB dynamics and intervention costs, care should be taken when interpreting the results of this analysis outside of settings with high HIV prevalence.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
In 2010, about 9 million people developed tuberculosis (TB)—a contagious bacterial disease that usually infects the lungs—and about 1.5 million people died from the disease. Most of these deaths were in low- and middle-income countries, and a quarter were in HIV-positive individuals, who are particularly susceptible to TB. Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB, is spread in airborne droplets when people with active disease cough or sneeze. The characteristic symptoms of TB are a persistent cough, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. Diagnostic tests for TB include sputum smear analysis (microscopic examination of mucus coughed up from the lungs for the presence of M. tuberculosis) and mycobacterial liquid culture (growth of M. tuberculosis from sputum and determination of its drug sensitivity). TB can be cured by taking several antibiotics daily for at least six months, although the recent emergence of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is making the disease increasingly hard to treat.
Why Was This Study Done?
To reduce the global TB burden, active disease must be diagnosed quickly and accurately. In most high-burden settings, however, TB diagnosis relies on sputum smear analysis, which fails to identify some people (especially HIV-infected individuals) who have TB. Mycobacterial culture correctly identifies more infected people but is slow and costly, and many high-burden settings lack the infrastructure for high-volume culture diagnosis of TB. Faced with these diagnostic inadequacies, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently recommended the use of Xpert MTB/RIF for initial diagnosis in patients suspected of having MDR-TB or HIV-associated TB. This new, automated DNA test detects M. tuberculosis and DNA differences that make the bacteria resistant to the drug rifampicin (an indicator of MDR-TB) within two hours. Many countries are moving toward adopting Xpert for TB diagnosis, so it is essential to understand the population health impact and cost-effectiveness of diagnostic strategies based on this test. Here, the researchers use a calibrated, dynamic mathematical model of TB to investigate the consequences of Xpert MTB/RIF implementation in five southern African countries where both TB-HIV coinfection and MDR-TB are common.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used their mathematical model, which simulates the movement of individuals through different stages of TB infection, to investigate the potential health and economic consequences of implementing Xpert for initial TB diagnosis in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland. In the modeled scenarios, compared to an diagnostic approach based on sputum smear (the “status quo”), implementation of Xpert averted an estimated 132,000 TB cases and 182,000 TB deaths in southern Africa over the ten years following its introduction, reduced the proportion of the population with TB by 28%, and increased health service costs by US$460 million. Much of this cost increase reflected increased antiretroviral therapy costs for TB/HIV-infected individuals who survived TB infection because of better case-finding and treatment. Finally, relative to the status quo, over ten years, Xpert implementation in southern Africa cost US$959 for every DALY (disability-adjusted life-year) averted. Cost-effectiveness ratios in individual countries ranged from US$792 per DALY averted in Swaziland to US$1,257 per DALY averted in Botswana.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that Xpert implementation in southern Africa could substantially reduce TB illness and death through improved case-finding and treatment, but that the impact of Xpert on long-term transmission dynamics may be more limited. Although the additional financial burden associated with Xpert roll-out is likely to be substantial, these findings suggest that using Xpert for TB diagnosis offers reasonable value given its cost. WHO considers any intervention with a cost-effectiveness ratio less than the per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) highly cost-effective—in 2010, the per-capita GDP ranged from US$7,000 in South Africa and Botswana to US$982 in Lesotho.
These findings may not be generalizable to regions with different HIV infection rates, and their accuracy is likely to be affected by the quality of the data fed into the mathematical model and by the structure of the model. Thus, it is essential that the impact of Xpert-based TB diagnosis be carefully evaluated as the approach is rolled out, and that the information generated by these evaluations be used to improve the accuracy of model-based estimates of the long-term effects of this new strategy for TB diagnosis.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001347.
WHO provides information (in several languages) on all aspects of tuberculosis, including general information on tuberculosis diagnostics and specific information on the roll-out of the Xpert MTB/RIF test; further information about WHO's endorsement of Xpert MTB/RIF is included in a recent Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Tuberculosis report; WHO also provides information about tuberculosis and HIV
The Stop TB Partnership is working towards tuberculosis elimination; patient stories about TB-HIV coinfection are available
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about tuberculosis, and about TB diagnosis
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also has detailed information on all aspects of tuberculosis
The Tuberculosis Survival Project, which aims to raise awareness of tuberculosis and provide support for people with tuberculosis, provides personal stories about treatment for tuberculosis; the Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative also provides personal stories about dealing with tuberculosis
MedlinePlus has links to further information about tuberculosis (in English and Spanish)