A cost-effectiveness study by Frank Cobelens and colleagues reveals that Xpert MTB/RIF is a cost-effective method of tuberculosis diagnosis that is suitable for use in low- and middle-income settings.
Xpert MTB/RIF (Xpert) is a promising new rapid diagnostic technology for tuberculosis (TB) that has characteristics that suggest large-scale roll-out. However, because the test is expensive, there are concerns among TB program managers and policy makers regarding its affordability for low- and middle-income settings.
Methods and Findings
We estimate the impact of the introduction of Xpert on the costs and cost-effectiveness of TB care using decision analytic modelling, comparing the introduction of Xpert to a base case of smear microscopy and clinical diagnosis in India, South Africa, and Uganda. The introduction of Xpert increases TB case finding in all three settings; from 72%–85% to 95%–99% of the cohort of individuals with suspected TB, compared to the base case. Diagnostic costs (including the costs of testing all individuals with suspected TB) also increase: from US$28–US$49 to US$133–US$146 and US$137–US$151 per TB case detected when Xpert is used “in addition to” and “as a replacement of” smear microscopy, respectively. The incremental cost effectiveness ratios (ICERs) for using Xpert “in addition to” smear microscopy, compared to the base case, range from US$41–$110 per disability adjusted life year (DALY) averted. Likewise the ICERS for using Xpert “as a replacement of” smear microscopy range from US$52–$138 per DALY averted. These ICERs are below the World Health Organization (WHO) willingness to pay threshold.
Our results suggest that Xpert is a cost-effective method of TB diagnosis, compared to a base case of smear microscopy and clinical diagnosis of smear-negative TB in low- and middle-income settings where, with its ability to substantially increase case finding, it has important potential for improving TB diagnosis and control. The extent of cost-effectiveness gain to TB programmes from deploying Xpert is primarily dependent on current TB diagnostic practices. Further work is required during scale-up to validate these findings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial disease that infects one-third of the world's population. The disease is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a bacterium that most commonly infects the lungs (known as pulmonary TB) and is transmitted from person to person when an infected individual coughs, sneezes, or talks. The symptoms of TB include chest pain, weight loss, fever, and a persistent cough that sometimes contains blood. Only 5%–10% of people who are infected with TB become sick or infectious, but people with weakened immune systems, such as individuals who are HIV-positive, are more likely to develop the disease. TB is estimated to have killed 1.7 million people in 2009 and is currently the leading cause of death among people infected with HIV.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although TB can be treated with a six-month course of antibiotics, effectively diagnosing TB is not always straightforward and drug resistance is becoming an increasing problem. One of the most common and simple methods to diagnose TB is a technique called sputum smear microscopy, which involves examining matter from the lungs under a microscope for the presence of TB-causing bacteria. However, despite being cheap and relatively simple, the test does not always detect active TB (smear-negative) and cannot determine whether the TB-causing bacteria are resistant to antibiotics. The World Health Organization has recently endorsed a new rapid test, called Xpert MTB/RIF (referred to as Xpert), for the initial diagnosis of TB. The test uses DNA amplification methods to reliably and quickly detect TB and whether infecting bacteria are resistant to the antibiotic rifampicin. The new test is expensive so there are concerns that the test might not be cost-effective in low- and middle-income countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a technique called modeling to simulate the outcome of 10,000 individuals with suspected TB as they went through a hypothetical diagnostic and treatment pathway. The model compared the costs associated with the introduction of Xpert to a base case for two different scenarios. In the base case all individuals with suspected TB had two sputum smear microscopy examinations followed by clinical diagnosis if they were smear-negative. For the different scenarios Xpert was either used in addition to the two sputum smear microscopy examinations (if the patient was smear-negative) or Xpert was used as a replacement for sputum smear microscopy for all patients. Different input parameters, based on country-specific estimates, were applied so that the model reflected the implementation of Xpert in India, South Africa, and Uganda.
In the researcher's model the introduction of Xpert increased the proportion of TB-infected patients who were correctly diagnosed with TB in any of the settings. However, the cost per TB case detected increased by approximately US$100 in both scenarios. Although the cost of detection increased significantly, the cost of treatment increased only moderately because the number of false-positive cases was reduced. For example, the percentage of treatment costs spent on false-positive diagnoses in India was predicted to fall from 22% to 4% when Xpert was used to replace sputum smear microscopy. The model was used to calculate incremental cost effectiveness ratios (ICERs—the additional cost of each disability-adjusted life year [DALY] averted) for the different scenarios of Xpert implementation in the different settings. In comparison to the base case, introducing Xpert in addition to sputum smear microscopy produced ICERs ranging from US$41 to US$110 per DALY averted, while introducing Xpert instead of sputum smear microscopy yielded ICERs ranging from US$52 to US$138 per DALY averted.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings suggest that the implementation of Xpert in addition to, or instead of, sputum smear microscopy will be cost-effective in low- and middle-income countries. The calculated ICERs are below the World Health Organization's “willingness to pay threshold” for all settings. That is the incremental cost of each DALY averted by introduction of Xpert is below the gross domestic product per capita for each country ($1,134 for India, $5,786 South Africa, and $490 for Uganda in 2010). However, the authors note that achieving ICERs below the “willingness to pay threshold” does not necessarily mean that countries have the resources to implement the test. The researchers also note that there are limitations to their study; additional unknown costs associated with the scale-up of Xpert and some parameters, such as patient costs, were not included in the model. Although the model strongly suggests that Xpert will be cost-effective, the researchers caution that initial roll-out of Xpert should be carefully monitored and evaluated before full scale-up.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001120.
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of tuberculosis, including tuberculosis diagnostics and the Stop TB Partnership (some information is in several languages)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about tuberculosis, including information on the diagnosis of tuberculosis disease
MedlinePlus has links to further information about tuberculosis (in English and Spanish)