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The value of confirmatory testing in early infant HIV diagnosis programmes in South Africa: A cost-effectiveness analysis

Dunning, Lorna; Francke, Jordan A.; Mallampati, Divya; MacLean, Rachel L.; Penazzato, Martina; Hou, Taige; Myer, Landon; Abrams, Elaine J.; Walensky, Rochelle P.; Leroy, Valeriane; Freedberg, Kenneth A.; Ciaranello, Andrea

The specificity of nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) used for early infant diagnosis (EID) of HIV infection is <100%, leading some HIV-uninfected infants to be incorrectly identified as HIV-infected. The World Health Organization recommends that infants undergo a second NAAT to confirm any positive test result, but implementation is limited. Our objective was to determine the impact and cost-effectiveness of confirmatory HIV testing for EID programmes in South Africa.

Method and findings:
Using the Cost-effectiveness of Preventing AIDS Complications (CEPAC)–Pediatric model, we simulated EID testing at age 6 weeks for HIV-exposed infants without and with confirmatory testing. We assumed a NAAT cost of US$25, NAAT specificity of 99.6%, NAAT sensitivity of 100% for infants infected in pregnancy or at least 4 weeks prior to testing, and a mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) rate at 12 months of 4.9%; we simulated guideline-concordant rates of testing uptake, result return, and antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation (100%). After diagnosis, infants were linked to and retained in care for 10 years (false-positive) or lifelong (true-positive). All parameters were varied widely in sensitivity analyses. Outcomes included number of infants with false-positive diagnoses linked to ART per 1,000 ART initiations, life expectancy (LE, in years) and per-person lifetime HIV-related healthcare costs. Both without and with confirmatory testing, LE was 26.2 years for HIV-infected infants and 61.4 years for all HIV-exposed infants; clinical outcomes for truly infected infants did not differ by strategy. Without confirmatory testing, 128/1,000 ART initiations were false-positive diagnoses; with confirmatory testing, 1/1,000 ART initiations were false-positive diagnoses. Because confirmatory testing averted costly HIV care and ART in truly HIV-uninfected infants, it was cost-saving: total cost US$1,790/infant tested, compared to US$1,830/infant tested without confirmatory testing. Confirmatory testing remained cost-saving unless NAAT cost exceeded US$400 or the HIV-uninfected status of infants incorrectly identified as infected was ascertained and ART stopped within 3 months of starting. Limitations include uncertainty in the data used in the model, which we examined with sensitivity and uncertainty analyses. We also excluded clinical harms to HIV-uninfected infants incorrectly treated with ART after false-positive diagnosis (e.g., medication toxicities); including these outcomes would further increase the value of confirmatory testing.

Without confirmatory testing, in settings with MTCT rates similar to that of South Africa, more than 10% of infants who initiate ART may reflect false-positive diagnoses. Confirmatory testing prevents inappropriate HIV diagnosis, is cost-saving, and should be adopted in all EID programmes.

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