Time and Money: The True Costs of Health Care Utilization for Patients Receiving "Free" HIV/Tuberculosis Care and Treatment in Rural KwaZulu-Natal
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SourceJAIDS : Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 70, 2, (2015), pp. e52-60
Article / Letter to editor
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JAIDS : Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes
SubjectRadboudumc 4: lnfectious Diseases and Global Health RIHS: Radboud Institute for Health Sciences
BACKGROUND: HIV and tuberculosis (TB) services are provided free of charge in many sub-Saharan African countries, but patients still incur costs. METHODS: Patient-exit interviews were conducted in primary health care clinics in rural South Africa with representative samples of 200 HIV-infected patients enrolled in a pre-antiretroviral treatment (pre-ART) program, 300 patients receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART), and 300 patients receiving TB treatment. For each group, we calculated health expenditures across different spending categories, time spent traveling to and using services, and how patients financed their spending. Associations between patient group and costs were assessed in multivariate regression models. RESULTS: Total monthly health expenditures [1 USD = 7.3 South African Rand (ZAR)] were ZAR 171 [95% confidence interval (CI): 134 to 207] for pre-ART, ZAR 164 (95% CI: 141 to 187) for ART, and ZAR 122 (95% CI: 105 to 140) for TB patients (P = 0.01). Total monthly time costs (in hours) were 3.4 (95% CI: 3.3 to 3.5) for pre-ART, 5.0 (95% CI: 4.7 to 5.3) for ART, and 3.2 (95% CI: 2.9 to 3.4) for TB patients (P < 0.01). Although overall patient costs were similar across groups, pre-ART patients spent on average ZAR 29.2 more on traditional healers and ZAR 25.9 more on chemists and private doctors than ART patients, whereas ART patients spent ZAR 34.0 more than pre-ART patients on transport to clinics (P < 0.05 for all results). Thirty-one percent of pre-ART, 39% of ART, and 41% of TB patients borrowed money or sold assets to finance health care. CONCLUSIONS: Patients receiving nominally free care for HIV/TB face large private costs, commonly leading to financial distress. Subsidized transport, fewer clinic visits, and drug pick-up points closer to home could reduce costs for ART patients, potentially improving retention and adherence. Large expenditure on alternative care among pre-ART patients suggests that transitioning patients to ART earlier, as under HIV treatment-as-prevention policies, may not substantially increase patients' financial burden.
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