Cost effectiveness of cryptococcal antigen screening as a strategy to prevent HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis in South Africa

Objectives Cryptococcal meningitis (CM)-related mortality may be prevented by screening patients for sub-clinical cryptococcal antigenaemia (CRAG) at antiretroviral-therapy (ART) initiation and pre-emptively treating those testing positive. Prior to programmatic implementation in South Africa we performed a cost-effectiveness analysis of alternative preventive strategies for CM. Design Cost-effectiveness analysis. METHODS: Using South African data we modelled the cost-effectiveness of four strategies for patients with CD4 cell-counts <100 cells/µl starting ART 1) no screening or prophylaxis (standard of care), 2) universal primary fluconazole prophylaxis, 3) CRAG screening with fluconazole treatment if antigen-positive, 4) CRAG screening with lumbar puncture if antigen-positive and either amphotericin-B for those with CNS disease or fluconazole for those without. Analysis was limited to the first year of ART. RESULTS: The least costly strategy was CRAG screening followed by high-dose fluconazole treatment of all CRAG-positive individuals. This strategy dominated the standard of care at CRAG prevalence ≥0.6%. Although CRAG screening followed by lumbar puncture in all antigen-positive individuals was the most effective strategy clinically, the incremental benefit of LPs and amphotericin therapy for those with CNS disease was small and additional costs were large (US$158 versus US$51per person year; incremental cost effectiveness ratio(ICER) US$889,267 per life year gained). Both CRAG screening strategies are less costly and more clinically effective than current practice. Primary prophylaxis is more effective than current practice, but relatively cost-ineffective (ICER US$20,495). CONCLUSIONS: CRAG screening would be a cost-effective strategy to prevent CM-related mortality among patients initiating ART in South Africa. These findings provide further justification for programmatic implementation of CRAG screening.