The effect of antiretroviral treatment on health care utilization in rural South Africa: A population-based cohort study

Hontelez, J.A.C., Tanser, F., Naidu, K.K. , Pillay, D. and Bärnighausen, T. (2016) The effect of antiretroviral treatment on health care utilization in rural South Africa: A population-based cohort study. PLoS ONE, 11 (7). ISSN 1932-6203

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The effect of the rapid scale-up of vertical antiretroviral treatment (ART) programs for HIV in sub-Saharan Africa on the overall health system is under intense debate. Some have argued that these programs have reduced access for people suffering from diseases unrelated to HIV because ART programs have drained human and physical resources from other parts of the health system; others have claimed that the investments through ART programs have strengthened the general health system and the population health impacts of ART have freed up health care capacity for the treatment of diseases that are not related to HIV. To establish the population-level impact of ART programs on health care utilization in the public-sector health system, we compared trends in health care utilization among HIV-infected people receiving and not receiving ART with HIV-uninfected people during a period of rapid ART scale-up.

Methods and Findings
We used data from the Wellcome Trust Africa Centre for Population Health, which annually elicited information on health care utilization from all surveillance participants over the period 2009–2012 (N = 32,319). We determined trends in hospitalization, and public-sector and private-sector primary health care (PHC) clinic visits for HIV-infected and -uninfected people over a time period of rapid ART scale-up (2009–2012) in this community. We regressed health care utilization on HIV status and ART status in different calendar years, controlling for sex, age, and area of residence. The proportion of people who reported to have visited a public-sector primary health care (PHC) clinic in the last 6 months increased significantly over the period 2009–2012, for both HIV-infected people (from 59% to 67%; p<0.001), and HIV-uninfected people (from 41% to 47%; p<0.001). In contrast, the proportion of HIV-infected people visiting a private-sector PHC clinic declined from 22% to 12% (p<0.001) and hospitalization rates declined from 128 to 82 per 1000 PY (p<0.001). For HIV-uninfected people, the proportion visiting a private-sector PHC clinic declined from 16% to 9%, and hospitalization rates declined from 78 to 44 per 1000 PY (p<0.001). After controlling for potential confounding factors, all trends remained of similar magnitude and significance.

Our results indicate that the ART scale-up in this high HIV prevalence community has shifted health care utilization from hospitals and private-sector primary care to public-sector primary care. Remarkably, this shift is observed for both HIV-infected and -uninfected populations, supporting and extending hypotheses of ‘therapeutic citizenship’ whereby HIV-infected patients receiving ART facilitate primary care access for family and community members. One explanation of our findings is that ART has improved the capacity or quality of primary care in this community and, as a consequence, increasingly met overall health care needs at the primary care level rather than at the secondary level. Future research needs to confirm this causal interpretation of our findings using qualitative work to understand causal mechanisms or quasi-experimental quantitative studies to increase the strength of causal inference.

Additional Information:cited By 5
Divisions:College of Social Science > Lincoln Institute of Health
ID Code:37504
Deposited On:09 Oct 2019 14:22

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