- Brazil’s HIV/AIDS programme is a model for the rest of the world, but the cost of second-line therapies and the spread of HIV-1C could spell danger for the future
- Former manager of Botswana’s antiretroviral treatment programme describes barriers to rapid scale-up and suggest possible solutions at 2nd South African AIDS Conference
- Treatment equity in practice: how scarce resources for treatment are being used, and the ethical dilemmas that need to be debated - Part One
- Treatment equity in practice: how scarce resources for treatment are being used, and the ethical dilemmas that need to be debated - Part Two
- CDC pioneers family-based "preventive care" in Uganda as framework for rollout
- Delivering 3 X 5: what are the next steps?
- Learning from Botswana
- Professional roles and ARV provision
- Amsterdam workshop on scaling up treatment (meeting report)
Give us your views on our work
Treatment equity in practice: how scarce resources for treatment are being used, and the ethical dilemmas that need to be debated - Part Two
HATIP asked the members of its Advisory Panel whether there are explicit criteria for treatment rationing at their sites? If so, how were these chosen? Has their programme chosen to prioritise treatment of mothers or families?
Was triage part of their approach? Should available care be directed only to those with some hope of survival or a good chance of responding? How does patient "readiness" or ability to be "trained" for treatment affect decisions?
Panel responses reveal a wide range of views and practices already developing in the field.
Esselen Street Project, Hillbrow, Johannesburg
Our explicit criteria in South Africa are entirely based on medical need - CD4 <200 or AIDS-defining disease, and then willing to come for several adherence visits. There are plenty of hidden details - everything from geographical location to the number of adherence visits.
In SA, it's a function of where you live, how motivated you are to access the site, and whether you can cope with the queues.
SA's constitution does not allow discrimination on basis of demographics, [so allocation of treatment by the state on the grounds of profession or employment, or to pregnant women, would be considered discriminatory] and is thus not a subject of debate.
I desperately tried to come up with some criteria, but I'm afraid I couldn't. In my clinic, we've managed to cut waiting times to a week, so it's not an issue yet. Before that, we just pushed people into a simple queue, and hoped they lived long enough to get to the front. Brutal but simple, and I don't know of any better system at present. But mine is certainly not one I'd want to defend.
The only venture, I guess, is to debate whether people with incurable malignancies, such as KS or poorly responsive lymphoma, should not be considered. Then, I guess you could look at 'high consuming' diseases - things which are very expensive to diagnose/treat. MAI, and CMV leap to mind. But I don't like that. I think there are such disparities in the health system in SA, that asking for a rational debate ONLY in HIV seems ridiculous.
Mildmay Centre, Kampala, Uganda
The rationing criteria are not uniform in Uganda. I will mention one centre I am conversant with - The Mildmay Centre. As part of the PEPFAR programme, patients are invited on the basis of who registered first (patients were previously attending for treatment of OIs), whether they are clinically eligible and whether they have a treatment supporter. They follow a family approach. So, if a client has children or spouse(s), they are invited to test and would also benefit if they qualify. They will continue recruiting until they reach the 1000 [patients], which PEPFAR is willing to take on.
However there is also another category of people who pay for their treatment. These will start treatment as long as they clinically qualify and they do not need to have treatment supporters.
As you can see even in one institution they are combining various methods. The same is true for the whole country. I feel that no single method will be adopted, but a combination of different approaches. I disagree that queuing is biased against those who are not free to wait in a queue. What queuing should mean is that treatment is given on the basis of first to present to the treatment centre. Surely any system will include some form of queuing. There is no way one will wait for some one who "strongly" deserves but is yet to present him or her self. Finally there is need to consider the contradiction that patients who get medicines for free usually undergo different steps and procedures than those who just purchase them out of pocket.
King Edwards Hospital, KZN South Africa
The King Edward site was one of the few sites in KZN that had patients with CD4 counts documented and hence was most prepared to commence the ARV programme. About 3-4 months into the programme other sites came on board and the decision was taken by the team to refer patients to their nearest site. This I believe was implicit rationing as patients choose their site for a variety of reasons: stigma being a significant factor.
Initially the goal of the programme was to attain numbers in order to get funds and hence build infrastructure. Currently there is no assessment of the programme at this site.
I believe [that while] clinical criteria are essential to commencement of HAART, the patient "buy-in" to the treatment plan is essential. This will significantly impact on adherence and hence the success of the programme. Placing patients on ARVs solely because they are HIV-infected, should not be the only reason to commence ARVs. We [also] try to get families on board
Chances of survival in HIV infection may be be difficult to predict as great heterogeneity in treatment response has been demonstrated. The most ill patients may not be the best candidates for treatment, but I have treated patients who are extremely ill and are brought in by family members who provide tremendous support. This has resulted in treatment success. Once again being HIV-positive should not be the sole criteria as HIV therapy is different from other chronic diseases in that the effects of non-treatment or non-compliance are not manifested acutely. We need a paradigm shift in our thinking of managing a chronic disease that goes beyond just medical therapy.
Treatment Educator for the Spiritia Foundation, Jakarta, Indonesia
We have given considerable thought to this since we started a fund to provide therapy to activists in our network.. A number of basic elements show how we approached this:
1. Clinical criteria must be the basic entry point
2. There must be consideration of ability to adhere. For this reason, the recipient must have revealed status to at least one supporter, who must also agree to accept this role. Both must agree to learn about the importance of adherence.
3. There needs to be a committee who will decide on candidates. Preferably this should not include doctors or nurses who are caring for the candidate.
4. Priorities must be clear. This may include pregnant women, families with young children, and (in our case) activists - we can justify this because it is a principle of the fund.
We discussed this topic at our recent Treatment Educators' course. One major concern in our environment (not yet perhaps in Africa) is the fact that many who need treatment are drug users, either active or liable to relapse. The point is made that drug users are among the most adherent to their own regimen - they have to get their fix on time - but there is no doubt that active drug use does make adherence more difficult. But should we send active users to the end of the queue?
There is also the topic of subsidy. There are still many who believe that adherence is enhanced if people have to contribute to the cost of treatment, even though most studies fail to support this. The more people who contribute, the more people we can support. But should those who are willing to contribute go to the top of the queue? And what do we do if someone who agrees to contribute fails to do so, either for good or bad reasons?
As for triage, priority is given to those most likely to survive post treatment. This would suggest that we DON'T give priority e.g. to those with CD4s in single digits with TB. On the other hand, most such candidates don't consume the limited supplies for very long - and if they do, then you could say we've been successful.
One other point that rarely gets raised: we are effectively rationing by diagnosis. Currently less than 5000 people in Indonesia are aware that they are infected, out of an estimated 130,000. Our national objective in line with 3 by 5 is to treat 10,000 people by the end of this year. But we can't treat people who are not aware they are infected. And it's most unlikely we'll find enough this year - some estimates are that we'll need to test 500,000-1 million people to find the 10,000, and there's no way we can scale up VCT that fast. I suspect that similar situations apply in many parts of Africa. When I visited Khayalitsha, MSF noted that their waiting list was not very long, but nor was it getting longer. We need to work much harder on promoting the availability of ART, and scaling up VCT.
On the other hand, we need to be aware (or hope?) that prices will come down. There is no reason why first-line ART should be more expensive than TB treatment - we'll see prices below $50 per year well before 2010. What is going to be much more concerning is how we ration second-line and salvage therapies, which, like treatment for MDR-TB will remain very expensive. But if this therapy is needed because of lack of adherence, the chances are it will rapidly fail as well. Would this be throwing good money after bad? How do we allocate funding between first- and second-line?
Finally, we talk of the need for transparency, accountability and enforcement. Great, but... let's be realistic. These are not qualities for which our countries are well-known. We ask for policies to be made, yet many of our countries HATE to develop clear policies, since these limit the flexibility which allow priority to be given to 'certain' people. We need to be very pragmatic, and not aim for perfect systems, but provide communities with the skills to monitor what happens - yet be aware that they are equally open to 'bias'.
In the end, while we should aim (generally) for 'equity', this is pie in the sky. If we had real equity, people in the US and Europe would have the same access as those in Burundi. Some people will be treated, others not. The aim must be universal access as soon as possible, and in the meantime, well life just isn't fair.
BTW, I remember some time back a newspaper editor somewhere in Africa proposed that those who receive free therapy should be prepared to do something in return, particularly to speak out openly. Not sure that I fully agreed, but it is a valid point.
Edendale Hospital, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa:
Equity: a: justice according to natural law or right; specifically: freedom from bias or favouritism b: something that is equitable [Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary]
To me the key phrase is 'natural law or right' which suggests that superhuman standards aren't needed to achieve equity - doing the best one can under the circumstances is OK.
At the Edendale ARV Clinic we insist that patients who meet the rollout's entry criteria attend the clinic to book their first appointment - this shows us that the patient is motivated enough and mobile enough to attend the adherence training and routine follow-up appointments. Patients also need to bring their treatment supporter with them to the three training session (which increases the transport costs for the patient). The booking system works well. Thereafter, in less than 2 weeks the patient will be on ARVs. Pregnant women have their own ARV clinic run by the obstetricians, but still need to jump through the same hoops. Very ill patients, including those with malignancies, are not 'fast-tracked' through the system, and still need to complete adherence training with their supporter.
Part of my job at Edendale is to expand and improve the diabetic service - there are not enough experienced clinicians to be able to divide up the work. How should I best be spending available time: trying to improve services for HIV-infected patients or for diabetics? Inevitably one makes compromises, and tries to achieve some degree of equity between the two groups of patients. These issues have never been publicly debated, and [yet] a consensus has been reached. We are left to make the best decisions we can, and are always vulnerable to criticism that we are not doing enough.
Senior Pediatrician and Head of Pediatric HIV/AIDS service, Groote Schuur Hospital, South Africa
I have some 'big picture' thoughts on the issue of rationing, mainly to argue against those who believe that African countries have inevitably to ration access to ARVs.
An 'inclusive' view of HIV/AIDS - particularly in children - (or any other affliction, or congenital disability) is that it is society which 'has' HIV/AIDS, not the individuals who are affected. Infection of children with HIV, given the prevalence, is regarded as 'normal'.
Infected children are an inevitable part of the population. This formulation recognises infection as inherent to social structure: The pathology lies in society that has to be fixed, rather than something wrong with the individual that needs fixing. (See Herr SS, Gostin LO, Koh HH, Eds 'The human rights of persons with intellectual disabilities.' Oxford University Press 2003. (ISBN 0-19-826779-7).
The infected child is not merely a 'patient' or locus of infection, but a moral person and a participant member of society. On the argument of inclusivity, any society which 'has' HIV/AIDS, has no grounds upon which to impose rationing against individuals.
A practical formulation of the concept of equality based on well-being as an outcome - rather than a simple equal treatment formulation (which still warrants unequal treatment for those who are 'different') - contains the premise that all humans, in spite of their differences, are entitled to consideration and respect as equals. This formulation takes into account the fact that some 'different', possibly less well placed individuals may need special accommodation to benefit from treatment and care. This 'special accommodation' extends the ambit of 'responsibility for care' to extend access to treatment to those for whom economic and other social constraints (including for example orphanhood, parental substance abuse and homelessness in the case of children) would otherwise put it out of reach.
In the case of many developing countries, nullspecial accommodation' means that the affected society would have to improve primary health care in general, since gaps there will lead to rationing through lack of diagnosis (as pointed out in your article) on the one hand and a lack of health maintenance services for those on treatment on the other.
This formulation of equality requires the opposite of treatment rationing - and would obviously cost more. The inclusive view would indicate that the additional cost of this 'special accommodation' must be carried by the society in which the infection inheres. HIV/AIDS is a global disease, hence 'society' in this case means all of humanity. Where 'Pathologies of Power' (see Paul Farmer's book of this title) have contributed to the extent of the epidemic, those wielding such global power must be called to account.
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