Evaluation of a national cryptococcal antigen screening program for HIV-infected patients in Uganda: A cost-effectiveness modeling analysis

Radha Rajasingham, David B. Meya, Gregory S. Greene, Alexander Jordan, Mina Nakawuka, Tom M. Chiller, David R. Boulware, Bruce A. Larson

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35 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Cryptococcal meningitis accounts for 15% of AIDS-related mortality. Cryptococcal antigen (CrAg) is detected in blood weeks before onset of meningitis, and CrAg positivity is an independent predictor of meningitis and death. CrAg screening for patients with advanced HIV and preemptive treatment is recommended by the World Health Organization, though implementation remains limited. Our objective was to evaluate costs and mortality reduction (lives saved) from a national CrAg screening program across Uganda.

METHODS: We created a decision analytic model to evaluate CrAg screening. CrAg screening was considered for those with a CD4<100 cells/μL per national and international guidelines, and in the context of a national HIV test-and-treat program where CD4 testing was not available. Costs (2016 USD) were estimated for screening, preemptive therapy, hospitalization, and maintenance therapy. Parameter assumptions were based on large prospective CrAg screening studies in Uganda, and clinical trials from sub Saharan Africa. CrAg positive (CrAg+) persons could be: (a) asymptomatic and thus eligible for preemptive treatment with fluconazole; or (b) symptomatic with meningitis with hospitalization.

RESULTS: In the base case model for 1 million persons with a CD4 test annually, 128,000 with a CD4<100 cells/μL were screened, and 8,233 were asymptomatic CrAg+ and received preemptive therapy. Compared to no screening and treatment, CrAg screening and treatment in the base case cost $3,356,724 compared to doing nothing, and saved 7,320 lives, for a cost of $459 per life saved, with the $3.3 million in cost savings derived from fewer patients developing fulminant meningitis. In the scenario of a national HIV test-and-treat program, of 1 million HIV-infected persons, 800,000 persons were screened, of whom 640,000 returned to clinic, and 8,233 were incident CrAg positive (CrAg prevalence 1.4%). The total cost of a CrAg screening and treatment program was $4.16 million dollars, with 2,180 known deaths. Conversely, without CrAg screening, the cost of treating meningitis was $3.09 million dollars with 3,806 deaths. Thus, despite the very low CrAg prevalence of 1.4% in the general HIV-infected population, and inadequate retention-in-care, CrAg screening averted 43% of deaths from cryptococcal meningitis at a cost of $662 per death averted.

CONCLUSION: CrAg screening and treatment programs are cost-saving and lifesaving, assuming preemptive treatment is 77% effective in preventing death, and could be adopted and implemented by ministries of health to reduce mortality in those with advanced HIV disease. Even within HIV test-and-treat programs where CD4 testing is not performed, and CrAg prevalence is only 1.4%, CrAg screening is cost-effective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0210105
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
This is an open access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.


  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections/blood
  • Adult
  • Antifungal Agents/administration & dosage
  • Antigens, Fungal/blood
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Cryptococcus/immunology
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Hospitalization/economics
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening/economics
  • Meningitis, Cryptococcal/blood
  • Models, Economic
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Prevalence
  • Program Evaluation
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Uganda/epidemiology

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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