Background—HIV and TB services are provided free-of-charge in many sub-Saharan African countries, but patients still incur costs. Methods—Patient-exit interviews were conducted with a representative sample of 200 HIVinfected patients not yet on ART (pre-ART), 300 ART patients, and 300 TB patients receiving public sector care in rural South Africa. For each group, we calculated health expenditures across different spending categories, time spent traveling to and utilizing 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% CI 134, 207) for pre-ART, ZAR 164 (95% CI 141, 187) for ART, and ZAR 122 (95% CI 105, 140) for TB patients (p=0.01). Total monthly time costs (in hours) were: 3.4 (95% CI 3.3, 3.5) for pre-ART, 5.0 (95% CI 4.7, 5.3) for ART and 3.2 (95% CI 2.9, 3.4) for TB patients (p<0.01). Though 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, while ART patients spent ZAR 34.0 more than pre-ART patients on transport to clinics (p<0.05 for all results). 31% of pre-ART, 39% of ART and 41% of TB patients borrowed money or sold assets to finance health costs. 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 pickup 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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Department of Public Health

Chimbindi, N., Bor, J., Newell, M.-L., Tanser, F., Baltussen, R., Hontelez, J., … Bärnighausen, T. (2015). Time and money: The true costs of health care utilization for patients receiving "free" HIV/tuberculosis care and treatment in rural KwaZulu-natal. In J A I D S (Vol. 70, pp. e52–e60). Retrieved from