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Trop Med Int Health. 2012 Sep;17(9):1142-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3156.2012.03028.x. Epub 2012 Jun 12.

Scaling up Xpert MTB/RIF technology: the costs of laboratory- vs. clinic-based roll-out in South Africa.

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Health Economics and Epidemiology Research Office, Department of Medicine, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.



The World Health Organization recommends using Xpert MTB/RIF for diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB), but there is little evidence on the optimal placement of Xpert instruments in public health systems. We used recent South African data to compare the cost of placing Xpert at points of TB treatment (all primary clinics and hospitals) with the cost of placement at sub-district laboratories.


We estimated Xpert's cost/test in a primary clinic pilot and in the pilot phase of the national Xpert roll-out to smear microscopy laboratories; the expected future volumes for each of 223 laboratories or 3799 points of treatment; the number and cost of Xpert instruments required and the national cost of using Xpert for PTB diagnosis for each placement scenario in 2014.


In 2014, South Africa will test 2.6 million TB suspects. Laboratory placement requires 274 Xpert instruments, while point-of-treatment placement requires 4020 instruments. With an Xpert cartridge price of $14.00, the cost/test is $26.54 for laboratory placement and $38.91 for point-of-treatment placement. Low test volumes and a high number of sites are the major contributors to higher point-of-treatment costs. National placement of Xpert at laboratories would cost $71 million/year; point-of-treatment placement would cost $107 million/year, 51% more.


Placing Xpert technology at points of treatment is substantially more expensive than placing the instruments in smear microscopy laboratories. The incremental benefits of point-of-treatment placement, in terms of better patient outcomes, will have to be equally substantial to justify the additional cost to the national health budget.

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