BackgroundRecently, a global commitment has been made to expand access to antiretrovirals (ARVs) in the developing world. However, in many resource-constrained countries the number of individuals infected with HIV in need of treatment will far exceed the supply of ARVs, and only a limited number of health-care facilities (HCFs) will be available for ARV distribution. Deciding how to allocate the limited supply of ARVs among HCFs will be extremely difficult. Resource allocation decisions can be made on the basis of many epidemiological, ethical, or preferential treatment priority criteria.
Methods and findingsHere we use operations research techniques, and we show how to determine the optimal strategy for allocating ARVs among HCFs in order to satisfy the equitable criterion that each individual infected with HIV has an equal chance of receiving ARVs. We present a novel spatial mathematical model that includes heterogeneity in treatment accessibility. We show how to use our theoretical framework, in conjunction with an equity objective function, to determine an optimal equitable allocation strategy (OEAS) for ARVs in resource-constrained regions. Our equity objective function enables us to apply the egalitarian principle of equity with respect to access to health care. We use data from the detailed ARV rollout plan designed by the government of South Africa to determine an OEAS for the province of KwaZulu-Natal. We determine the OEAS for KwaZulu-Natal, and we then compare this OEAS with two other ARV allocation strategies: (i) allocating ARVs only to Durban (the largest urban city in KwaZulu-Natal province) and (ii) allocating ARVs equally to all available HCFs. In addition, we compare the OEAS to the current allocation plan of the South African government (which is based upon allocating ARVs to 17 HCFs). We show that our OEAS significantly improves equity in treatment accessibility in comparison with these three ARV allocation strategies. We also quantify how the size of the catchment region surrounding each HCF, and the number of HCFs utilized for ARV distribution, alters the OEAS and the probability of achieving equity in treatment accessibility. We calculate that in order to achieve the greatest degree of treatment equity for individuals with HIV in KwaZulu-Natal, the ARVs should be allocated to 54 HCFs and each HCF should serve a catchment region of 40 to 60 km.
ConclusionOur OEAS would substantially improve equality in treatment accessibility in comparison with other allocation strategies. Furthermore, our OEAS is extremely different from the currently planned strategy. We suggest that our novel methodology be used to design optimal ARV allocation strategies for resource-constrained countries.