Return on investment in needle and syringe programs in Australia: report

Quality of Life (QoL) effects of NSPs

Page last updated: 2002

Since both HIV and HCV are potentially life-threatening conditions, one of the main benefits from averting infections is the prevention of premature mortality. In addition, significant quality of life benefits may also accrue from the avoidance of HIV and HCV. The most widely used approach for estimating quality of life benefits in economic evaluations is the quality-adjusted life-year (QALY). In this approach, states of health are assigned a health state preference or 'utility' value, on a scale including 1.0 (full health) and 0 (death). The amount of time an individual spends in a given health state is then multiplied by the health state preference value to calculate the quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) gained. The main advantage of the QALY approach is that it provides one combined measure of the benefits of a program that both extends life and maintains quality of life.

Life years gained

The number of life years gained provides a measure of the additional number of years by those persons who would otherwise have been infected with HIV and HCV, but for the effect of NSPs.

The effect of NSPs in terms of life years gained is much greater for HIV than for HCV. The 25,000 persons avoiding HIV are expected to gain an additional 588,000 life years (about 23 years each) than if they had contracted HIV. In comparison, the 21,000 persons avoiding HCV are expected to gain only about 1,200 life years over their lifetime. The difference in these outcomes is essentially due to the different mortality rates associated with each disease and their rate of progression through the various stages.

Quality adjusted life years gained

The application of an adjustment factor to the number of life years gained to take account of the quality of life effects of these diseases leads to a measure referred to as Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs). QALYs gained incorporates both the quantity of life gained, and the quality of life gained by avoiding HIV and HCV.

The 25,000 persons avoiding HIV are expected to gain an additional 715,000 quality adjusted life years than if they had contracted the disease. In comparison, the 21,000 persons avoiding HCV are expected to gain about 120,000 quality adjusted life years over their lifetime. The difference between the two diseases is largely attributable to the greater effect of HIV on the "quantity" of life compared to HCV, rather than the "quality" effect.

Applying the same discount rates used in the financial analysis (viz 5%, 3% and 0%) to QALYs gained results in the figures shown in Table 3.

The analysis of the effects of HIV and HCV on both the quantity of life and the quality of life of persons with these diseases adds a further dimension to the assessment of the effect of NSPs among injecting drug users. The benefits demonstrated for consumers in terms of the number of lives saved, the number of life years gained, and the improved quality of life are additional to the direct financial benefits to governments previously identified.
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Our analysis demonstrates that NSPs have contributed significantly to:
  • The number of cases of HIV and HCV avoided;
  • A reduction in the number of deaths from HIV, and to a lesser extent from HCV;
  • An increase in the number of life years among injecting drug users, particularly from the avoidance of HIV; and
  • An improvement in the quality of life among injecting drug users who would otherwise have contracted HIV or HCV.
Each of these outcomes should be considered over and above the direct financial benefits achieved from the investment in NSPs. It is clear that if we were to place a monetary value against any of these outcomes, the financial gains already demonstrated would be significantly increased.

Table 3 Net present value (1991) of QALYs gained for HIV and HCV

Discount rateNet Present Value of QALYs gained for HIVNet Present Value of QALYs gained for HCVNet Present Value of QALYs gained for HIV and HCV
5%
138,072
32,207
170,279
3%
248,364
50,041
298,406
0%
715,245
119,992
835,237