Modelling cost benefit of community-oriented primary care in rural South Africa

15 Oct 2020

BACKGROUND: Globally, rural populations have poorer health and considerably lower levels of access to healthcare compared with urban populations. Although the drive to ensure universal coverage through community healthcare worker programmes has shown significant results elsewhere, their value has yet to be realised in South Africa. AIM: The aim of this study was to determine the potential impact, cost-effectiveness and benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) of information and communications technology (ICT)-enabled community-oriented primary care (COPC) for rural and remote populations. SETTING: The Waterberg district of Limpopo province in South Africa is a rural mining area. The majority of 745 000 population are poor and in poor health. METHODS: The modelling considers condition-specific effectiveness, population age and characteristics, health-determined service demand, and costs of delivery and resources. RESULTS: Modelling showed 122 teams can deliver a full ICT-enabled COPC service package to 630 565 eligible people. Annually, at scale, it could yield 35 877 unadjusted life years saved and 994 deaths avoided at an average per capita service cost of R170.37, and R2668 per life year saved. There could be net annual savings of R120 million (R63.4m for Waterberg district) from reduced clinic (110.7m) and hospital outpatient (23 646) attendance and admissions. The service would inject R51.6m into community health worker (CHW) households and approximately R492m into district poverty reduction and economic growth. CONCLUSION: With a BCR of 3.4, ICT-enabled COPC is an affordable systemic investment in universal, pro-poor, integrated healthcare and makes community-based healthcare delivery particularly compelling in rural and remote areas.