Open Access Research article

Potential impact of task-shifting on costs of antiretroviral therapy and physician supply in Uganda

Joseph B Babigumira1*, Barbara Castelnuovo2, Mohammed Lamorde2, Andrew Kambugu2, Andy Stergachis3, Philippa Easterbrook2 and Louis P Garrison1

Author Affiliations

1 Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research and Policy Program, School of Pharmacy, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

2 Infectious Diseases Institute, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

3 Departments of Epidemiology and Global Health, School of Public Health & Community Pharmacy, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:192  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-192

Published: 21 October 2009



Lower-income countries face severe health worker shortages. Recent evidence suggests that this problem can be mitigated by task-shifting--delegation of aspects of health care to less specialized health workers. We estimated the potential impact of task-shifting on costs of antiretroviral therapy (ART) and physician supply in Uganda. The study was performed at the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) clinic, a large urban HIV clinic.


We built an aggregate cost-minimization model from societal and Ministry of Health (MOH) perspectives. We compared physician-intensive follow-up (PF), the standard of care, with two methods of task-shifting: nurse-intensive follow-up (NF) and pharmacy-worker intensive follow-up (PWF). We estimated personnel and patient time use using a time-motion survey. We obtained unit costs from IDI and the literature. We estimated physician personnel impact by calculating full time equivalent (FTE) physicians saved. We made national projections for Uganda.


Annual mean costs of follow-up per patient were $59.88 (societal) and $31.68 (medical) for PF, $44.58 (societal) and $24.58 (medical) for NF and $18.66 (societal) and $10.5 (medical) for PWF. Annual national societal ART follow-up expenditure was $5.92 million using PF, $4.41 million using NF and $1.85 million using PWF, potentially saving $1.51 million annually by using NF and $4.07 million annually by using PWF instead of PF. Annual national MOH expenditure was $3.14 million for PF, $2.43 million for NF and $1.04 for PWF, potentially saving $0.70 million by using NF and $2.10 million by using PWF instead of PF. Projected national physician personnel needs were 108 FTE doctors to implement PF and 18 FTE doctors to implement NF or PWF. Task-shifting from PF to NF or PWF would potentially save 90 FTE physicians, 4.1% of the national physician workforce or 0.3 FTE physicians per 100,000 population.


Task-shifting results in substantial cost and physician personnel savings in ART follow-up in Uganda and can contribute to mitigating the heath worker crisis.