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Thresholds for the cost-effectiveness of interventions: alternative approaches

Elliot Marseille, Bruce Larson, Dhruv S Kazi, James G Kahn, Sydney Rosen
Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2015 February 1, 93 (2): 118-24
Many countries use the cost-effectiveness thresholds recommended by the World Health Organization's Choosing Interventions that are Cost-Effective project (WHO-CHOICE) when evaluating health interventions. This project sets the threshold for cost-effectiveness as the cost of the intervention per disability-adjusted life-year (DALY) averted less than three times the country's annual gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. Highly cost-effective interventions are defined as meeting a threshold per DALY averted of once the annual GDP per capita. We argue that reliance on these thresholds reduces the value of cost-effectiveness analyses and makes such analyses too blunt to be useful for most decision-making in the field of public health. Use of these thresholds has little theoretical justification, skirts the difficult but necessary ranking of the relative values of locally-applicable interventions and omits any consideration of what is truly affordable. The WHO-CHOICE thresholds set such a low bar for cost-effectiveness that very few interventions with evidence of efficacy can be ruled out. The thresholds have little value in assessing the trade-offs that decision-makers must confront. We present alternative approaches for applying cost-effectiveness criteria to choices in the allocation of health-care resources.


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