To provide input to Australian and New Zealand government decision making regarding an optimal strategy to reduce the rate of neural tube defects (NTD).
Standard comparative health economic evaluation techniques were employed for a set of intervention options for promoting folate/folic acid consumption in women capable of or planning a pregnancy. Evidence of effectiveness was informed by the international literature and costs were derived for Australia and New Zealand.
Population-wide campaigns to promote supplement use and mandatory fortification were the most effective at reducing NTD, at an estimated 36 and 31 fewer cases per annum respectively for Australia and New Zealand, representing an 8 % reduction in the current annual NTD rate. Population-wide and targeted approaches to increase supplement use were cost-effective, at less than $AU 12 500 per disability-adjusted life year (DALY) averted ($US 9893, £5074), as was extending voluntary fortification. Mandatory fortification was not cost-effective for New Zealand at $AU 138 500 per DALY ($US 109 609, £56 216), with results uncertain for Australia, given widely varying cost estimates. Promoting a folate-rich diet was least cost-effective, with benefits restricted to impact on NTD.
Several options for reducing NTD appear to fall well within accepted societal cost-effectiveness norms. All estimates are subject to considerable uncertainty, exacerbated by possible interactions between interventions, including impacts on currently effective strategies. The Australian and New Zealand governments have decided to proceed with mandatory fortification; it is hoped they will support a rigorous evaluation which will contribute to the evidence base.
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