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Coping with Africa's increasing tuberculosis burden: are community supervisors an essential component of the DOT strategy?

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Tuberculosis incidence in Africa is increasing dramatically and fragile health systems are struggling to cope. Potential coping capacity may lie within affected communities but this capacity needs to be harnessed if tuberculosis is to be controlled. Since 1991 all patients with tuberculosis in Hlabisa health district, South Africa have been eligible for community-based directly observed therapy (DOT). Patients are supervised either by a health worker (HW) in a village clinic, or in the community by a community health worker (CHW) or a volunteer lay person (VLP). Tuberculosis incidence increased from 312 cases in 1991 to 1250 cases in 1996. By December 1995, 2622 (87%) of 3006 patients had received DOT, supervised mainly by VLP (56%) but also by HW (28%) and CHW (16%). The proportion supervised by HW fell from 46% in 1991 to 26% in 1995 (P < 0.0001). More patients supervised by VLP (85%) and CHW (88%) than by HW (79%, P= 0.0008) completed treatment. Case-holding by HW declined more between 1991 and 1995 (84% to 71%, P= 0.02) than did case-holding by both CHW (95% to 90%. P= 0.7) and VLP (88% to 84%, P= 0.4). Mortality was similar (4–6%) and stable over time, irrespective of the supervisor. High tuberculosis treatment completion rates are achievable and sustainable for several years in resource-poor settings despite a massively increased case load if community resources are harnessed. Patients may be more effectively supervised by voluntary lay people than by health workers under these circumstances, without being placed at increased risk. These findings suggest that community supervisors may be an essential component of any DOT strategy.

Keywords: South Africa; control; directly observed therapy; tuberculosis

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: 1: Centre for Epidemiological Research in Southern Africa, South African Medical Research Council, Hlabisa, South Africa, 2: Hlabisa Hospital, Hlabisa, South Africa,

Publication date: July 1, 1997

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