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Free Content Factors associated with patient and health system delays in the diagnosis of tuberculosis in South India

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OBJECTIVES: To investigate the factors associated with delay in 1) care-seeking (patient delay), and 2) diagnosis by health providers (health system delay), among smear-positive tuberculosis patients, before large-scale DOTS implementation in South India.

METHODS: New smear-positive patients were interviewed using a structured questionnaire.

RESULTS: Among 531 participants, the median patient, health system and total delays were 20, 23 and 60 days, respectively. Twenty-nine per cent of patients delayed seeking care for >1 month, of whom 40% attributed the delay to their lack of awareness about TB. Men postponed seeking care for longer periods than women (P = 0.07). In multivariate analysis, the patient delay was greater if the patient had initially consulted a government provider (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 2.2, P ≤ 0.001), resided at a distance >2 km from a health facility (AOR 1.6, P = 0.04), and was an alcoholic (AOR 1.6, P = 0.04). Health system delay was >7 days among 69% of patients. Factors associated with health system delay were: first consultation with a private provider (AOR 4.0, P < 0.001), a shorter duration of cough (AOR 2.6, P = 0.001), alcoholism (P = 0.04) and patientÕs residence >2 km from a health facility (AOR 1.8, P = 0.02). The total delay resulted largely from a long patient delay when government providers were consulted first, and a long health system delay when private providers were consulted first.

CONCLUSION: Public awareness about chest symptoms and the availability of free diagnostic services should be increased. Government and private physicians should be educated to be aware about the possibility of tuberculosis when examining out-patients. Effective referrals for smear microscopy should be developed between private and public providers.
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Keywords: India; factors for delay; health system delay; patient delay; tuberculosis

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: 1: Tuberculosis Research Centre (TRC), Indian Council of Medical Research, Chennai, India 2: World Health Organization, SEARO, New Delhi, India

Publication date: 2002-09-01

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  • The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease publishes articles on all aspects of lung health, including public health-related issues such as training programmes, cost-benefit analysis, legislation, epidemiology, intervention studies and health systems research. The IJTLD is dedicated to the continuing education of physicians and health personnel and the dissemination of information on tuberculosis and lung health world-wide.

    Certain IJTLD articles are selected for translation into French, Spanish, Chinese or Russian. They are available on the Union website

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