Objective: Previous economic analyses of tuberculosis control interventions have focused on the provider perspective. To assess the overall economic impact of the disease and the adequacy of current control strategies from a societal viewpoint, the determination of direct and indirect patient costs is required.
Setting and design: In a cross-sectional survey, all adult tuberculosis patients who completed treatment between August 1996 and February 1997 at 16 randomly selected government health care facilities in Thailand (n = 673) were interviewed using a structured questionnaire. Information were obtained on direct and indirect patient costs before and after diagnosis, and on financing methods and changes in household consumption patterns. All results were stratified for three levels of patient household income: above national average, below national average but above the poverty line, and below the poverty line.
Results: Illness-related costs particularly affected patients with incomes below the poverty line (n = 153). In this group, average out-of-pocket expenditures for the disease amounted to more than 15% of annual household income, while incomes were reduced by 5 % due to illness-related effects. Expenditures were most frequently financed from household savings or transfer payments from community members and relatives. However, 11.8% of patient households took out bank loans, and 15.9% sold part of their property.
Conclusion: The current low case detection and treatment completion rates for tuberculosis patients in Thailand may partly be due to the inability of poor patients to cope with the economic consequences of diagnosis and treatment. Suggested improvements include the strict enforcement of an existing government policy of free care, the further decentralization of services to reduce travel costs and work absences, and social security payments for patients undergoing treatment.