Setting: Tiruvallur District, south India.
Objectives: To examine gender differences in tuberculosis among adults aged >14 years with respect to infection and disease prevalence, health care service access, care seeking behaviour, diagnostic delay, convenience of directly observed treatment (DOT), stigma and treatment adherence.
Methods: Data were collected from 1) community survey, 2) self-referred out-patients seeking care at governmental primary health institutions (PHIs), 3) tuberculosis suspects referred for sputum microscopy at PHIs, and 4) tuberculosis patients notified under DOTS. Community survey results were compared with those for patients notified at PHIs.
Results: In the community, 66% of males and 57% of females had tuberculosis infection. The prevalence of smear-positive tuberculosis was 568 and 87/100,000, respectively, among males and females. Fewer males than females attended PHIs (68 men for every 100 women). Females constituted 13% of all smear-positive patients detected in the community survey, and 20% of those detected at PHIs (P < 0.05). The probability of notification decreased significantly with age among both males and females. Significantly more females than males felt inhibited discussing their illness with family (21% vs. 14%) and needed to be accompanied for DOT (11% vs. 6%). Males had twice the risk of treatment default than females (19% vs. 8%; P < 0.01).
Conclusions: Despite facing greater stigma and inconvenience, women were more likely than men to access health services, be notified under DOTS and adhere to treatment. Men and elderly patients need additional support to access diagnostic and DOT services.