Background: Treatment delay is an important indicator of access to tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment. Analyses of patient delay (i.e. time interval between onset of symptoms and first consultation of a health care provider) and health care delay (i.e. time interval between first consultation and start of treatment) can inform policies to improve access. This study assesses the patient, health care provider and total delay in diagnosis and treatment of new smear-positive pulmonary tuberculosis patients, and the risk factors for long delay, in Vietnam.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey of new patients treated by the National Tuberculosis Control Programme was conducted in 70 randomly selected districts in Vietnam. All consecutively registered patients in one quarter of 2002 were interviewed using a pre-coded structured questionnaire.
Results: Median (range) delay was 4 weeks (1-48) for total, 3 (1-48) weeks for patient and 1 (0-25) week for health care delay. Patients with long total delay (> or = 12 weeks, 15%) accounted for 49% of the cumulative number of delay-weeks. Independent risk factors (p < 0.05) for long total delay were female sex, middle age, remote setting, residence in the northern or central area, and initial visit to the private sector. For long patient delay (> or = 6 weeks) this was female sex, belonging to an ethnic minority, and living at > 5 km distance from a health facility or in the northern area. For long health care delay (> or = 6 weeks) this was urban setting, residence in the central area and initial visit to a communal health post, TB hospital or the private sector.
Conclusion: Analyses of patient and treatment delays can indicate target groups and areas for health education and strengthening of the referral system, in particular between the private sector and the NTP.