A pessimistic view of the impact of armed conflicts on the control of infectious diseases has generated great interest in the role of conflicts on the global TB epidemic. Nowhere in the world is such interest more palpable than in the Horn of Africa Region, comprising Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan. An expanding literature has demonstrated that armed conflicts stall disease control programs through distraction of health system, interruption of patients' ability to seek health care, and the diversion of economic resources to military ends rather than health needs. Nonetheless, until very recently, no research has been done to address the impact of armed conflict on TB epidemics in the Somali Regional State (SRS) of Ethiopia.
Methods: This study is based on the cross-sectional data collected in 2007, utilizing structured questionnaires filled-out by a sample of 226 TB patients in the SRS of Ethiopia. Data was obtained on the delay patients experienced in receiving a diagnosis of TB, on the biomedical knowledge of TB that patients had, and the level of self-treatment by patients. The outcome variables in this study are the delay in the diagnosis of TB experienced by patients, and extent of self-treatment utilized by patients. Our main explanatory variable was place of residence, which was dichotomized as being in 'conflict zones' and in 'non-conflict zones'. Demographic data was collected for statistical control. Chi-square and Mann-Whitney tests were used on calculations of group differences. Logistic regression analysis was used to determine the association between outcome and predictor variables.
Results: Two hundred and twenty six TB patients were interviewed. The median delay in the diagnosis of TB was 120 days and 60 days for patients from conflict zones and from non-conflict zones, respectively. Moreover, 74% of the patients residing in conflict zones undertook self-treatment prior to their diagnosis. The corresponding proportion from non-conflict zones was 45%. Fully adjusted logistic regression analysis shows that patients from conflict zones had significantly greater odds of delay (OR = 3.06; 95% CI: 1.47-6.36) and higher self treatment utilization (OR = 3.34; 95% CI: 1.56-7.12) compared to those from non-conflict zones.
Conclusion: Patients from conflict zones have a longer delay in receiving a diagnosis of TB and have higher levels of self treatment utilization. This suggests that access to TB care should be improved by the expansion of user friendly directly observed therapy short-course (DOTS) in the conflict zones of the region.