Introduction: East Kwaio is a remote region on the island of Malaita, Solomon Islands. Atoifi Adventist Hospital (the Hospital) is the only hospital and tuberculosis (TB) services provider in the region. If people come to the Hospital with TB, they are usually admitted for the two-month intensive phase of treatment as there are no community-based TB services. Most people walk or travel by canoe to the Hospital as there are no roads. East Kwaio is known to have high rates of TB; however, it has a low case detection rate and low treatment completion. The aims of this study were to explore why people with TB, especially from the mountain areas, present to the Hospital so late in their illness or do not present at all. The study was part of a larger project to strengthen the research capacity of local health workers and community leaders, supported by visiting researchers from Australia.
Methods: Semi-structured interviews with TB patients, a focus group of key informants and direct interaction with a community with a history of TB were used to explore reasons why people present to the Hospital late in their TB illness.
Results: Four interviews and a focus group of 12 key informants were conducted and a mountain hamlet with a history of TB was visited. The results represent the data from the interviews and the focus group. The time delay in presenting to the Hospital from when participants first became unwell ranged between two and three years. In the mountain hamlet, two additional people with probable TB were seen who had not presented to the Hospital during illnesses of five and nine months. Reasons for delays included: seeking care from traditional healers; the challenge of accessing health services due to distance, cost and cultural issues different from the Hospital's worldview; social isolation when in hospital; and being old so not having long to live. Delays in diagnosis of people with TB will increase the risk of transmission to family and through hamlets and villages. This study has led to plans being developed to build a more culturally appropriate TB ward and community treatment program.
Conclusions: The study has identified TB questions that need East Kwaio answers. It has shown that a small project can inform the development of important changes to TB services, such as the redevelopment and relocation of the TB ward. To enable TB control, the local health services need to develop an understanding of, and appropriately engage with, traditional beliefs that influence how people interact with Hospital TB treatment and management. This is the case even if the beliefs are based on a worldview different than that of the health service providers. Ongoing operational research is required into TB diagnosis and treatment services and the many factors that contribute to the high TB burden in this remote area.