Objectives: Tuberculosis (TB) is estimated to be the leading cause of HIV-related deaths globally. However, since HIV-associated TB frequently remains unascertained, we systematically reviewed autopsy studies to determine the true burden of TB at death.
Methods: We systematically searched Medline and Embase databases (to end 2013) for literature reporting on health facility-based autopsy studies of HIV-infected adults and/or children in resource-limited settings. Using forest plots and random-effects meta-analysis, we summarized the TB prevalence found at autopsy and used meta-regression to explore variables associated with autopsy TB prevalence.
Results: We included 36 eligible studies, reporting on 3237 autopsies. Autopsy TB prevalence was extremely heterogeneous (range 0-64.4%), but was markedly higher in adults [pooled prevalence 39.7%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 32.4-47.0%] compared to children (pooled prevalence 4.5%, 95% CI 1.7-7.4%). Post-mortem TB prevalence varied by world region, with pooled estimates in adults of 63.2% (95% CI 57.7-68.7%) in South Asia (n = 2 studies); 43.2% (95% CI 38.0-48.3) in sub-Saharan Africa (n = 9 studies); and 27.1% (95% CI 16.0-38.1%) in the Americas (n = 5 studies). Autopsy prevalence positively correlated with contemporary estimates of national TB prevalence. TB in adults was disseminated in 87.9% (82.2-93.7%) of cases and was considered the cause of death in 91.4% (95% CI 85.8-97.0%) of TB cases. Overall, TB was the cause of death in 37.2% (95% CI 25.7-48.7%) of adult HIV/AIDS-related deaths. TB remained undiagnosed at death in 45.8% (95% CI 32.6-59.1%) of TB cases.
Conclusions: In resource-limited settings, TB accounts for approximately 40% of facility-based HIV/AIDS-related adult deaths. Almost half of this disease remains undiagnosed at the time of death. These findings highlight the critical need to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of HIV-associated TB globally.