Background: Although new molecular diagnostic tests such as GenoType MTBDRplus and Xpert® MTB/RIF have reduced multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) treatment initiation times, patients' experiences of diagnosis and treatment initiation are not known. This study aimed to explore and compare MDR-TB patients' experiences of their diagnostic and treatment initiation pathway in GenoType MTBDRplus and Xpert® MTB/RIF-based diagnostic algorithms.
Methods: The study was undertaken in Cape Town, South Africa where primary health-care services provided free TB diagnosis and treatment. A smear, culture and GenoType MTBDRplus diagnostic algorithm was used in 2010, with Xpert® MTB/RIF phased in from 2011-2013. Participants diagnosed in each algorithm at four facilities were purposively sampled, stratifying by age, gender and MDR-TB risk profiles. We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews using a semi-structured interview guide. Through constant comparative analysis we induced common and divergent themes related to symptom recognition, health-care access, testing for MDR-TB and treatment initiation within and between groups. Data were triangulated with clinical information and health visit data from a structured questionnaire.
Results: We identified both enablers and barriers to early MDR-TB diagnosis and treatment. Half the patients had previously been treated for TB; most recognised recurring symptoms and reported early health-seeking. Those who attributed symptoms to other causes delayed health-seeking. Perceptions of poor public sector services were prevalent and may have contributed both to deferred health-seeking and to patient's use of the private sector, contributing to delays. However, once on treatment, most patients expressed satisfaction with public sector care. Two patients in the Xpert® MTB/RIF-based algorithm exemplified its potential to reduce delays, commencing MDR-TB treatment within a week of their first health contact. However, most patients in both algorithms experienced substantial delays. Avoidable health system delays resulted from providers not testing for TB at initial health contact, non-adherence to testing algorithms, results not being available and failure to promptly recall patients with positive results.
Conclusion: Whilst the introduction of rapid tests such as Xpert® MTB/RIF can expedite MDR-TB diagnosis and treatment initiation, the full benefits are unlikely to be realised without reducing delays in health-seeking and addressing the structural barriers present in the health-care system.