Impact of the GeneXpert MTB/RIF Technology on Tuberculosis Control

Microbiol Spectr. 2017 Jan;5(1). doi: 10.1128/microbiolspec.TBTB2-0040-2016.


Molecular technology revolutionized the diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) with a paradigm shift to faster, more sensitive, clinically relevant patient care. The most recent molecular leader is the GeneXpert MTB/RIF assay (Xpert) (Cepheid, Sunnyvale, CA), which was endorsed by the World Health Organization with unprecedented speed in December 2010 as the initial diagnostic for detection of HIV-associated TB and for where high rates of drug resistance are suspected. South Africa elected to take an aggressive smear replacement approach to facilitate earlier diagnosis and treatment through the decision to implement the Xpert assay nationally in March 2011, against the backdrop of approximately 6.3 million HIV-infected individuals, one of highest global TB and HIV coinfection rates, no available implementation models, uncertainties around field performance and program costs, and lack of guidance on how to operationalize the assay into existing complex clinical algorithms. South Africa's national implementation was conducted as a phased, forecasted, and managed approach (March 2011 to September 2013), through political will and both treasury-funded and donor-funded support. Today there are 314 GeneXperts across 207 microscopy centers; over 8 million assays have been conducted, and South Africa accounts for over half the global test cartridge usage. As with any implementation of new technology, challenges were encountered, both predicted and unexpected. This chapter discusses the challenges and consequences of such large-scale implementation efforts, the opportunities for new innovations, and the need to strengthen health systems, as well as the impact of the Xpert assay on rifampin-sensitive and multidrug-resistant TB patient care that translated into global TB control as we move toward the sustainable development goals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests / methods*
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques / methods*
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / drug effects*
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / isolation & purification*
  • South Africa
  • Tuberculosis / diagnosis*
  • Tuberculosis / drug therapy*