Background: To eliminate preventable deaths, disease and suffering due to tuberculosis (TB), improved diagnostic capacity is critical. The Cepheid Xpert® MTB/RIF assay is recommended by the World Health Organization as the initial diagnostic test for people with suspected HIV-associated TB. However, despite high expectations, its scale-up in real-world settings has faced challenges, often due to the systems that support it.
Opportunities for system strengthening: In this commentary we discuss needs and opportunities for systems strengthening to support widespread scale-up of Xpert® MTB/RIF as they relate to each step within the TB diagnostic cascade, from finding presumptive patients, to collecting, transporting and testing sputum specimens, to reporting and receiving results, to initiating and monitoring treatment and, ultimately, to ensuring successful and timely treatment and cure. Investments in evidence-based interventions at each step along the cascade and within the system as a whole will augment not only the utility of Xpert® MTB/RIF, but also the successful implementation of future diagnostic tests.
Conclusion: Xpert® MTB/RIF will only improve patient outcomes if optimally implemented within the context of strong TB programs and systems. Roll-out of this technology to people living with HIV and others in resource-limited settings offers the opportunity to leverage current TB and HIV laboratory, diagnostic and programmatic investments, while also addressing challenges and strengthening coordination between laboratory systems, laboratory-program interfaces, and TB-HIV program interfaces. If successful, the benefits of this tool could extend beyond progress towards global End TB Strategy goals, to improve system-wide capacity for global disease detection and control.