Rationale: India is experiencing a regional increase in cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). Objectives: Given the complexity of MDR-TB diagnosis and care, we sought to address key knowledge gaps in MDR risk factors, care delays, and drivers of delay to help guide disease control. Methods: From January 2018 to September 2019, we conducted interviews with adults registered with the National TB Elimination Program for MDR (n = 128) and non-MDR-TB (n = 269) treatment to quantitatively and qualitatively study care pathways. We collected treatment records and GeneXpert-TB/RIF diagnostic reports. Measurements and Main Results: MDR-TB was associated with young age and crowded residence. GeneXpert rifampicin resistance diversity was measured at 72.5% Probe E. Median time from symptom onset to diagnosis of MDR was 90 days versus 60 days for non-MDR, Wilcoxon P < 0.01. Delay decreased by a median of 30 days among non-MDR patients with wider access to GeneXpert, Wilcoxon P = 0.02. Pathways to care were complex, with a median (interquartile range) of 4 (3-5) and 3 (2-4) encounters for MDR and non-MDR, respectively. Of patients with MDR-TB, 68% had their first encounter in the private sector, and this was associated with a larger number of subsequent healthcare encounters and catastrophic expenditure. Conclusions: The association of MDR with young age, crowding, and low genotypic diversity raises concerns of ongoing MDR transmission fueled by long delays in care. Delays are decreasing with GeneXpert use, suggesting the need for routine use in presumptive TB. Qualitatively, we identify the need to improve patient retention in the National TB Elimination Program and highlight patients' trust relationship with private providers.
Keywords: National TB Elimination Program; delays; multidrug-resistant tuberculosis; pathways; private sector.