Patient and provider delay in tuberculosis suspects from communities with a high HIV prevalence in South Africa: A cross-sectional study

BACKGROUND: Delay in the diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) results in excess morbidity and mortality, particularly among HIV-infected individuals. This study was conducted at a secondary level hospital serving communities with a high HIV prevalence in Cape Town, South Africa. The aim was to describe patient and provider delay in the diagnosis of TB in patients with suspected TB requiring admission, and to determine the risk factors for this delay and the consequences. METHODS: A cross-sectional study was conducted. Patients admitted who were TB suspects were interviewed using a structured questionnaire to assess history of their symptoms and health seeking behaviour. Data regarding TB diagnosis and outcome were obtained from the medical records. Bivariate associations were described using student's T-tests (for means), chi-square tests (for proportions), and Wilcoxon rank-sum tests (for medians). Linear regression models were used for multivariate analysis. RESULTS: One hundred twenty-five (125) patients were interviewed. In 104 TB was diagnosed and these were included in the analysis. Seventy of 83 (84%) tested were HIV-infected. Provider delay (median = 30 days, interquartile range (IQR) = 10.3-60) was double that of patient delay (median = 14 days, IQR = 7-30). Patients had a median of 3 contacts with formal health care services before referral. Factors independently associated with longer patient delay were male gender, cough and first health care visit being to public sector clinic (compared with private general practitioner). Patient delay [greater than or equal to] 14 days was associated with increased need for transfer to a TB hospital. Provider delay [greater than or equal to] 30 days was associated with increased mortality. CONCLUSION: Delay in TB diagnosis was more attributable to provider than patient delay, and provider delay was associated with increased mortality. Interventions to expedite TB diagnosis in primary care need to be developed and evaluated in this setting.