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Pathways to care and preferences for improving tuberculosis services among tuberculosis patients in Zambia: A discrete choice experiment.

Abstract

Background

Delays in the diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) contribute to a substantial proportion of TB-related mortality, especially among people living with HIV (PLHIV). We sought to characterize the diagnostic journey for HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients with a new TB diagnosis in Zambia, to understand drivers of delay, and characterize their preferences for service characteristics to inform improvements in TB services.

Methods

We assessed consecutive adults with newly microbiologically-confirmed TB at two public health treatment facilities in Lusaka, Zambia. We administered a survey to document critical intervals in the TB care pathway (time to initial care-seeking, diagnosis and treatment initiation), identify bottlenecks and their reasons. We quantified patient preferences for a range of characteristics of health services using a discrete choice experiment (DCE) that assessed 7 attributes (distance, wait times, hours of operation, confidentiality, sex of provider, testing incentive, TB test speed and notification method).

Results

Among 401 patients enrolled (median age of 34 years, 68.7% male, 46.6% HIV-positive), 60.9% and 39.1% were from a first-level and tertiary hospital, respectively. The median time from symptom onset to receipt of TB treatment was 5.0 weeks (IQR: 3.6-8.0) and was longer among HIV-positive patients seeking care at a tertiary hospital than HIV-negative patients (6.4 vs. 4.9 weeks, p = 0.002). The time from symptom onset to initial presentation for evaluation accounted for the majority of time until treatment initiation (median 3.0 weeks, IQR: 1.0-5.0)-an important minority of 11.0% of patients delayed care-seeking ≥8 weeks. The DCE found that patients strongly preferred same-day TB test results (relative importance, 37.2%), facilities close to home (18.0%), and facilities with short wait times (16.9%). Patients were willing to travel to a facility up to 7.6 kilometers further away in order to access same-day TB test results. Preferences for improving current TB services did not differ according to HIV status.

Conclusions

Prolonged intervals from TB symptom onset to treatment initiation were common, especially among PLHIV, and were driven by delayed health-seeking. Addressing known barriers to timely diagnosis and incorporating patients' preferences into TB services, including same-day TB test results, may facilitate earlier TB care engagement in high burden settings.

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