Tuberculosis in Pakistan: socio-cultural constraints and opportunities in treatment

A Khan, J Walley, J Newell, N Imdad
Social Science & Medicine 2000, 50 (2): 247-54
This study explores the extent to which factors related to individuals, the care provision process, and the cultural context influence the behaviour of tuberculosis patients attending TB clinics in rural Pakistan, and examines the effects of disease on their personal lives. Thirty-six patients attending three TB treatment clinics were interviewed in depth. These patients were stratified by stage of treatment (treatment proceeding, treatment completed, default), sex and by rural/urban status. Results indicate that the majority of patients were very poor, but nonetheless initially chose to attend private practitioners. Normally their disease was correctly diagnosed as tuberculosis only after repeated visits to a succession of health care providers. Patients' knowledge about their disease was limited, and doctors gave incorrect or only very limited health education. Most patients reported dissatisfaction with care provided. Almost all patients reported problems with access to treatment, both in terms of time and money; this was particularly true of women, whose freedom to travel in Pakistan is limited. Potential causes of default appeared to be more closely linked to deficiencies in treatment provision rather than patients' unwillingness to comply. Largely because of a perception that TB was incurable, respondents were generally unwilling to disclose that they were undergoing or had undergone TB treatment. For reasons related to confidential access to treatment, this could lead to default, perpetuating the perception of incurability, and hence causing a vicious circle. For TB programmes to be successful in Pakistan, it is essential that this circle is broken; and this can only be done through provision of good quality TB care and education to improve the population's understanding that TB can be cured. In addition, patients' unwillingness to disclose to health care providers that they had already received previous treatment meant that many patients were prescribed incorrect treatment regimes, potentially leading to the emergence of drug-resistant TB. In common with other researchers' findings, no clear differences were found between those who had completed treatment and those who had defaulted from treatment. This study was performed to provide information to assist the researchers to design potential TB treatment delivery strategies, and has proved invaluable for this purpose. Strategies based on findings from the study are currently being assessed using a randomised controlled trial.

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