What is the limit to case detection under the DOTS strategy for tuberculosis control?

Christopher Dye, Catherine J Watt, Daniel M Bleed, Brian G Williams
Tuberculosis 2003, 83 (1): 35-43
In year 2000, the WHO DOTS strategy for tuberculosis (TB) control had been adopted by 148 out of 212 countries, but only 27% of all estimated sputum smear-positive patients were notified under DOTS in that year. Here we investigate the way in which gains in case detection under DOTS were made up until 2000 in an attempt to anticipate future progress towards the global target of 70% case detection. The analysis draws on annual reports of DOTS geographical coverage and case notifications, and focuses on the 22 high-burden countries (HBCs) that account for about 80% of new TB cases arising globally each year. Our principal observation is that, as TB programmes in the 22 HBCs have expanded geographically, the fraction of the estimated number of sputum smear-positive cases detected within designated DOTS areas has remained constant at 40-50% although there are significant differences between countries. This fraction is about the same as the percentage of all smear-positive cases notified annually to WHO via public health systems worldwide. The implication is that, unless the DOTS strategy can reach beyond traditional public health reporting systems, or unless these systems can be improved, case detection will not rise much above 40% in the 22 HBCs, or in the world as a whole, even when the geographical coverage of DOTS is nominally 100%. We estimate that, under full DOTS coverage, three-quarters of the undetected smear-positive cases will be living in India, China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Pakistan. But case detection could also remain low in countries with smaller populations: in year 2000, over half of all smear-positive TB cases were living in 49 countries that detected less than 40% of cases within DOTS areas. Substantial efforts are therefore needed (a) to develop new case finding and management methods to bridge the gap between current and target case detection, and (b) to improve the accuracy of national estimates of TB incidence, above all by reinforcing and expanding routine surveillance.

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