Multiple perspectives on diagnosis delay for tuberculosis from key stakeholders in poor rural China: case study in four provinces

Fei Yan, Rachael Thomson, Shenglan Tang, Stephen Bertel Squire, Wei Wang, Xiaoyun Liu, Youlong Gong, Fengzeng Zhao, Rachel Tolhurst
Health Policy 2007, 82 (2): 186-99
This study aims to understand the contextual barriers to accessing timely TB diagnosis after first seeking care, especially among the poor and vulnerable in rural China. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used to elicit the experiences and perspectives of TB patients and suspected TB patients, community residents, health providers and policy makers in poor, rural areas of four provinces. Between 30 and 60% of patients across the four provinces experienced a delay in receiving a diagnosis after first seeking care. Most patients had to visit health facilities more than once before diagnosis, with 17-30% patients making more than 6 visits. These delays and multiple visits mainly occurred because of the limited capacity of health providers to recognize TB, and financial disincentives to refer patients to TB dispensaries, due to the pressures of the cost recovery system. Poverty and socio-economic disadvantage amongst patients also influenced their capability to seek further care to obtain a reliable diagnosis. Qualitative data showed that women and the elderly patients were likely to experience more 'system' delay, and these findings were to some extent supported by the survey. The study concludes that 'system' delay is a serious problem, which is influenced by the financing mechanisms for both TB control and general health services as well as poverty and disadvantage amongst patients. This requires a comprehensive strategy to shorten 'system' delay in order to enable successful DOTS expansion, including developing appropriate financing mechanisms to improve general provider capacity and encourage referral, as well as measures to improve financial and social access to services for potential TB patients.

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