Open Access Open Badges Research article

Tuberculosis treatment discontinuation and symptom persistence: an observational study of Bihar, India’s public care system covering >100,000,000 inhabitants

Kimberly S Babiarz1, Sze-chuan Suen2 and Jeremy D Goldhaber-Fiebert1*

Author Affiliations

1 Centers for Health Policy and Primary Care and Outcomes Research, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

2 Department of Management Science and Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:418  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-418

Published: 1 May 2014



The effectiveness of India’s TB control programs depend critically on patients completing appropriate treatment. Discontinuing treatment prior to completion can leave patients infectious and symptomatic. Developing strategies to reduce early discontinuation requires characterizing its patterns and their link to symptom persistence.


The 2011 BEST-TB survey (360 clusters, 11 districts) sampled patients (n = 1007) from Bihar’s public healthcare system who had initiated treatment >6 months prior to being interviewed, administering questionnaires to patients about TB treatment duration and symptoms, prior treatment, and sociodemographic characteristics. Multivariate logistic regression models estimated the risk of treatment discontinuation for these characteristics. Similar models estimated probabilities of symptom persistence to 25 weeks post-treatment initiation adjusting for the same predictors and treatment duration. All models included district fixed effects, robust standard errors, and adjustments for the survey sampling design. Treatment default timing and symptom persistence relied solely on self-report.


24% of patients discontinued treatment prior to 25 weeks. Higher likelihood of discontinuation occurred in those who had failed to complete previous TB treatment episodes (aOR: 4.77 [95% CI: 1.98 – 11.53]) and those seeing multiple providers (3.67 per provider [1.94 – 6.95]). Symptoms persisted in 42% of patients discontinuing treatment within 5 weeks versus 28% for completing 25 weeks of treatment. Symptom persistence was more likely for those with prior TB treatment (aOR: 5.05 [1.90 – 13.38]); poorer patients (2.94 [1.51 – 5.72]); and women (1.79 [1.07 – 2.99]). Predictors for treatment discontinuation prior to 16 weeks were similar.


Premature TB treatment discontinuation and symptom persistence is particularly high among individuals who have failed to complete treatment for a prior episode. Strategies to identify and promote treatment completion in this group appear promising. Likewise, effective TB regimens of shortened duration currently in trials may eventually help to achieve higher treatment completion rates.

Tuberculosis; Treatment discontinuation; Treatment default; Symptom persistence; Treatment duration; India