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Open Access Research article

The importance of providing counselling and financial support to patients receiving treatment for multi-drug resistant TB: mixed method qualitative and pilot intervention studies

Sushil C Baral1, Yeshoda Aryal1, Rekha Bhattrai1, Rebecca King2 and James N Newell2*

Author Affiliations

1 Health Research and Social Development Forum, PO Box 24133, Thapathali, Kathmandu, Nepal

2 Nuffield Centre for International Health & Development, Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, University of Leeds, 101 Clarendon Road, Leeds LS2 9LJ, UK

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:46  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-46

Published: 17 January 2014

Abstract

Background

People with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in low-income countries face many problems during treatment, and cure rates are low. The purpose of the study was (a) to identify and document the problems experienced by people receiving care for MDR-TB, and how they cope when support is not provided, to inform development of strategies; (b) to estimate the effectiveness of two resultant strategies, counselling alone, and joint counselling and financial support, of increasing DOTS-plus treatment success under routine programme conditions.

Methods

A mixed-method study comprising a formative qualitative study, pilot intervention study and explanatory qualitative study to better understand barriers to completion of treatment for MDR-TB. Participants were all people starting MDR-TB treatment in seven DOTS-plus centres in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal during January to December 2008. The primary outcome measure was cure, as internationally defined.

Results

MDR-TB treatment caused extreme social, financial and employment hardship. Most patients had to move house and leave their job, and reported major stigmatisation. They were concerned about the long-term effects of their disease, and feared infecting others. In the resultant pilot intervention study, the two strategies appeared to improve treatment outcomes: cure rates for those receiving counselling, combined support and no support were 85%, 76% and 67% respectively. Compared with no support, the (adjusted) risk ratios of cure for those receiving counselling and receiving combined support were 1.2 (95% CI 1.0 to 1.6) and 1.2 (95% CI 0.9 to 1.6) respectively. The explanatory study demonstrated that patients valued both forms of support.

Conclusions

MDR-TB patients are extremely vulnerable to stigma and extreme financial hardship. Provision of counselling and financial support may not only reduce their vulnerability, but also increase cure rates. National Tuberculosis Programmes should consider incorporating financial support and counselling into MDR-TB care: costs are low, and benefits high, especially since costs to society of incomplete treatment and potential for incurable TB are extremely high.