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Open Access Research article

Barriers to tuberculosis care: a qualitative study among Somali pastoralists in Ethiopia

Abdi A Gele12*, Mette Sagbakken2, Fekadu Abebe2 and Gunnar A Bjune2

Author Affiliations

1 The Department of Social Science, Oslo University College, Oslo, Norway

2 Section for International Health, Department of General Practice and Community Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

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BMC Research Notes 2010, 3:86  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-3-86

Published: 30 March 2010

Abstract

Background

At the dawn of the third millennium, while the control of the second biggest infectious killer in the world (tuberculosis [TB]) is an international priority, millions of pastoralist communities in the Horn of Africa are struggling to access TB care. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of pastoralist TB patients remain to be a challenge in TB control programs in many countries in this region, where pastoralism is a common means of livelihood. Better understanding of community perceptions of TB and its management could help identify reasons for the delay in diagnosis of TB among pastoral communities. The aim of this study is to explore barriers delaying diagnosis among pastoralist TB patients in the Somali Regional State (SRS) of Ethiopia.

Methods

A qualitative study, including 19 respondents was conducted in the SRS of Ethiopia. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and informal interview techniques were employed to explore pastoralists' migration patterns, their perceptions of TB and their access to TB services. The influence of these factors on the delay of TB patients in receiving biomedical diagnosis was then assessed.

Results

We found that lack of access to formal health services as well as traditional beliefs leading to self treatment were barriers to prompt bio-medical diagnosis of TB among pastoralist TB patients in the SRS of Ethiopia. This study highlights that limited access to TB control programs is the most important barrier in early seeking of biomedical diagnosis of TB among pastoral communities with nomadic pastoralist being the most affected.

Conclusions

Diagnostic and treatment facilities should be established in strategic villages that pastoralist can reach in both dry and wet seasons. Such facilities may alleviate the observed long distance to health facilities and thus long delay in diagnosis of TB. This strategy should be compounded with a community based TB control approach, whereby basic medical training on TB management such as provision of health education, drug distribution and observations is provided to local traditional healers and religious leaders. This approach may improve pastoralists' perceptions of TB, hence eliminating the observed traditional believes associated with TB in pastoralists' context of the SRS.