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TB tracer teams in South Africa: knowledge, practices and challenges of tracing TB patients to improve adherence
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    Background

    In 2008–2009 the South African National Tuberculosis (TB) Program (NTP) implemented a national pilot project, the TB Tracer Project, aiming to decrease default rates and improve patient outcomes. The current study aimed to inform the NTP by describing the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of TB program personnel involved with tracing activities.

    Methods

    A self-administered written questionnaire was sent to TB staff, managers and tracer team leaders to assess basic TB knowledge, attitudes and practices. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize results and the chi-squared statistic was used to compare responses of staff at facilities that participated in the TB Tracer Project (tracer) and those that followed standard NTP care (non-tracer).

    Results

    Of 560 total questionnaires distributed, 270 were completed and returned (response rate 48%). Total TB knowledge ranged from 70.8-86.3% correct across all response groups. However, just over half (range 50–59.3%) of each respondent group was able to correctly identify the four components of a DOT encounter. A patient no longer feeling sick was cited by 72.1% of respondents as the reason patients fail to adhere to treatment. Tracer teams were viewed as an effective means to get patients to return to treatment by 96.3% of health facility level respondents. Tracer team leaders reported concerns including lack of logistical support (41.7%), insufficient physical safety precautions (41.7%), and inadequate protection from contracting TB (39.1%). Upon patients returning to treatment at the clinic, facilities included in the TB Tracer Project were significantly more likely to discuss alternate DOTS arrangements than non-tracer facilities (79.2 vs. 66.4%, p = 0.03).

    Conclusions

    This study identified key components of knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding TB patient tracing activities in South Africa. Educating patients on the essential need to complete treatment irrespective of clinical symptoms may help improve treatment adherence. Future scale-up and integration of TB tracing activities as part of standard TB management should include provisions for standardized training of personnel on the critical elements of DOTS, and for ensuring appropriate supervision, logistical support, and physical safety and TB transmission protection of tracing teams.

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