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Are free anti-tuberculosis drugs enough? An empirical study from three cities in China

Future Health Systems

Chen S, Zhang H, Pan Y, Long Q, Xiang L, Yao L and Lucas H (2015) Are free anti-tuberculosis drugs enough? An empirical study from three cities in China, Infectious Diseases of Poverty, 4:47, doi:10.1186/s40249-015-0080-y


Background: Tuberculosis (TB) patients in China still face a number of barriers in seeking diagnosis and treatment. There is evidence that the economic burden on TB patients and their households discourages treatment compliance.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted in three cities of China. Patients were selected using probability proportional to size (PPS) cluster sampling of rural townships or urban streets, followed by list sampling from a patient register. Data were collected using a questionnaire survey, key informant interviews and focus group discussions with TB patients to gain an understanding of the economic burden of TB and implications of this burden for treatment compliance.

Results: A total of 797 TB patients were surveyed, of which 60 were interviewed in-depth following the survey. More than half had catastrophic health expenditure. TB patients with higher household incomes were less likely to report non-compliance (OR 0.355, 95 % CI 0.140–0.830) and patients who felt that the economic burden relating to TB treatment was high more likely to report non-compliance (OR 3.650, 95 % CI 1.278–12.346). Those who had high costs for transportation, lodging and food were also more likely to report non-compliance (OR 4.150, 95 % CI 1.804–21.999). The findings from the qualitative studies supported those from the survey.

Conclusion: The economic burden associated with seeking diagnosis and treatment remains a barrier for TB patients in China. Reducing the cost of treatment and giving patients subsidies for transportation, lodging and food is likely to improve treatment compliance. Improving doctors’ salary system to cut off the revenue-oriented incentive, and expanding current insurance’s coverage can be helpful to reduce patients’ actual burden or anticipated burden. Future research on this issue is needed.