Tuberculosis (TB) is a major public health problem in developing countries. Following the disruption to health services in East Timor due to violent political conflict in 1999, the National Tuberculosis Control Program was established, with a local non-government organisation as the lead agency. Within a few months, the TB program was operational in all districts.
Methods and Findings
Using the East Timor TB program as a case study, we have examined the enabling factors for the implementation of this type of communicable disease control program in a post-conflict setting. Stakeholder analysis was undertaken, and semi-structured interviews were conducted in 2003 with 24 key local and international stakeholders. Coordination, cooperation, and collaboration were identified as major contributors to the success of the TB program. The existing local structure and experience of the local non-government organisation, the commitment among local personnel and international advisors to establishing an effective program, and the willingness of international advisers and local counterparts to be flexible in their approach were also important factors. This success was achieved despite major impediments, including mass population displacement, lack of infrastructure, and the competing interests of organisations working in the health sector.
Five years after the conflict, the TB program continues to operate in all districts with high notification rates, although the lack of a feeling of ownership by government health workers remains a challenge. Lessons learned in East Timor may be applicable to other post-conflict settings where TB is highly prevalent, and may have relevance to other disease control programs.
A qualitative study of re-introduction of tuberculosis services in East Timor in 1999, after a period of civil conflict, concluded coordination, cooperation, and collaboration contributed to the success achieved.
Tuberculosis is an infectious disease and one of the world's most serious health problems. It causes between 2 million and 3 million deaths every year, most of them in developing countries. The success of national control programs has varied considerably between countries. In times of war or other emergencies, control efforts are considerably hampered. East Timor is a former Portuguese colony in Southeast Asia annexed by Indonesia in 1975. It is a small country of about 1 million people situated some 500 miles northwest of Australia. In 1999, following a referendum on independence from Indonesia, violent civil conflict led to the destruction of much of East Timor's health-care system. As tuberculosis was known to be one of the country's biggest health problems, efforts to improve treatment were launched during the transition to independence in 2002. Several organizations, led by a local non-government organization (NGO), Caritas East Timor, collaborated in the new program. Many difficulties had to be overcome, including the forced movement of people away from their homes during the fighting, the departure of many health-care workers from the country, and the destruction of health-care facilities. Nevertheless, in its first three years the program diagnosed and commenced treatment on 10,722 patients. The rate of treatment success reached 81% in 2003, which—in international terms—is regarded as very high.
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers wanted to find out from the people involved with the program how well they thought it was performing, what its strengths were, and what remained to be achieved. The lessons learned could be of use in other countries, particularly those recovering from civil conflict and other emergencies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In 2003, the researchers reviewed all available documents that had been written about the tuberculosis program. They also carried out interviews with 24 senior people involved with the program. Some of them were East Timorese, and some were from international organizations. The questions asked in the interviews were semi-structured. In other words, the researchers wanted to make sure that certain topics were covered but also wanted the people they questioned to have freedom in the way they gave their answers; they were not restricted to answering only “yes” or “no.” This kind of approach, where there is no gathering of precise figures that can be mathematically analyzed, is known as qualitative research.
The national tuberculosis program was considered to be working well in 2003. The researchers concluded that good coordination, cooperation, and collaboration were the most important factors contributing to the successes that had been achieved. The existing local structure and experience of the local NGO, the commitment among local personnel and international advisors to establishing an effective program, and the willingness of international advisers and local counterparts to be flexible in their approach were also important factors. The feeling among some government health workers that they lacked “ownership” of the program was one problem that still needed to be overcome.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Even after a major conflict, it was possible to launch an effective tuberculosis program in East Timor. Other countries in similar situations might be able to achieve success by applying the same approach. Unfortunately, renewed conflict broke out in East Timor in 2006. It will again be necessary to restore services, putting to use the lessons already learned.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030383.
Basic information about tuberculosis can be found on the Web site of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
The Web site of the World Health Organization's Stop TB department describes the recommended strategies for tuberculosis control
TB Alert, a UK-based charity that promotes tuberculosis awareness worldwide, has information on tuberculosis in several European, African, and Asian languages
A country profile of East Timor is available on the BBC Web site