Using a modelling approach, David Dowdy and colleagues investigate how different implementation strategies for Xpert MTB/RIF within the complex, fragmented healthcare system of India may affect tuberculosis control.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
India has announced a goal of universal access to quality tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis and treatment. A number of novel diagnostics could help meet this important goal. The rollout of one such diagnostic, Xpert MTB/RIF (Xpert) is being considered, but if Xpert is used mainly for people with HIV or high risk of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) in the public sector, population-level impact may be limited.
Methods and Findings
We developed a model of TB transmission, care-seeking behavior, and diagnostic/treatment practices in India and explored the impact of six different rollout strategies. Providing Xpert to 40% of public-sector patients with HIV or prior TB treatment (similar to current national strategy) reduced TB incidence by 0.2% (95% uncertainty range [UR]: −1.4%, 1.7%) and MDR-TB incidence by 2.4% (95% UR: −5.2%, 9.1%) relative to existing practice but required 2,500 additional MDR-TB treatments and 60 four-module GeneXpert systems at maximum capacity. Further including 20% of unselected symptomatic individuals in the public sector required 700 systems and reduced incidence by 2.1% (95% UR: 0.5%, 3.9%); a similar approach involving qualified private providers (providers who have received at least some training in allopathic or non-allopathic medicine) reduced incidence by 6.0% (95% UR: 3.9%, 7.9%) with similar resource outlay, but only if high treatment success was assured. Engaging 20% of all private-sector providers (qualified and informal [providers with no formal medical training]) had the greatest impact (14.1% reduction, 95% UR: 10.6%, 16.9%), but required >2,200 systems and reliable treatment referral. Improving referrals from informal providers for smear-based diagnosis in the public sector (without Xpert rollout) had substantially greater impact (6.3% reduction) than Xpert scale-up within the public sector. These findings are subject to substantial uncertainty regarding private-sector treatment patterns, patient care-seeking behavior, symptoms, and infectiousness over time; these uncertainties should be addressed by future research.
The impact of new diagnostics for TB control in India depends on implementation within the complex, fragmented health-care system. Transformative strategies will require private/informal-sector engagement, adequate referral systems, improved treatment quality, and substantial resources.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Tuberculosis—a contagious bacterial disease that usually infects the lungs—is a global public health problem. Each year, about 8.7 million people develop active tuberculosis and about 1.4 million people die from the disease. Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, is spread in airborne droplets when people with active disease cough or sneeze. The characteristic symptoms of tuberculosis are a persistent cough, fever, weight loss, and night sweats. Diagnostic tests for tuberculosis include sputum smear microscopy (microscopic analysis of mucus coughed up from the lungs), the growth of M. tuberculosis from sputum samples, and new molecular tests (for example, the automated Xpert MTB/RIF test) that rapidly and accurately detect M. tuberculosis in patient samples and determine its resistance to certain antibiotics. Tuberculosis can be cured by taking several antibiotics daily for at least six months, although the recent emergence of multidrug-resistant (MDR) tuberculosis is making the disease increasingly hard to treat.
Why Was This Study Done?
About 25% of all tuberculosis cases occur in India. Most people in India with underlying tuberculosis initially seek care for cough from the private health-care sector, which comprises informal providers with no formal medical training and providers with some training in mainstream or alternative medicine. Private providers rarely investigate for tuberculosis, and patients often move between providers, with long diagnostic delays. The public sector ultimately diagnoses and treats more than half of tuberculosis cases. However, the public sector relies on sputum smear microscopy, which misses half of cases, and the full diagnostic process from symptom onset to treatment initiation can take several months, during which time individuals remain infectious. Could the rollout of molecular diagnostic tests improve tuberculosis control in India? The Indian Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) is currently introducing the Xpert MTB/RIF test (Xpert) as a rapid method for drug susceptibility testing in the public sector in people at high risk of MDR tuberculosis, but is this the most effective rollout strategy? Here, the researchers use a mathematical transmission model to investigate the likely effects of the rollout of Xpert in India using different implementation strategies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers explored the impact of several rollout strategies on the incidence of tuberculosis (the number of new cases of tuberculosis in the population per year) by developing a mathematical model of tuberculosis transmission, care-seeking behavior, and diagnostic/treatment practices in India. Compared to a baseline scenario of no improved diagnostic testing, provision of Xpert to 40% of public-sector patients at high risk of MDR tuberculosis (scenario 1, the current national strategy) reduced the incidence of tuberculosis by 0.2% and the incidence of MDR tuberculosis by 2.4%. Implementation of this strategy required 2,500 additional courses of MDR tuberculosis treatment and the continuous use of 60 Xpert machines, about half the machines procured in India during 2013. A scenario that added access to Xpert for 20% of all individuals with tuberculosis symptoms seeking diagnosis in the public sector and 20% of individuals seeking care from qualified private practitioners to scenario 1 reduced the incidence of tuberculosis by 14.1% compared to the baseline scenario but required more than 2,200 Xpert machines and reliable treatment referral. Notably, a scenario that encouraged informal providers to refer suspected tuberculosis cases to the public sector for smear-based diagnosis (no Xpert rollout) had a greater impact on the incidence of tuberculosis than Xpert scale-up within the public sector.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings are subject to considerable uncertainty because of the assumptions made in the transmission model about private-sector treatment patterns, patient care-seeking behavior, and infectiousness, and the quality of the data fed into the model. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that the rollout of Xpert (or other new diagnostic methods with similar characteristics) could substantially reduce the burden of tuberculosis due to poor diagnosis in India. Importantly, these findings highlight how the impact of Xpert rollout relies not only on the accuracy of the test but also on the behavior of patients and providers, the level of access to new tools, and the availability of treatment following diagnosis. Thus, to ensure that new diagnostic methods have the maximum impact on tuberculosis in India, it is necessary to engage the whole private health-care sector and to provide adequate referral systems, improved treatment quality, and increased resources across all health-care sectors.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001674.
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information (in several languages) on all aspects of tuberculosis, including general information on tuberculosis diagnostics and specific information on the roll out of the Xpert MTB/RIF test; further information about WHO's endorsement of Xpert MTB/RIF is included in a Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Tuberculosis report; the Global Tuberculosis Report 2013 provides information about tuberculosis around the world, including in India
The Stop TB Partnership is working towards tuberculosis elimination and provides patient stories about tuberculosis (in English and Spanish); the Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (a not-for-profit organization) also provides personal stories about tuberculosis
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about tuberculosis and its diagnosis (in English and Spanish)
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also has detailed information on all aspects of tuberculosis
TBC India provides information about tuberculosis control in India, including information on the RNTCP
The Initiative for Promoting Affordable and Quality TB Tests promotes WHO-endorsed TB tests in India
MedlinePlus has links to further information about tuberculosis (in English and Spanish)