Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease which causes about two million deaths each year. In 1993, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared TB to be a “Global Emergency” due to an increasing number of TB cases and a rise in multidrug resistant cases in the developed world. Treatment interruption was considered one of the major challenges. WHO introduced the current TB control program DOTS (directly observed treatment, short course) as the tool to control the disease. To prevent further development of resistance against anti-TB drugs it was decided to observe each patient taking their daily dose of medication. The overall aim of this thesis is to explore how patients and health workers perceive and manage TB symptoms and treatment in a high-endemic and a low-endemic setting in the era of DOT(S). The data is based on fieldwork, including in-depth interviews and focus groups with TB patients and health workers, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2001-2002) and in Oslo/Akershus, Norway (2007-2008). We found that people’s interpretation and management of TB symptoms is influenced by cultural, social and economic factors. TB was, in both contexts, associated with poverty, and subsequently with a disease that affects certain countries or certain segments of a population. TB was viewed as a severe disease in both contexts, but there was variation between individuals to what extent one considered oneself as a likely victim. In the absence of circumstantial causes, such as poverty, patients in a lowendemic setting like Norway, found it difficult to understand why they had developed the disease. There was scarce knowledge about the fact that the disease could be latent.
Awareness of early symptoms, such as persistent cough, was low in both contexts. Perceptions of vulnerability, together with the presence or absence of socio-economic barriers or enablers influenced at what time patients would seek help. The study suggests that health personnel lacked awareness or misinterpreted early symptoms of TB. In Ethiopia, lay categorizations of early TB symptoms converged with diagnostic practices in parts of the professional health sector. The diagnostic process could endure for many months after patients’ first contact with the health services. Similarly, in Norway, we found that patients’ interpretations of early symptoms often were confirmed in the meeting with health personnel. The consequences were prolonged diagnostic processes. The study shows that patients’ ability to manage TB treatment is a product of dynamic processes, in which social and economic costs and other burdens interplay over time. A decision to interrupt treatment can be shaped by past struggles and accrued costs; in which seems financially, socially or emotionally unbearable at the moment of treatment interruption. The burdens related to DOT could also be significant, in patients who did not interrupt treatment. Patients in both Ethiopia and Norway experienced an authoritarian and rigid practice of DOT, which made it difficult to simultaneously attend to demands related to treatment and demands related to other areas of life. The most vulnerable patients, such as those without permanent jobs, suffered from high economic, social and emotional costs.
In conclusion, health personal need more knowledge about typical and atypical symptoms of TB. In low-endemic settings doctors need to be trained to adjust their level of suspicion to the migration history of the patient. In high-endemic settings one should be aware that health personnel may understand and manage TB within a traditional perspective. Patients in both high- and low-endemic contexts need concrete information about the cause of TB, how it is transmitted, how symptoms can be manifested, how the disease can progress and how it can be cured. The study indicates that inequalities that predispose for TB may be reinforced in the patient’s interaction with the health services due to a rigid, disempowering practice of DOT. Subsequently, DOT per se may add to the chain of structural barriers that patients have to overcome to access and complete treatment. To ensure that TB patients complete treatment one must address the coexisting and interacting crises that follow a TB diagnosis. This could require TB programs to adopt a more holistic approach. Measures that secure early diagnosis may reduce some of the physical, psycho-social and economic costs patients face while undergoing treatment. Measures that empower patients to participate in their own health care may avoid disempowering and humiliating practices.
List of papers. Papers II-IV are removed due to copyright restrictions
I. Sagbakken, M., Frich, J.C., Bjune, G.A. (2008). Barriers and enablers in the management of tuberculosis treatment in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: a qualitative study. BMC Public Health 11;8:11 DOI 10.1186/1471-2458-8-11 This article is available from:http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/8/11
II. Sagbakken, M., Frich, J.C., Bjune, G.A. (2008). Perception and management of tuberculosis symptoms in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Qual Health Res, 18, 1356-66. DOI 10.1177/1049732308322596
III. Sagbakken, M., Bjune, G.A., Frich, J.C. (2010). Experiences of being diagnosed with tuberculosis among immigrants in Norway – Factors associated with diagnostic delay: A qualitative study. Scand J Public Health. DOI 10.1177/1403494809357101
IV. Sagbakken, M., Bjune, G.A., Frich, J.C. Patients’ and health professionals' views and experiences with tuberculosis treatment in Norway (submitted manuscript).