Background: In Ethiopia, extensive scale-up of the availability of health extension workers (HEWs) at the community level has been credited with increased identification and referral of patients with presumptive tuberculosis, which has contributed to increased tuberculosis case notification and better treatment outcomes. However, nearly 30% of Ethiopia's estimated 191000 patients with tuberculosis remained unnotified in 2015. A better understanding of patient care-seeking practices may inform future government action to reach all patients with tuberculosis.
Methods: A patient-pathway analysis was completed to assess the alignment between patient care initiation and the availability of diagnostic and treatment services at the national level.
Results: More than one third of patients initiated care with HEWs, who refer patients to health centers for diagnosis. An additional one third of patients initiated care at health centers. Of those health centers, >80% had microscopy services, but few had access to Xpert. Despite an extensive microscopy and radiography network at middle levels of the health system, a quarter of all notified patients with tuberculosis had no bacteriological confirmation of disease. While 30% of patients reported receiving some form of care from the private sector, private-sector facilities, especially pharmacies, were not widely accessed for tuberculosis diagnosis.
Discussion: The availability of HEWs can increase access to tuberculosis diagnostic and treatment support services, particularly for rural populations. Continued strengthening of referral systems from HEWs and health posts are needed to enable consistent and timely access to Xpert as an initial diagnostic test and to drug resistance screening.