Background: A key component of the DOTS strategy for tuberculosis control (short-course chemotherapy following WHO guidelines) is direct observation of treatment. WHO technical guidelines recommend that health workers should undertake this part of the strategy, but will also accept direct observation of treatment in the community; WHO does not think that a family member should undertake this role. Supporting evidence for these recommendations is not available. The Nepal national tuberculosis programme asked us to develop and test a strategy of direct observation of treatment for the hill districts of Nepal, where direct observation of treatment by health workers is not feasible. We aimed to assess the success rates of two DOTS strategies developed for such areas.
Methods: Between mid-July, 2002, and mid-July, 2003, we undertook a cluster-randomised controlled trial to compare two strategies—community DOTS and family-member DOTS—in ten hill and mountain districts of Nepal. Districts were used as the unit of randomisation. Primary outcome was success rate (proportion of registered patients who achieved cure or completed treatment), and analysis was by intention to treat.
Findings: Five districts (549 patients) were allocated to community DOTS and five (358 patients) were allocated family-member DOTS. Community DOTS and family-member DOTS achieved success rates of 85% and 89%, respectively (odds ratio of success for community DOTS relative to family-member DOTS, 0·67 [95% CI 0·41-1·10]; p=0·09). Estimated case-finding rates were 63% with the community strategy and 44% with family-member DOTS.
Interpretation: The family-member DOTS and community DOTS strategies can both attain international targets for treatment success under programme conditions, and thus are appropriate for the hill and mountain districts of Nepal. Both strategies might also be appropriate in other parts of the world where directly observed treatment by health workers is not feasible. Our findings lend support to adoption of this patient-responsive approach to direct observation of treatment within global tuberculosis control policy.
Lancet (2006) 367 (9514) 903-909 [DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68380-3]