Coping with Africa's increasing tuberculosis burden: Are community supervisors an essential component of the DOT strategy?

David Wilkinson*, Geraint R. Davies

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


Tuberculosis incidence in Africa is increasing dramatically and fragile health systems are struggling to cope. Potential coping capacity may lie within affected communities but this capacity needs to be harnessed if tuberculosis is to be controlled. Since 1991 all patients with tuberculosis in Hlabisa health district, South Africa have been eligible for community-based directly observed therapy (DOT). Patients are supervised either by a health worker (HW) in a village clinic, or in the community by a community health worker (CHW) or a volunteer lay person (VLP). Tuberculosis incidence increased from 312 cases in 1991 to 1230 cases in 1996. By December 1995, 2622 (87%) of 3006 patients had received DOT, supervised mainly by VLP (56%) but also by HW (28%) and CHW (16%). The proportion supervised by HW fell from 46% in 1991 to 26% in 1995 (P < 0.0001). More patients supervised by VLP (85%) and CHW (88%) than by HW (79%, P = 0.0008) completed treatment. Case-holding by HW declined more between 1991 and 1995 (84% to 71%, P = 0.02) than did case-holding by both CHW (95% to 90%, P = 0.7) and VLP (88% to 84%, P = 0.4). Mortality was similar (4-6%) and stable over time, irrespective of the supervisor. High tuberculosis treatment completion rates are achievable and sustainable for several years in resource-poor settings despite a massively increased case load if community resources are harnessed. Patients may be more effectively supervised by voluntary lay people than by health workers under these circumstances, without being placed at increased risk. These findings suggest that community supervisors may be an essential component of any DOT strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)700-704
Number of pages5
JournalTropical Medicine and International Health
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • control
  • directly observed therapy
  • South Africa
  • tuberculosis


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