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Bull World Health Organ. 2017 Aug 1;95(8):554-563. doi: 10.2471/BLT.16.185314. Epub 2017 Apr 28.

The impact of the roll-out of rapid molecular diagnostic testing for tuberculosis on empirical treatment in Cape Town, South Africa.

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The Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, Institute for Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences, Anzio Road, Observatory, Cape Town, 7925, South Africa.
City of Cape Town Health Directorate, Cape Town, South Africa.
Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, Amsterdam, Netherlands.


in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish


To investigate the impact of introducing a rapid test as the first-line diagnostic test for drug-sensitive tuberculosis in Cape Town, South Africa.


Xpert® MTB/RIF (Xpert®), an automated polymerase-chain-reaction-based assay, was rolled out between 2011 and 2013. Data were available on 102 007 adults treated for pulmonary tuberculosis between 2010 and 2014. Tuberculosis notification rates per 100 000 population were calculated for each calendar year and for each year relative to the test roll-out locally, overall and by bacteriological confirmation. Empirical treatment was defined as treatment given without bacteriological confirmation by Xpert®, sputum smear microscopy or sputum culture.


Between 2010 and 2014, the proportion of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-negative patients treated empirically for tuberculosis declined from 23% (2445/10 643) to 11% (1149/10 089); in HIV-positive patients, it declined from 42% (4229/9985) to 27% (2364/8823). The overall tuberculosis notification rate decreased by 12% and 19% among HIV-negative and HIV-positive patients, respectively; the rate of bacteriologically confirmed cases increased by 1% and 3%, respectively; and the rate of empirical treatment decreased by 56% and 49%, respectively. These changes occurred gradually following the test's introduction and stabilized after 3 years.


Roll-out of the rapid test in a setting with a high prevalence of pulmonary tuberculosis and HIV infection was associated with a halving of empirical treatment that occurred gradually after the test's introduction, possibly reflecting the time needed for full implementation. More than a quarter of HIV-positive patients with tuberculosis were still treated empirically, highlighting the diagnostic challenge in these patients.

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