India is a major contributor to the global burden of leprosy and tuberculosis (TB), which adversely affects the poorest tribal communities. Despite prioritisation by disease control programmes, programme performance for leprosy and TB in tribal communities continues to be a challenge. In addition to access to services and infrastructural limitations, socio-cultural concepts of illness causation and related help seeking (HS) rooted in distinct features of tribal culture need to be addressed to improve programme outcomes.
A cultural epidemiological survey of leprosy and TB patients was carried out using a locally adapted, semi-structured explanatory model interviews. A total of 100 leprosy and 50 TB patients registered for treatment at government health facilities were selected randomly from tribal dominant blocks of the Thane district, Maharashtra state. The perceived causes (PCs) of leprosy and TB in patients were compared based on prominence categories. The relationship between PCs as predictors, and disease conditions and HS preferences as outcome variables were assessed using multivariate logistic regression.
In the multivariate logistic regression model with disease conditions as outcome variables, TB patients were significantly more likely to report PCs in the categories of ingestion; health, illness and injury; and traditional, cultural and supernatural. Tuberculosis patients more frequently first sought help from private facilities as compared to leprosy patients who preferred government health facilities. In a combined analysis of leprosy and TB patients employing multivariate logistic regression, it was found that patients who reported PCs in the environmental and contact-related categories were more likely to visit traditional rather than non-traditional practitioners. In another multivariate combined model, it was found that patients who reported PCs in the traditional, cultural and supernatural category were significantly more likely to visit private rather than public health facilities.
Cultural concepts about illness causation and associated HS behaviours should be considered as priorities for action, which in turn would provide the necessary impetus to ensure that tribal patients seek help in a timely and appropriate manner, and could facilitate improvement in programme performance in general.||