Patient adherence to tuberculosis treatment in the Indian subcontinent: systematic review and meta-synthesis of qualitative research

04 May 2023



How well patients adhere to their tuberculosis (TB) treatment influences their recovery and development of drug resistance, but influences on adherence are multiple and often competing. We synthesised qualitative studies from our setting in the Indian subcontinent to understand the dimensions and dynamics involved to help inform service provision.


Qualitative synthesis comprising inductive coding, thematic analysis and forming a conceptual framework.

Data sources 

Medline (OVID), Embase (OVID), CINAHL (EBSCOHost), PsycINFO (EBSCOHost), Web of Science Core Collection, Cochrane Library and Epistemonikos were databases searched on 26 March 2020 for studies published since 1 January 2000.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies 

We included reports in English from the Indian subcontinent that used qualitative or mixed-methodology designs and reported findings around adherence to TB treatment. Full texts meeting eligibility were sampled based on ‘thickness’ (the richness of the qualitative data reported).

Data extraction and synthesis 

Two reviewers used standardised methods to screen abstracts and code. Included studies were assessed for reliability and quality using a standard tool. Qualitative synthesis was performed by inductive coding, thematic analysis and developing conceptual framework.


Of 1729 abstracts screened from initial search, 59 were shortlisted for full-text review. Twenty-four studies that qualified as ‘thick’ were included in the synthesis. Studies were set in India (12), Pakistan (6), Nepal (3), Bangladesh (1) or in two or more of these countries (2). Of the 24 studies, all but one included people who were taking TB treatment (1 study included only healthcare providers), and 17 included healthcare workers, community members or both.

We identified three themes: (1) personal influences on the people with TB include interconnections between their social role in the family unit, their own priorities in day-to-day living and their experience to date with the disease; (2) adherence is profoundly influenced by how individual healthcare providers interact with patients on treatment and address their needs; (3) adherence is influenced across communities by structural, social, economic and cultural factors related to treatment.


Staff in TB programmes require an understanding of the various competing influences on individuals undergoing treatment. Programmes need to have more flexible and people-centred approaches to service provision in order to achieve adherence, and thus improve treatment outcomes.

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