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Tracing contacts of TB patients in Malaysia: costs and practicality

Muhammad Atif12*, Syed Azhar Syed Sulaiman1, Asrul Akmal Shafie3, Irfhan Ali4 and Muhammad Asif5

Author Affiliations

1 Discipline of Clinical Pharmacy, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia

2 Department of Pharmacy, The Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Punjab, Pakistan

3 Discipline of Social and Administrative Pharmacy, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia

4 Respiratory Department, Penang General Hospital, Penang, Malaysia

5 Department of Pharmacology, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia

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SpringerPlus 2012, 1:40  doi:10.1186/2193-1801-1-40

Published: 24 October 2012


Tuberculin skin testing (TST) and chest X-ray are the conventional methods used for tracing suspected tuberculosis (TB) patients. The purpose of the study was to calculate the cost incurred by Penang General Hospital on performing one contact tracing procedure using an activity based costing approach. Contact tracing records (including the demographic profile of contacts and outcome of the contact tracing procedure) from March 2010 until February 2011 were retrospectively obtained from the TB contact tracing record book. The human resource cost was calculated by multiplying the mean time spent (in minutes) by employees doing a specific activity by their per-minute salaries. The costs of consumables, Purified Protein Derivative vials and clinical equipment were obtained from the procurement section of the Pharmacy and Radiology Departments. The cost of the building was calculated by multiplying the area of space used by the facility with the unit cost of the public building department. Straight-line deprecation with a discount rate of 3% was assumed for the calculation of equivalent annual costs for the building and machines. Out of 1024 contact tracing procedures, TST was positive (≥10 mm) in 38 suspects. However, chemoprophylaxis was started in none. Yield of contact tracing (active tuberculosis) was as low as 0.5%. The total unit cost of chest X-ray and TST was MYR 9.23 (2.90 USD) & MYR 11.80 (USD 3.70), respectively. The total cost incurred on a single contact tracing procedure was MYR 21.03 (USD 6.60). Our findings suggest that the yield of contact tracing was very low which may be attributed to an inappropriate prioritization process. TST may be replaced with more accurate and specific methods (interferon gamma release assay) in highly prioritized contacts; or TST-positive contacts should be administered 6H therapy (provided that the chest radiography excludes TB) in accordance with standard protocols. The unit cost of contact tracing can be significantly reduced if radiological examination is done only in TST or IRGA positive contacts.

Tuberculosis; Tuberculin skin test; X-ray; Activity based costing; Contact tracing; Penang General Hospital