Skip to main content




Background: This study aimed to analyse the patient predictors of health-seeking behaviour for persons coughing for more than 2 weeks to better understand this vulnerable and important population.


Methods: The study analysed data from a cohort study (SOCS – Secondary Outcome Cohort Study) embedded in a community randomised trial ZAMSTAR (Zambia and South Africa TB and AIDS Reduction Study) in eight high-burden TB communities in the Western Cape, South Africa. These datasets are unique as they contain TB-related data as well as data on health, health-seeking behaviour, lifestyle choices, employment, socio-economic status, education and stigma. We use uni- and multivariate logistic regressions to estimate the odds ratios of consulting for a cough (of more than 2weeks duration) for a range of relevant patient predictors.


Results: Three hundred and forty persons consulted someone about their cough and this represents 37% of the 922participants who reported coughing for more than 2 weeks. In the multivariate analysis, respondents of black ethnic origin (OR 1.99, 95% CI 1.28–3.12,P< 0.01), those with higher levels of education (OR 1.05 per year of education, 95%CI 1.00–1.10,P=0.05), and older respondents (OR 1.02 per year, 95% CI 1.01–1.04, P<0.01) had a higher likelihood of consulting for their chronic cough. Individuals who smoked (OR 0.63, 95% CI 0.45–0.88, P<0.01) and those with higher levels of socio-economic status (OR 0.81, 95% CI 0.71–0.92, P<0.01) were less likely to consult. We find no evidence of stigma playing a role in health-seeking decisions, but caution that this may be due to the difficulty of accurately and reliably capturing stigma due to, amongst other factors, social desirability bias.


Conclusions: The low levels of consultation for a cough of more than 2 weeks suggest that there are opportunities to improve case-finding. These findings on health-seeking behaviour can assist policymakers in designing TB screening and active case-finding interventions that are targeted to the characteristics of those with a chronic cough who do not seek care.

Keywords: Presumptive TB, Chronic cough, Delayed health-seeking behaviour, Consulting

Christian, C., Burger, B., Claassens, C., Bond, V. & Burger, R. (2019). Patient predictors of health-seeking behaviour for persons coughing for more than two weeks in high-burden tuberculosis communities: the case of the Western Cape, South Africa. BMC Health Services Research 19(1): 160. doi: 10.1186/s12913-019-3992-6