Background Tuberculin skin test (TST) for guiding initiation of tuberculosis preventive therapy poses major challenges in high tuberculosis burden settings. Methods At a primary care clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa, 278 HIV-positive adults self-read their TST by reporting if they felt a bump (any induration) at the TST placement site. TST reading (in mm) was fast-tracked to reduce patient wait time and task-shifted to delegate tasks to lower cadre healthcare workers, and result was compared to TST reading by high cadre research staff. TST reading and placement cost to the health system and patients were estimated. Simulations of health system costs were performed for 5 countries (USA, Germany, Brazil, India, Russia) to evaluate generalizability. Results Almost all participants (269 of 278, 97%) correctly self-identified the presence or absence of any induration [sensitivity 89% (95% CI 80,95) and specificity 99.5% (95% CI 97,100)]. For detection of a positive TST (induration ≥ 5mm), sensitivity was 90% (95% CI 81,96) and specificity 99% (95% CI 97,100). TST reading agreement between low and high cadre staff was high (kappa 0.97, 95% CI 0.94, 1.00). Total TST cost was 2066 I$ (95% UI 594, 5243) per 100 patients, 87% (95% UI 53, 95) of which were patient costs. Combining fast-track and task-shifting, reduced total costs to 1736 I$ (95% UI 497, 4300) per 100 patients, with 31% (95% UI 15, 42) saving in health system costs. Combining fast-tracking, task-shifting and self-reading, lowered the TST health system costs from 16% (95% UI 8, 26) in Russia to 40% (95% UI 18, 54) in the USA. Conclusion A TST strategy where only patients with any self-read induration are asked to return for fast-tracked TST reading by lower cadre healthcare workers is a promising strategy that could be effective and cost-saving, but real-life cost-effectiveness should be further examined.
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