Tuberculosis (TB) now ranks alongside HIV as the leading infectious disease cause of death worldwide and incurs a global economic burden of over $12 billion annually. Directly observed therapy (DOT) recommends that TB patients complete the course of treatment under direct observation of a treatment supporter who is trained and overseen by health services to ensure that patients take their drugs as scheduled. Though the current WHO End TB Strategy does not mention DOT, only "supportive treatment supervision by treatment partners", many TB programs still use it despite the fact that the has not been demonstrated to be statistically significantly superior to self-administered treatment in ensuring treatment success or cure.
DOT is designed to promote proper adherence to the full course of drug therapy in order to improve patient outcomes and prevent the development of drug resistance. Yet over 8 billion dollars is spent on TB treatment each year and thousands undergo DOT for all or part of their course of treatment, despite the absence of rigorous evidence supporting the superior effectiveness of DOT over self-administration for achieving drug susceptible TB (DS-TB) cure. Moreover, the DOT component burdens patients with financial and opportunity costs, and the potential for intensified stigma. To rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of DOT and identify the essential contributors to both successful treatment and minimized patient burden, we call for a pragmatic experimental trial conducted in real-world program settings, the gold standard for evidence-based health policy decisions. It is time to invest in the rigorous evaluation of DOT and reevaluate the DOT requirement for TB treatment worldwide. Rigorously evaluating the choice of treatment supporter, the frequency of health care worker contact and the development of new educational materials in a real-world setting would build the evidence base to inform the optimal design of TB treatment protocol. Implementing a more patient-centered approach may be a wise reallocation of resources to raise TB cure rates, prevent relapse, and minimize the emergence of drug resistance. Maintaining the status quo in the absence of rigorous supportive evidence may diminish the effectiveness of TB control policies in the long run.