Can the High Sensitivity of Xpert MTB/RIF Ultra Be Harnessed to Save Cartridge Costs?

Despite the World Health Organization recommending the use of rapid molecular tests for diagnosing tuberculosis (TB), uptake has been limited, partially due to high cartridge costs. Other infectious disease programs pool specimens to save on diagnostic test costs. We tested a sputum pooling strategy as part of a TB case finding program using Xpert MTB/RIF Ultra (Ultra). All persons were tested with Ultra individually, and their remaining specimens were also grouped with 3–4 samples for testing in a pooled sample. Individual and pooled testing results were compared to see if people with TB would have been missed when using pooling. We assessed the potential cost and time savings which different pooling strategies could achieve. We tested 584 individual samples and also grouped them in 153 pools for testing separately. Individual testing identified 91 (15.6%) people with positive Ultra results. One hundred percent of individual positive results were also found to be positive by the pooling strategy. Pooling would have saved 27% of cartridge and processing time. Our results are the first to use Ultra in a pooled approach for TB, and demonstrate feasibility in field conditions. Pooling did not miss any TB cases and can save time and money. The impact of pooling is only realized when yield is low.