Background: Many people with mental, neurological and substance-use disorders (MNS) do not receive health care. Non-specialist health workers (NSHWs) and other professionals with health roles (OPHRs) are a key strategy for closing the treatment gap.
Objectives: To assess the effect of NSHWs and OPHRs delivering MNS interventions in primary and community health care in low- and middle-income countries.
Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (including the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) Group Specialised Register) (searched 21 June 2012); MEDLINE, OvidSP; MEDLINE In Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, OvidSP; EMBASE, OvidSP (searched 15 June 2012); CINAHL, EBSCOhost; PsycINFO, OvidSP (searched 18 and 19 June 2012); World Health Organization (WHO) Global Health Library (searched 29 June 2012); LILACS; the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (WHO); OpenGrey; the metaRegister of Controlled Trials (searched 8 and 9 August 2012); Science Citation Index and Social Sciences Citation Index (ISI Web of Knowledge) (searched 2 October 2012) and reference lists, without language or date restrictions. We contacted authors for additional studies.
Selection criteria: Randomised and non-randomised controlled trials, controlled before-and-after studies and interrupted-time-series studies of NSHWs/OPHR-delivered interventions in primary/community health care in low- and middle-income countries, and intended to improve outcomes in people with MNS disorders and in their carers. We defined an NSHW as any professional health worker (e.g. doctors, nurses and social workers) or lay health worker without specialised training in MNS disorders. OPHRs included people outside the health sector (only teachers in this review).
Data collection and analysis: Review authors double screened, double data-extracted and assessed risk of bias using standard formats. We grouped studies with similar interventions together. Where feasible, we combined data to obtain an overall estimate of effect.
Main results: The 38 included studies were from seven low- and 15 middle-income countries. Twenty-two studies used lay health workers, and most addressed depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The review shows that the use of NSHWs, compared with usual healthcare services: 1. may increase the number of adults who recover from depression or anxiety, or both, two to six months after treatment (prevalence of depression: risk ratio (RR) 0.30, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.14 to 0.64; low-quality evidence); 2. may slightly reduce symptoms for mothers with perinatal depression (severity of depressive symptoms: standardised mean difference (SMD) -0.42, 95% CI -0.58 to -0.26; low-quality evidence); 3. may slightly reduce the symptoms of adults with PTSD (severity of PTSD symptoms: SMD -0.36, 95% CI -0.67 to -0.05; low-quality evidence); 4. probably slightly improves the symptoms of people with dementia (severity of behavioural symptoms: SMD -0.26, 95% CI -0.60 to 0.08; moderate-quality evidence); 5. probably improves/slightly improves the mental well-being, burden and distress of carers of people with dementia (carer burden: SMD -0.50, 95% CI -0.84 to -0.15; moderate-quality evidence); 6. may decrease the amount of alcohol consumed by people with alcohol-use disorders (drinks/drinking day in last 7 to 30 days: mean difference -1.68, 95% CI -2.79 to -0.57); low-quality evidence).It is uncertain whether lay health workers or teachers reduce PTSD symptoms among children. There were insufficient data to draw conclusions about the cost-effectiveness of using NSHWs or teachers, or about their impact on people with other MNS conditions. In addition, very few studies measured adverse effects of NSHW-led care - such effects could impact on the appropriateness and quality of care.
Authors' conclusions: Overall, NSHWs and teachers have some promising benefits in improving people's outcomes for general and perinatal depression, PTSD and alcohol-use disorders, and patient- and carer-outcomes for dementia. However, this evidence is mostly low or very low quality, and for some issues no evidence is available. Therefore, we cannot make conclusions about which specific NSHW-led interventions are more effective.