Mental health interventions for persons living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries: a systematic review

J Int AIDS Soc. 2021 Jun;24 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):e25722. doi: 10.1002/jia2.25722.


Introduction: Addressing the intersection between mental health and HIV is critical for the wellbeing of persons living with HIV (PLWH). This systematic review synthesized the literature on mental health interventions for PLWH in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to determine intervention components and explore their relationship with intervention effectiveness.

Methods: We included only controlled clinical trials of interventions aiming to improve the mental health of PLWH. We conducted a search in the following databases: PubMed, CINAHL, PsycINFO and EMBASE for eligible studies describing the evaluation of interventions for mental health problems among PLWH in LMICs published through August 2020. Two reviewers independently screened references in two successive stages of title/abstract screening and then full-text screening for references meeting title/abstract criteria.

Results: We identified a total of 30 eligible articles representing 6477 PLWH who were assigned to either the intervention arm (n = 3182) or control arm (n = 3346). The mental health interventions evaluated were psychological (n = 17, 56.67%), pharmacological (n = 6, 20.00%), combined psychological and pharmacological (n = 1, 3.33%) and complementary/alternative treatments (n = 6, 20.00%). The mental health problems targeted were depression (n = 22, 73.33 %), multiple psychological symptoms (n = 1, 3.33%), alcohol and substance use problems (n = 4, 13.33%), post-traumatic stress disorder (n = 1, 3.33%) and HIV-related neuro-cognitive impairment (n = 2, 6.67%). Studies of interventions with significant effects had significantly a higher number of active ingredients than those without significant effects [3.41 (2.24) vs. 1.84 (1.46) Mean (SD)] [Mean difference = -1.56, 95% CI = -3.03 to -0.09, p = 0.037].

Conclusions: There continue to be advances in mental health interventions for PLWH with mental illness in LMICs. However, more research is needed to elucidate how intervention components lead to intervention effectiveness. We recommend scale up of culturally appropriate interventions that have been successfully evaluated in low- and middle-income countries.

Keywords: HIV/AIDS; anti-retroviral therapy theory of change; low- and middle-income countries; mental health; psychotherapy; psychotropic.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Developing Countries
  • HIV Infections* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Psychotherapy
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic*