Interpersonal therapy versus antidepressant medication for treatment of postpartum depression and anxiety among women with HIV in Zambia: a randomized feasibility trial

J Int AIDS Soc. 2022 Jul;25(7):e25959. doi: 10.1002/jia2.25959.


Introduction: Postpartum depression (PPD) is a prevalent and debilitating disease that may affect medication adherence and thus maternal health and vertical transmission among women with HIV. We assessed the feasibility of a trial of interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) versus antidepressant medication (ADM) to treat PPD and/or anxiety among postpartum women with HIV in Lusaka, Zambia.

Methods: Between 29 October 2019 and 8 September 2020, we pre-screened women 6-8 weeks after delivery with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) and diagnosed PPD or anxiety with the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview. Consenting participants were randomized 1:1 to up to 11 sessions of IPT or daily self-administered sertraline and followed for 24 weeks. We assessed EPDS score, Clinical Global Impression-Severity of Illness (CGI-S) and medication side effects at each visit and measured maternal HIV viral load at baseline and final study visit. Retention, visit adherence, change in EPDS, CGI-S and log viral load were compared between groups with t-tests and Wilcoxon signed rank tests; we report mean differences, relative risks and 95% confidence intervals. A participant satisfaction survey assessed trial acceptability.

Results: 78/80 (98%) participants were retained at the final study visit. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, visit adherence was greater among women allocated to ADM (9.9 visits, SD 2.2) versus IPT (8.9 visits, SD 2.4; p = 0.06). EPDS scores decreased from baseline to final visit overall, though mean change was greater in the IPT group (-13.8 points, SD 4.7) compared to the ADM group (-11.4 points, SD 5.5; p = 0.04). Both groups showed similar changes in mean log viral load from baseline to final study visit (mean difference -0.43, 95% CI -0.32, 1.18; p = 0.48). In the IPT group, viral load decreased significantly from baseline (0.9 log copies/ml, SD 1.7) to final visit (0.2 log copies/ml, SD 0.9; p = 0.01).

Conclusions: This pilot study demonstrates that a trial of two forms of PPD treatment is feasible and acceptable among women with HIV in Zambia. IPT and ADM both improved measures of depression severity; however, a full-scale trial is required to determine whether treatment of PPD and anxiety improves maternal-infant HIV outcomes.

Trial registration: NCT04094870.

Keywords: HIV infection; Zambia; antidepressive agents; anxiety; depression; postpartum.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anxiety* / diagnosis
  • Anxiety* / drug therapy
  • Depression, Postpartum* / diagnosis
  • Depression, Postpartum* / drug therapy
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / complications
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Pilot Projects
  • Zambia / epidemiology


  • Antidepressive Agents

Associated data