Economic evaluation of psychological treatments for common mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries: a systematic review

Common mental disorders (CMDs) constitute a major public health and economic burden on low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Systematic reviews of economic evaluations of psychological treatments for CMDs are limited. This systematic review examines methods, reports findings and appraises the quality of economic evaluations of psychological treatments for CMDs in LMICs. We searched a range of bibliographic databases (including PubMed, EconLit, APA-PsycINFO and Cochrane library) and the African Journals Online (AJoL) and Google Scholar platforms. We used a pre-populated template to extract data and the Drummond & Jefferson checklist for quality appraisal. We present results as a narrative synthesis. The review included 26 studies, mostly from Asia (12) and Africa (9). The majority were cost-effectiveness analyses (12), some were cost-utility analyses (5), with one cost-benefit analysis or combinations of economic evaluations (8). Most interventions were considered either cost-effective or potentially cost-effective (22), with 3 interventions being not cost-effective. Limitations were noted regarding appropriateness of conclusions drawn on cost-effectiveness, the use of cost-effectiveness thresholds and application of ‘societal’ incremental cost-effectiveness ratios to reflect value for money (VfM) of treatments. Non-specialist health workers (NSHWs) delivered most of the treatments (16) for low-cost delivery at scale, and costs should reflect the true opportunity cost of NSHWs’ time to support the development of a sustainable cadre of health care providers. There is a 4-fold increase in economic evaluations of CMD psychological treatments in the last decade over the previous one. Yet, findings from this review highlight the need for better application of economic evaluation methodology to support resource allocation towards the World Health Organization recommended first-line treatments of CMDs. We suggest impact inventories to capture societal economic gains and propose a VfM assessment framework to guide researchers in evaluating cost-effectiveness.

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