The effectiveness of Technology-assisted Cascade Training and Supervision of community health workers in delivering the Thinking Healthy Program for perinatal depression in a post-conflict area of Pakistan - study protocol for a randomized controlled trial

Shamsa Zafar, Siham Sikander, Syed Usman Hamdani, Najia Atif, Parveen Akhtar, Huma Nazir, Joanna Maselko, Atif Rahman
Trials 2016 April 6, 17: 188

BACKGROUND: Rates of perinatal depression in low and middle income countries are reported to be very high. Perinatal depression not only has profound impact on women's health, disability and functioning, it is associated with poor child health outcomes such as pre-term birth, under-nutrition and stunting, which ultimately have an adverse trans-generational impact. There is strong evidence in the medical literature that perinatal depression can be effectively managed with psychological treatments delivered by non-specialists. Our previous research in Pakistan led to the development of a successful perinatal depression intervention, the Thinking Healthy Program (THP). The THP is a psychological treatment delivered by community health workers. The burden of perinatal depression can be reduced through scale-up of this proven intervention; however, training of health workers at scale is a major barrier. To enhance access to such interventions there is a need to look at technological solutions to training and supervision.

METHODS/DESIGN: This is a non-inferiority, single-blinded randomized controlled trial. Eighty community health workers called Lady Health Workers (LHWs) working in a post-conflict rural area in Pakistan (Swat) will be recruited through the LHW program. LHWs will be randomly allocated to Technology-assisted Cascade Training and Supervision (TACTS) or to specialist-delivered training (40 in each group). The TACTS group will receive training in THP through LHW supervisors using a tablet-based training package, whereas the comparison group will receive training directly from mental health specialists. Our hypothesis is that both groups will achieve equal competence. Primary outcome measure will be competence of health workers at delivering THP using a modified ENhancing Assessment of Common Therapeutic factors (ENACT) rating scale immediately post training and after 3 months of supervision. Independent assessors will be blinded to the LHW allocation status.

DISCUSSION: Women living in post-conflict areas are at higher risk of depression compared to the general population. Implementation of evidence-based interventions for depression in such situations is a challenge because health systems are weak and human resources are scarce. The key innovation to be tested in this trial is a Technology-assisted Cascade Training and Supervision system to assist scale-up of the THP.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: Registered with as GCC-THP-TACTS-2015, Identifier: NCT02644902 .

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