A major barrier to improving perinatal mental health in Africa is the lack of locally validated tools for identifying probable cases of perinatal depression or for measuring changes in depression symptom severity. We systematically reviewed the evidence on the reliability and validity of instruments to assess perinatal depression in African settings.
Of 1,027 records identified through searching 7 electronic databases, we reviewed 126 full-text reports. We included 25 unique studies, which were disseminated in 26 journal articles and 1 doctoral dissertation. These enrolled 12,544 women living in nine different North and sub-Saharan African countries. Only three studies (12%) used instruments developed specifically for use in a given cultural setting. Most studies provided evidence of criterion-related validity (20 [80%]) or reliability (15 [60%]), while fewer studies provided evidence of construct validity, content validity, or internal structure. The Edinburgh postnatal depression scale (EPDS), assessed in 16 studies (64%), was the most frequently used instrument in our sample. Ten studies estimated the internal consistency of the EPDS (median estimated coefficient alpha, 0.84; interquartile range, 0.71-0.87). For the 14 studies that estimated sensitivity and specificity for the EPDS, we constructed 2 x 2 tables for each cut-off score. Using a bivariate random-effects model, we estimated a pooled sensitivity of 0.94 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.68-0.99) and a pooled specificity of 0.77 (95% CI, 0.59-0.88) at a cut-off score of ≥9, with higher cut-off scores yielding greater specificity at the cost of lower sensitivity.
The EPDS can reliably and validly measure perinatal depression symptom severity or screen for probable postnatal depression in African countries, but more validation studies on other instruments are needed. In addition, more qualitative research is needed to adequately characterize local understandings of perinatal depression-like syndromes in different African contexts.