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Delivering Maternal Mental Health through Peer Volunteers: A 5-Year Report


Atif, Najia; Bibi, Amina; Nisar, Anum; Zulfiqar, Shaffaq; Ahmed, Ikhlaq; LeMasters, Katherine; Hagaman, Ashley K.; Sikander, Siham; Maselko, Joanna; & Rahman, Atif (2019). Delivering Maternal Mental Health through Peer Volunteers: A 5-Year Report. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 13, 62. PMCID: PMC6747744


Background: Maternal depression affects one in five women in low-and middle income countries (LMIC) and has significant economic and social impacts. Evidence-based psychosocial interventions delivered by non-specialist health workers are recommended as first-line management of the condition, and recent studies on such interventions from LMIC show promising results. However, lack of human resource to deliver the interventions is a major bottle-neck to scale-up, and much research attention has been devoted to 'task-sharing' initiatives. A peer-delivered version of the World Health Organization's Thinking Healthy Programme for perinatal depression in Pakistan and India showed clinical, functional and social benefits to women at 3 months postpartum. The programme has been iteratively adapted and continually delivered for 5 years in Pakistan. In this report, we describe the extended intervention and factors contributing to the peers' continued motivation and retention, and suggest future directions to address scale-up challenges.
Methods: The study was conducted in rural Rawalpindi. We used mixed methods to evaluate the programme 5 years since its initiation. The competency of the peers in delivering the intervention was evaluated using a specially developed Quality and Competency Checklist, an observational tool used by trainers to rate a group session on key areas of competencies. In-depth interviews explored factors contributing to the peer volunteers' continued motivation and retention, as well as the key challenges faced.
Results: Our key findings are that about 70% of the peer volunteers inducted 5 years ago continued to be part of the programme, retaining their competency in delivering the intervention, with only token financial incentives. Factors contributing to sustained motivation included altruistic aspirations, enhanced social standing in the community, personal benefits to their own mental health, and the possibility for other avenues of employment. Long-term challenges included demotivation due to lack of certainty about the programme's future, increased requirement for financial incentivisation, the logistics of organising groups in the community, and resistance from some families to the need for ongoing care.
Conclusions: The programme, given the sustained motivation and competence of peer volunteers in delivering the intervention, has the potential for long-term sustainability in under-resourced settings and a candidate for scale-up.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Article Type


Year Published


Journal Title

International Journal of Mental Health Systems


Atif, Najia
Bibi, Amina
Nisar, Anum
Zulfiqar, Shaffaq
Ahmed, Ikhlaq
LeMasters, Katherine
Hagaman, Ashley K.
Sikander, Siham
Maselko, Joanna
Rahman, Atif