Background: Depression is one of the commonest mental disorders in primary care but is poorly identified. The objective of this review was to determine the level of detection of depression by primary care clinicians and its determinants in studies from low- to middle-income countries (LMICs). Methods: A systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted using PubMed, PsycINFO, MEDLINE, EMBASE, LILAC, and AJOL with no restriction of year of publication. Risk of bias within studies was evaluated with the Effective Public Health Practice Project (EPHPP). “Gold standard” diagnosis for the purposes of this review was based on the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9; cutoff scores of 5 and 10), other standard questionnaires and interview scales or expert diagnosis. Meta-analysis was conducted excluding studies on special populations. Analyses of pooled data were stratified by diagnostic approaches. Results: A total of 3159 non-duplicate publications were screened. Nine publications, 2 multi-country studies, and 7 single-country studies, making 12 country-level reports, were included. Overall methodological quality of the studies was good. Depression detection was 0.0% in four of the twelve reports and < 12% in another five. PHQ-9 was the main tool used: the pooled detection in two reports that used PHQ-9 at a cutoff point of 5 (combined sample size = 1426) was 3.9% (95% CI = 2.3%, 5.5%); in four reports that used PHQ-9 cutoff score of 10 (combined sample size = 5481), the pooled detection was 7.0% (95% CI = 3.9%, 10.2%). Severity of depression and suicidality were significantly associated with detection. Conclusions: While the use of screening tools is an important limitation, the extremely low detection of depression by primary care clinicians poses a serious threat to scaling up mental healthcare in LMICs. Interventions to improve detection should be prioritized. Systematic review registration: PROSPERO CRD42016039704.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21
Pages (from-to)21
JournalSystematic Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2022


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