Does poverty alleviation decrease depression symptoms in post-conflict settings? A cluster-randomized trial of microenterprise assistance in Northern Uganda
Background. By 2009, two decades of war and widespread displacement left the majority of the population of Northern Uganda impoverished. Methods. This study used a cluster-randomized design to test the hypothesis that a poverty alleviation program would improve economic security and reduce symptoms of depression in a sample of mostly young women. Roughly 120 villages in Northern Uganda were invited to participate. Community committees were asked to identify the most vulnerable women (and some men) to participate. The implementing agency screened all proposed participants, and a total of 1800 were enrolled. Following a baseline survey, villages were randomized to a treatment or wait-list control group. Participants in treatment villages received training, start-up capital, and follow-up support. Participants, implementers, and data collectors were not blinded to treatment status. Results. Villages were randomized to the treatment group (60 villages with 896 participants) or the wait-list control group (60 villages with 904 participants) with an allocation ration of 1:1. All clusters participated in the intervention and were included in the analysis. The intent-to-treat analysis included 860 treatment participants and 866 control participants (4.1% attrition). Sixteen months after the program, monthly cash earnings doubled from UGX 22 523 to 51 124, non-household and non-farm businesses doubled, and cash savings roughly quadrupled. There was no measurable effect on a locally derived measure of symptoms of depression. Conclusions. Despite finding large increases in business, income, and savings among the treatment group, we do not find support for an indirect effect of poverty alleviation on symptoms of depression.