WHO Neuropsychiatric AIDS Study, Cross-sectional Phase I: Study Design and Psychiatric Findings

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Most available studies on the psychiatric, neuropsychological, and neurological complications of HIV-1 infection and AIDS have been conducted in Western countries, on samples of well-educated, mostly white, homosexual men. Concerns about generalizability of the results of those investigations prompted the WHO to implement the cross-cultural venture called WHO Neuropsychiatric AIDS study.


This project aims to assess the prevalence and natural history of HIV-1-associated psychiatric, neuropsychological, and neurological abnormalities in representative subject samples enrolled in the five geographic areas predominantly affected by the HIV-1 epidemic. Assessment is made by a data collection instrument including six modules. The intercenter and intracenter reliability in the use of each module has been formally evaluated. The study consists of a cross-sectional phase and a longitudinal follow-up.


The cross-sectional phase was completed in five centers. This paper reports on the results of psychiatric assessment, which revealed a significantly higher prevalence of current mental disorders in symptomatic seropositive persons compared with seronegative controls among intravenous drug users in Bangkok and homosexuals/bisexuals in Sao Paulo. The mean global score on the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale was significantly higher in symptomatic seropositive individuals than in matched seronegative controls in all centers.


These results suggest that the significance of the psychopathological complications of symptomatic HIV-1 infection may have been underestimated by previous studies conducted on self-selected samples of well-educated, middle-class, mostly white, homosexual men.

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