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Encephale. 2007 Jan-Feb;33(1):21-9.

[Schizophrenia and culture: reality and perspectives based on the Tunisian experience].

[Article in French]

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  • 1Service de Psychiatrie A, Hôpital Razi, La Manouba.


Despite notable advances in the field, schizophrenia is still considered a major public health problem on international level. The combination of frequency, chronicity and severity make it, for some authors, the "cancer of mental disorders". However, according to the many cross-cultural studies, in particular, the two mammoth research projects of the WHO (IPSS and DOSMED, it is now irrefutable that the course and outcome of schizophrenia are better in patients from developing countries. The reasons for better outcome and more favorable course of schizophrenia in developing countries are still far from clear and remain speculative.


We have carried out a study among a population of schizophrenic patients admitted to our hospital during the past year, to question the issues of outcome, course and prognosis in Tunisia, which is an emerging country, ranking half-way between the most and the least developed countries.


It appears that the outcome of schizophrenia is similar to that of developed countries. A community survey reported an annual prevalence of 5.7 and an incidence of 3. 266 patients with schizophrenia were admitted between August 2003 and 2004, representing 40% of the whole hospitalized population; 80% were former patients who had been hospitalized an average of 8 times. One patient out of five will be readmitted at least once within the same year. Only 16.5% were married, and 10% had a regular job, in spite of a high level of education. A chronic course without remission is not unusual and long stay patients now account for a fourth of the hospital population.


It seems clearly and paradoxically that the course and outcome of schizophrenia is deteriorating and getting closer to what is observed in the industrialized societies. The same trend was observed in the western countries during the last centuries, leading some authors to claim that schizophrenia is a modern disease, which appeared in the XIX(e) century and spread in the XX(e). Besides, other than the controversy regarding the recent evolution of its incidence, it seems that we are not witnessing the anticipated decrease in incidence that comes with the therapeutic progress and the decline in fertility among individuals with schizophrenia.


We shall discuss three hypotheses to try to explain the aggravation of schizophrenia along with the economic development: the heterogeneity of the disease with two clinical presentations: a benign form (good prognosis), more frequent in developing countries, and a severe form, observed mainly in developed societies. The progress in medicine and gynecology-obstetrics, which contributes to the survival of patients with serious schizophrenia and the vulnerable newborn exposed to multiple assaults and risk factors related to birth. The progress in psychiatry that is selecting the more serious subtypes of schizophrenia, which are overrepresented today. Research issues pertaining to course and outcome of schizophrenia are still unresolved. It is likely that prognosis of schizophrenia varies according to the economic development rather than to the culture. This observation could open new research and prevention perspectives.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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