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Spinal Cord. 2011 Dec;49(12):1148-54. doi: 10.1038/sc.2011.93. Epub 2011 Oct 11.

Etiology of spinal cord injuries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University Hospitals Leuven, Pellenberg, Belgium.





The aim is to highlight the epidemiology of spinal cord injuries (SCIs) in Sub-Saharan Africa in order to improve prevention strategies.


University Hospitals Leuven, Belgium.


Pubmed was searched over August and September 2010. A combination of the following MeSH-terms was used: 'Africa South of the Sahara', 'Spinal Cord Diseases', 'Paraplegia' and 'Spinal Cord Injuries'. Limits were set on articles published as from 1990. The World Health Organization database was also consulted.


We obtained 243 hits of which 13 articles were relevant to the case. These papers covered seven countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zimbabwe. In traumatic SCIs, motor vehicle accidents are the most frequent cause of injury followed by falling from a height and thirdly violence, being the most important cause of SCI in South Africa. In the Plateau State of Nigeria, collapsing tunnels in illegal mining are the most prevalent cause. For the non-traumatic SCIs, tuberculosis appeared to be the most important cause, followed by malignant illnesses. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) serology tests were only available in the article concerning Ethiopia. Relatively more men were involved in traumatic SCIs and the average age was higher in the non-traumatic than in the traumatic group.


Although literature on the subject is scarce, prevention should focus on road-safety, tuberculosis and HIV. Standardized registration of SCI is needed for prevention and further research. The use of the current International SCI core data set should be encouraged worldwide as a uniform classification method.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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