News / Health

WHO: Up to 500,000 Spinal Injuries Annually

A researcher observes a rat walking on its hind legs during an experiment involving spinal cord injuries, at the Center for Neuroprosthetics and Brain Mind Institute in Ecublens, Switzerland, May 31, 2012.
A researcher observes a rat walking on its hind legs during an experiment involving spinal cord injuries, at the Center for Neuroprosthetics and Brain Mind Institute in Ecublens, Switzerland, May 31, 2012.

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
The World Health Organization says as many as
500-thousand people suffer spinal cord injuries every year. People with such injuries are much more likely to die prematurely, with the worst survival rates in low and middle income countries.


The World Health Organization has released a new report called International Perspectives on Spinal Cord Injuries. The WHO’s Alana Officer says while such injuries can cause paralysis, the problem is much bigger than that.

“There are a lot more associated health problems, such as difficulty with bowel and bladder function, difficulty with sexual function, associated problems around mental health conditions. So it’s much broader than just experiencing paralysis.”

Officer, Coordinator for Disability and Rehabilitation, said, “There are three main causes: road traffic crashes, falls and violence.”

The causes of spinal cord injuries vary in frequency from region to region.

“For example,” she said, “road traffic crashes are the main contributors of spinal cord injury in Africa and the Western Pacific region. Falls tend to be the leading cause in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. And then we have high rates of violence in certain countries. We have rates in the U.S. We have high rates in South Africa. And then we’ve also got the non-traumatic causes of spinal cord injuries, such as tumors and cancers, tuberculosis and spinabifida.”

Tuberculosis is often thought of as a lung disease. But in sub-Saharan Africa it accounts for about 30-percent of the non-traumatic causes of spinal cord injuries.

Spinabifida is a defect in the vertebrae of the spine. In severe cases it can affect walking and daily activities. Health officials say they don’t know the exact cause of the problem, but say it may be linked to genes and environmental factors.

More men suffer spinal cord injuries than women.

Officer said, “There’s a ratio of about two to one of males to females. Men tend to be more likely to experience spinal cord injury between the ages of about 20 to 29 -- women, or certainly girls much younger, between sort of 15 and 19. So that’s our first peak in young people. And then we get a second peak, interestingly, in older people. And the major driver of that is falls, tumors, cancer, et cetera.”

The main reason why people with spinal cord injuries are more likely to die prematurely is a lack of access to medical services.

“A lot of people with spinal cord injuries, certainly in low and middle income countries, do not get appropriate emergency response care. Mortality rates are very strongly affected by the quality of the health care system. For example, if you’re in a low income country, you are three times more likely of dying in [a] hospital following a spinal cord injury than you would be in a high income country,” she said.


Officer said that many of the causes of spinal cord injury deaths in low income countries are preventable. These include urinary tract infections and pressure sores, also known as bedsores. These are areas of damaged skin resulting from a patient staying in one position too long. These are usually not life-threatening problems in high-income countries.

“People with spinal cord injuries can live pretty much the same amount of time as somebody without a spinal cord injury. There’s a slight difference, but certainly life expectancy has increased considerably in high income countries. And it’s not the case in low income countries,” said Officer.

The WHO recommends immediate action if a spinal cord injury is suspected, including immobilization of the spine. That should be followed by “acute care appropriate to the level and severity of the injury, degree of instability of the spine and compression of nerves. It also recommends “skilled rehabilitation and mental health services.” The WHO says up to 30-percent of people with spinal cord injuries show “clinically significant signs of depression.”

Officer said, “With the appropriate amount of stabilization and care they may not result in long term dysfunction.”

There’s currently no cure for paralysis from spinal cord injuries, but much research on the problem is underway.

Officer said there’s a lot that can be done to prevent such injuries, including building safer roads and vehicles, reducing drinking and driving and wearing seatbelts. Other measures include improving safety in sports, installing window guards to prevent falls, ensuring workplace safety, having early detection and treatment of TB and improving nutrition to reduce spinabifida.

The World Health Organization urges full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to better address spinal cord injuries.

You May Like

Beijing Warns Hong Kong Protesters, Cracks Down at Home

In suppressing protest news, China reportedly has arrested more than 20 people on the mainland who acted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters More

Competing Goals Could Frustrate Efforts to Fight Islamic State

As alliances shift and countries re-define themselves, analysts say long-standing goals of some key players in Middle East may soon compete with Western goals More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid