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

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs