Cervical Spine Trauma in East Africa: Presentation, Treatment, and Mortality

Background Cervical spine trauma (CST) leads to devastating neurologic injuries. In a cohort of CST patients from a major East Africa referral center, we sought to (a) describe presentation and operative treatment patterns, (b) report predictors of neurologic improvement, and (c) assess predictors of mortality.

Methods A retrospective, cohort study of CST patients presenting to a tertiary hospital in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, was performed. Demographic, injury, and operative data were collected. Neurologic exam on admission/discharge and in-hospital mortality were recorded. Univariate/multivariate logistic regression assessed predictors of operative treatment, neurologic improvement, and mortality.

Results Of 101 patients with CST, 25 (24.8%) were treated operatively on a median postadmission day 16.0 (7.0–25.0). Twenty-six patients (25.7%) died, with 3 (12.0%) in the operative cohort and 23 (30.3%) in the nonoperative cohort. The most common fracture pattern was bilateral facet dislocation (26.7%). Posterior cervical laminectomy and fusion and anterior cervical corpectomy were the 2 most common procedures. Undergoing surgery was associated with an injury at the C4–C7 region versus occiput–C3 region (odds ratio [OR] 6.36, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.71–32.28, P = .011) and an incomplete injury (OR 3.64; 95% CI 1.19–12.25; P = .029). Twelve patients (15.8%) improved neurologically, out of the 76 total patients with a recorded discharge exam. Having a complete injury was associated with increased odds of mortality (OR 11.75, 95% CI 3.29–54.72, P < .001), and longer time from injury to admission was associated with decreased odds of mortality (OR 0.66, 95% CI 0.48–0.85, P = .006). Conclusions Those most likely to undergo surgery had C4–C7 injuries and incomplete spinal cord injuries. The odds of mortality increased with complete spinal cord injuries and shorter time from injury to admission, probably due to more severely injured patients dying early within 24–48 hours of injury. Thus, patients living long enough to present to the hospital may represent a self-selecting population of more stable patients. These results underscore the severity and uniqueness of CST in a less-resourced setting.

Strengthening emergency care knowledge and skills in Uganda and Tanzania with the WHO-ICRC Basic Emergency Care Course

Background There is a pressing need for emergency care (EC) training in low-resource settings. We assessed the feasibility and acceptability of training frontline healthcare providers in emergency care with the World Health Organization (WHO)-International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Basic Emergency Care (BEC) Course using a training-of-trainers (ToT) model with local providers.

Methods Quasiexperimental pretest and post-test study of an educational intervention at four first-level district hospitals in Tanzania and Uganda conducted in March and April of 2017. A 2-day ToT course was held in both Tanzania and Uganda. These were immediately followed by a 5-day BEC Course, taught by the newly trained trainers, at two hospitals in each country. Both prior to and immediately following each training, participants took assessments on EC knowledge and rated their confidence level in using a variety of EC skills to treat patients. Qualitative feedback from participants was collected and summarised.

Results Fifty-nine participants completed the four BEC Courses. All participants were current healthcare workers at the selected hospitals. An additional 10 participants completed a ToT course. EC knowledge scores were significantly higher for participants immediately following the training compared with their scores just prior to the training when assessed across all study sites (Z=6.23, p<0.001). Across all study sites, mean EC confidence ratings increased by 0.74 points on a 4-point Likert scale (95% CI 0.63 to 0.84, p<0.001). Main qualitative feedback included: positive reception of the sessions, especially hands-on skills; request for additional BEC trainings; request for obstetric topics; and need for more allotted training time.

Conclusions Implementation of the WHO-ICRC BEC Course by locally trained providers was feasible, acceptable and well received at four sites in East Africa. Participation in the training course was associated with a significant increase in EC knowledge and confidence at all four study sites. The BEC is a low-cost intervention that can improve EC knowledge and skill confidence across provider cadres.

Cost-Effectiveness of Operating on Traumatic Spinal Injuries in Low-Middle Income Countries: A Preliminary Report From a Major East African Referral Center

Study Design:
Retrospective cost-effectiveness analysis.

While the incidence of traumatic spine injury (TSI) is high in low-middle income countries (LMICs), surgery is rarely possible due to cost-prohibitive implants. The objective of this study was to conduct a preliminary cost-effectiveness analysis of operative treatment of TSI patients in a LMIC setting.

At a tertiary hospital in Tanzania from September 2016 to May 2019, a retrospective analysis was conducted to estimate the cost-effectiveness of operative versus nonoperative treatment of TSI. Operative treatment included decompression/stabilization. Nonoperative treatment meant 3 months of bed rest. Direct costs included imaging, operating fees, surgical implants, and length of stay. Four patient scenarios were chosen to represent the heterogeneity of spine trauma: Quadriplegic, paraplegic, neurologic improvement, and neurologically intact. Disability-adjusted-life-years (DALYs) and incremental-cost-effectiveness ratios were calculated to determine the cost per unit benefit of operative versus nonoperative treatment. Cost/DALY averted was the primary outcome (i.e., the amount of money required to avoid losing 1 year of healthy life).

A total of 270 TSI patients were included (125 operative; 145 nonoperative). Operative treatment averaged $731/patient. Nonoperative care averaged $212/patient. Comparing operative versus nonoperative treatment, the incremental cost/DALY averted for each patient outcome was: quadriplegic ($112-$158/DALY averted), paraplegic ($47-$67/DALY averted), neurologic improvement ($50-$71/DALY averted), neurologically intact ($41-$58/DALY averted). Sensitivity analysis confirmed these findings without major differences.

This preliminary cost-effectiveness analysis suggests that the upfront costs of spine trauma surgery may be offset by a reduction in disability. LMIC governments should consider conducting more spine trauma cost-effectiveness analyses and including spine trauma surgery in universal health care.

Operative Treatment of Traumatic Spinal Injuries in Tanzania: Surgical Management, Neurologic Outcomes, and Time to Surgery

Little is known about operative management of traumatic spinal injuries (TSI) in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). In patients undergoing surgery for TSI in Tanzania, we sought to (1) determine factors involved in the operative decision-making process, specifically implant availability and surgical judgment; (2) report neurologic outcomes; and (3) evaluate time to surgery.

All patients from October 2016 to June 2019 who presented with TSI and underwent surgical stabilization. Fracture type, operation, neurologic status, and time-to-care was collected.

Ninety-seven patients underwent operative stabilization, 23 (24%) cervical and 74 (77%) thoracic/lumbar. Cervical operations included 4 (17%) anterior cervical discectomy and fusion with plate, 7 (30%) anterior cervical corpectomy with tricortical iliac crest graft and plate, and 12 (52%) posterior cervical laminectomy and fusion with lateral mass screws. All 74 (100%) of thoracic/lumbar fractures were treated with posterolateral pedicle screws. Short-segment fixation was used in 86%, and constructs often ended at an injured (61%) or junctional (62%) level. Sixteen (17%) patients improved at least 1 ASIA grade. The sole predictor of neurologic improvement was faster time from admission to surgery (odds ratio = 1.04, P = .011, 95%CI = 1.01-1.07). Median (range) time in days included: injury to admission 2 (0-29), admission to operating room 23 (0-81), and operating room to discharge 8 (2-31).

In a cohort of LMIC patients with TSI undergoing stabilization, the principle driver of operative decision making was cost of implants. Faster time from admission to surgery was associated with neurologic improvement, yet significant delays to surgery were seen due to patients’ inability to pay for implants. Several themes for improvement emerged: early surgery, implant availability, prehospital transfer, and long-term follow-up.