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

Objective:
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.

Methods:
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.

Results:
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).

Conclusions:
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.