A systematic review of non-traumatic spinal cord injuries in sub-Saharan Africa and a proposed diagnostic algorithm for resource-limited settings

Abdu Kisekka Musubire, David B. Meya, Paul R. Bohjanen, Elly Tebasooke Katabira, Patrice Barasukana, David R. Boulware, Ana Claire Meyer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: Non-traumatic myelopathy is common in Africa and there are geographic differences in etiology. Clinical management is challenging due to the broad differential diagnosis and the lack of diagnostics. The objective of this systematic review is to determine the most common etiologies of non-traumatic myelopathy in sub-Saharan Africa to inform a regionally appropriate diagnostic algorithm. Methods: We conducted a systemic review searching Medline and Embase databases using the following search terms: "Non traumatic spinal cord injury" or "myelopathy" with limitations to epidemiology or etiologies and Sub-Saharan Africa. We described the frequencies of the different etiologies and proposed a diagnostic algorithm based on the most common diagnoses. Results: We identified 19 studies all performed at tertiary institutions; 15 were retrospective and 13 were published in the era of the HIV epidemic. Compressive bone lesions accounted for more than 48% of the cases; a majority were Pott's disease and metastatic disease. No diagnosis was identified in up to 30% of cases in most studies; in particular, definitive diagnoses of non-compressive lesions were rare and a majority were clinical diagnoses of transverse myelitis and HIV myelopathy. Age and HIV were major determinants of etiology. Conclusion: Compressive myelopathies represent a majority of non-traumatic myelopathies in sub-Saharan Africa, and most were due to Pott's disease. Non-compressive myelopathies have not been well defined and need further research in Africa. We recommend a standardized approach to management of non-traumatic myelopathy focused on identifying treatable conditions with tests widely available in low-resource settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number618
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
Issue numberDEC
StatePublished - Dec 8 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by the NIH Fogarty International Center (R25TW009345), NIH grant K24 AI096925, and the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Medicine at the University of Minnesota Dr. Meyer was supported by Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health [K01TW008764]. The authors thank Mr. Mark Gentry at the Yale University Library.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Musubire, Meya, Bohjanen, Katabira, Barasukana, Boulware and Meyer.


  • Myelopathy
  • Non-traumatic
  • Paraplegia
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Sub-Saharan Africa


Dive into the research topics of 'A systematic review of non-traumatic spinal cord injuries in sub-Saharan Africa and a proposed diagnostic algorithm for resource-limited settings'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this