Infant hydrocephalus in sub-Saharan Africa: the reality on the Tanzanian side of the lake


Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, Ahead of Print.
OBJECTIVEInfant hydrocephalus is estimated to affect more than 100,000 new infants each year in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Bugando Medical Centre (BMC), a government-funded and patient cost-shared referral center, serves over 13 million people in the Lake and Western regions of Tanzania. The goals of this study were to characterize the infant population affected by hydrocephalus who presented to BMC and were treated with a ventriculoperitoneal shunt (VPS) to determine the rate of early complications associated with this surgical procedure and to assess its potential risk factors.METHODSData were prospectively collected from all patients less than 1 year of age who, over a period of 7 months, were diagnosed with hydrocephalus and admitted to BMC for insertion of a primary VPS. Demographic data, maternal history, preoperative studies, surgical procedure, and surgical complications developing by the time of the first follow-up visit were analyzed. Risk factors associated with the surgical complications were determined.RESULTSDuring the 7-month study period, 125 infants eligible for the study were included in the analysis. Overall, 75% were younger than 6 months of age, and 56% were males. Only 7% of mothers had a gestational ultrasound, 98% did not receive preconception folic acid, and 25% delivered their child at home. In most patients with hydrocephalus the etiology was uncertain (56%), and other patients had postinfectious (22.4%) or myelomeningocele-associated (16%) hydrocephalus. Patients’ mean head circumference on admission was 51.4 ± 6.3 cm. Their median age at shunt surgery was 137 days, and 22.4% of the patients were operated on without having undergone radiological assessment. The majority of shunts were placed in a right parietooccipital location. Thirteen patients had undergone a previous intraventricular endoscopic procedure. Overall, at least one surgical complication was found in 33.6% of patients up to the first follow-up assessment (median follow-up time of 70 days); shunt infection was the most common complication. The postoperative mortality rate was 9%. The risk factors associated with early surgical complications were tumor-related etiology, larger head circumference, and postoperative hospital stays of greater duration.CONCLUSIONSIn a region of the continent where most infant hydrocephalus cases had an uncertain etiology, most patients presented to the hospital in a late stage, with no prenatal diagnosis and with large head circumferences. Standard preoperative investigations were not uniformly performed, and the surgical complications, led by VPS infection, were disturbingly high. Younger patient age, previous endoscopic procedure, surgeon involved, and cranial location of the VPS had no statistical relation to the surgical complications.This study shows that the positive results previously reported by SSA mission hospitals, subspecialized in pediatric neurosurgery, are still not generalizable to every hospital in East Africa. To improve maternal and neonatal care in the Lake region of Tanzania, the development of a fluxogram to determine hydrocephalus etiology, a strict perioperative protocol for VPS insertion, and an increase in the number of endoscopic procedures are recommended to BMC.

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