Global Neurology Report: Neurological Disorders are the Largest Cause of Disability

The Lancet: Life Expectancy

The Lancet: Life Expectancy

Neurological diseases are the main cause of disability worldwide according to a recent analysis of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study. (Global, regional and national burden of neurological disorders during 1990-2015: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. Lancet Neurology 2017).

The significant increase in the burden from 1990-2015 occurred despite remarkable advances in the prevention and treatment of neurological disorders, and is partially attributable to population growth and aging. Additionally, the World Health Organization recently re-classified stroke as a neurological disease instead of a cardiovascular disorder which provided a more realistic view of the true neurological burden.

Cerebrovascular disease accounts for the largest proportion of disability adjusted life years, and in fact was the leading cause of disability in 18 of the 21 Global Burden of Disease regions including sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). And the study may underestimate the extent of stroke related disease and disability due to the paucity of data in many developing regions. More research is necessary to define the true extent of stroke and formulate effective prevention and treatment protocols that comport with the available resources in specific areas.

The most serious concern is in SSA which harbours the highest burden of disease, with the least resources, and has a population of one billion people that is expected to double in the next generation.

There are serious impediments to neurological care including stroke management in SSA – a dearth of specialists, limited imaging facilities, lack of medications, adherence to traditional beliefs and seemingly insurmountable infrastructural challenges, all superimposed on abject poverty with food and water insecurity. In addition to the high morbidity of stroke related complications, there are limited if any secondary stroke interventions, and an absence of neurorehabilitation. It is not surprising that the rates of stroke mortality and disability are ten-fold higher in SSA than in developed regions.

As a Director of Global NeuroCare, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing neurological care in SSA and particularly Ethiopia, Dr. Johnston strongly recommends capacity building through sustainable, comprehensive, multimodality programs to address stroke prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, focusing on realistic goals that are commensurate to local resources. But, stroke prevention is of upmost importance, and funding should be allocated accordingly.

The most effective means of advancing neurological care is to form collaborative partnerships between developed countries and the least developed regions, with clearly defined goals, focusing on the needs of the South to establish self-sustaining programs that incorporate physician training, patient care and medical research, provide triangular cooperation and encourage South-South cooperation.

This is the approach Global NeuroCare has adopted with the Addis Ababa University Department of Neurology, which has an expanding, autonomous neurology residency program that has graduated 30 neurologists over the past decade. The program is now training physicians from other African nations and developing South-South ties that will serve to more effectively combat the neurological burden of disease.

Advertisements

GLOBAL NEUROLOGY REPORT: NEUROIMAGING IN THE PATIENT WITH HEADACHE

The most common diagnostic error in neurology over the past three decades is the misdiagnosis of headache, often the failure to diagnose brain tumor or other intracranial structural disease.  This recurring error is partially attributable to the guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Neurology and six other professional societies under the United States Headache Consortium (USHC), which state that neuroimaging is not warranted in patients with migraine and a normal examination.

These guidelines were based on a meta-analysis of 11 small retrospective studies with serious flaws, all antedating 1985 and almost half using first generation CT scans.  This outdated data suggested a very low incidence of intracranial abnormalities in patients with headache (0.2%), and led to the improper conclusion that a normal examination excludes any brain tumor or other intracranial disease.  Both of these presumptions are flatly wrong.

Patient with headache and a normal examination

For example, proper imaging demonstrates intracranial abnormalities in 6-8% of people, far higher than the outdated figure of 0.2%.  Some of these abnormalities are incidental, but many warrant monitoring (aneurysm), further investigation (stroke) or treatment (arachnoid cyst).  Additionally, over 10% of patients with brain tumors present with isolated headache and a normal examination, so following the guidelines would deny imaging to 3-7% of patients with brain tumor.  Earlier imaging reduces the cost of headache care in patients that rank high on anxiety or depression scales.

Unfortunately, these outdated guidelines were parroted by the American Headache Society and the American College of Radiology which bluntly stated “Don’t do imaging for uncomplicated headache.”

This type of intransigent adherence to flawed, outdated guidelines falls below an acceptable standard of care.  Additionally, the failure to discuss the likelihood of finding an abnormality on imaging, and giving the patient an option of having an MRI, eviscerates any meaningful informed consent.

Dr. James C. Johnston discussed these concerns in several recent articles including Neurologic Clinics 2016; 34:747-773, and recommended deleting the guidelines until further research properly correlates intracranial abnormalities with individual patient data, headache patterns, underlying disease, imaging protocols, associated conditions and a host of other factors to provide rational evidence based guidelines. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305409777_Neurological_Fallacies_Leading_to_Malpractice_A_Case_Studies_Approach).

In the meantime, he advised it is prudent to consider imaging all patients presenting with a new headache, or a headache increasing in frequency or pattern, or with any other warning sign.

Dr. Johnston presented these findings at the 2017 World Association for Medical Law conference, and the concerns were discussed by Dr. Mehila Zebenigus of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia who noted that in her clinic most patients with headache are referred for a baseline imaging study.  Attendees from other countries echoed her recommendation.  And, yet, in the United States about 12% of patients with headache have an MRI, and some neurologists are calling for more restrictions, even stating that limiting MRI should be a “major national priority.”  It is past time for the USHC and Choosing Wisely societies to review the evidence and move forward.

GLOBAL NEUROLOGY REPORT: WORLD ASSOCIATION FOR MEDICAL LAW CONFERENCE

World Association for Medical Law (WAML) Congress

World Association for Medical Law (WAML) Congress

The 50th Anniversary Meeting and 23rd World Association for Medical Law (WAML) Congress was held on 9-14 July 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan.  Leading international experts from around the globe discussed topics related to GlobalHealth, Medical Law and Bioethics.

Drs. James C. Johnston, Mehila Zebenigus and Guta Zenebe presented recommendations for improving relations between developed and developing countries through guidelines that focus on ethically advancing collaborative partnerships to improve health care. This topic followed Dr. Johnston’s lecture last year at the WAML meeting in Los Angeles, USA discussing the medical, ethical and legal problems that arise when Western countries engage in short term medical missions to resource limited nations, resulting in medical paternalism, doctor tourism and actual harm to the very patients that are most desperate for help.  Specific examples of these problems were presented at both meetings, along with clear guidelines on how to avoid the harmful effects of these self-serving missions.

Drs. James C. Johnston and Mehila Zebenigus also discussed concerns related to neuroimaging for the patient presenting with headache. They recommended deleting the currently used guidelines because those guidelines are outdated, and have been a contributing factor in the continuing misdiagnosis of headache disorders.  Dr. Zebenigus discussed the management of the patient with headache in Ethiopia.

Drs. Thomas P. Sartwelle, James C. Johnston, Berna Arda and Mehila Zebenigus highlighted the concerns related to using electronic fetal monitoring in sub-Saharan Africa, how that procedure causes more harm than good, and wastes scarce resources that would be better used helping children with cerebral palsy.

In terms of disclosure, Drs. Zebenigus and Johnston are Directors of the non-profit organization Global NeuroCare® which focuses on advancing neurological services in sub-Saharan Africa and particularly Ethiopia, and is actively involved in all of these areas.

GLOBAL NEUROLOGY REPORT: TRIANGULAR COOPERATION

Dr. James C Johnston

Triangular Cooperation | Dr. James C Johnston

Global NeuroCare is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing neurological care in developing regions, especially sub-Saharan Africa and particularly Ethiopia.  It is one of the few non-government organizations to hold Special Consultative Status with the United Nations ECOSOC, which allows Director and Neurologist Dr. James C. Johnston to actively participate with the UN intergovernmental bodies, decision makers and related organizations.  Additionally, Global NeuroCare is accredited by the World Health Organization, and affiliated with the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa.

On behalf of Global NeuroCare, Dr. Johnston presented several statements over the past few years to the UN High Level Political Forum, the Commission for Social Development and the Integration Segment.  Four of these statements have been adopted and published, focusing on advancing collaborative partnerships between the North and South in an effort to improve healthcare in Africa.

Dr. Johnston emphasized the importance of ensuring that relationships between the North or developed countries and the South are based on sustainable, collaborative, ethically congruent partnerships that truly benefit the South, as opposed to the short term medical missions that are so harmful to developing regions.  Successful partnerships will allow sub-Saharan African nations to develop functional capacity building, thereby becoming self-sustainable, further advancing patient care, physician training and medical research.

These types of North-South partnerships can be even more effective by encouraging South-South and triangular cooperation.  South-South cooperation is the process whereby two or more developing countries pursue individual or shared objectives through exchanges of knowledge, skills and resources.  This is not a substitute for, but rather a complement to North-South partnerships.  In triangular cooperation, partnerships between two or more developing nations are supported by a developed country or even multinational organizations.

For example, Global NeuroCare focuses on advancing neurology in Ethiopia where Dr. Johnston serves as an Honorary Professor of Neurology in the Addis Ababa University Department of Neurology Residency Training Program.  This program has graduated 32 board certified neurologists over the past decade.  However, there are no local opportunities for advanced neurophysiology training, so Dr. Johnston arranges for the resident physicians to attend the University of Siena, Italy for 6 month fellowships.  This requires separate funding which has been provided through scholarships sponsored by a Canadian based neurophysiology society.  Thus Global NeuroCare coordinates Ethiopian training through Italy with financial support from Canada and, in turn, as an example of South-South cooperation, the Ethiopian physicians return to train their colleagues as well as physicians from other African nations.

Global NeuroCare plays a crucial role in coordinating this type of triangular coordination, which is the most effective means of ensuring sustainable capacity building leading to self-sufficiency that will truly advance healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa.

Global Neurology Report: Medical Training in Ethiopia

Addis Ababa University

Africa suffers one-quarter of the global burden of disease, yet has only 3% of the world’s healthcare workers. It consumes less than 1% of the world’s healthcare expenditure. And the continent’s population of one billion people is set to double in the next generation.

The situation is even more disconcerting in the least developed nations such as Ethiopia, which is perhaps the most medically underserved country in the world. A recent World Bank Study reported there were just over 2,000 doctors for the country of 100 million people. This is a dismal situation that warrants increased international support.

There is some recent improvement with an increasing number of medical schools – in 2006 there were four medical schools, and now there are over 30 training centers that will begin graduating 2,000 physicians annually. Additionally, Ethiopia trained 38,000 healthcare extension workers to provide basic health education and services in the rural areas where 85% of the population resides.

However, there remain very serious impediments to advancing healthcare in Ethiopia and the other least developed countries – poor infrastructure, inadequate transportation, lack of equipment and medications, limited geographical distribution of services, and a continuing dearth of specialists.

External support is critical to further advance healthcare and specialist services in these regions, but it must be the right type of help. Unfortunately, many United States academic medical centers have focused on self-serving short term medical missions which can and do cause harm to the very regions that so desperately need help. These types of missions are lucrative and beneficial to the sending institution, but do not provide any substantive benefit to the developing country.

Neurologist Dr. James C. Johnston discussed these concerns at the United Nations High Level Political Forums in 2016 and 2017, and at the World Association for Medical Law Congress Meetings in Los Angeles (2016) and Baku, Azerbaijan (2017). He recommended focusing on a sustainable, comprehensive, ethically congruent approach to partnerships with a focus on advancing patient care, physician training and medical research to benefit the South.

Global NeuroCare is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded by Dr. Johnston to advance neurological services in developing nations, particularly Ethiopia, and strictly adheres to these principles of sustainable partnerships dedicated to capacity building. Dr. Johnston is an Honorary Professor of Neurology at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, where the Department of Neurology has graduated 32 board-certified neurologists over the past decade, with 21 more physicians in the expanding three year training program. These neurologists have improved the lives of countless thousands of Ethiopians, and are now training physicians from other African countries.

Continued support of neurological training is crucial, especially since the World Health Organization reported that neurological diseases are one of the greatest threats to global public health. Please go to www.GlobalNeuroCare.org to contribute your support which will have an immediate impact on the lives of many of the world’s most vulnerable people. This registered tax-exempt non-profit organization does not use any of the funds for administrative expenses or salaries – every penny goes to the people in need.