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.