Background: The final months of the conflict in Sri Lanka in 2009 resulted in massive displacement of the civilian population and a high volume of orthopedic trauma including spinal cord injury. In response to this need, Médecins Sans Frontières implemented a multidisciplinary rehabilitation program. Methods. Patients were admitted to the program if they had a spinal cord injury, a stable spine and absence of a high-grade pressure ulcer. All patients were assessed on admission with a standardized functional scale the Spinal Cord Independence Measure II (SCIM) and the American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale (ASIA). A multidisciplinary team provided nursing care, physiotherapy, bowel and bladder training, mental health care, and vocational rehabilitation. Patients were discharged from the program when medically stable and able to perform activities of daily living independently or with assistance of a caregiver. The primary outcome measures were discharge to the community, and change in SCIM score on discharge. Secondary outcome measures were measured at 6-12 weeks post-discharge, and included SCIM score and presence of complications (pressure ulcers, urinary tract infections and bowel problems). Results: 89 patients were admitted. The majority of injuries were to the thoracic region or higher (89%). The injuries were classified as ASIA grade A in 37 (43%), grade B in 17(20%), grade C in 15 (17%) and grade D in 17(20%). 83.2% met the criteria for discharge, with a further 7.9% patients requiring transfer to hospital for surgical care of pressure ulcers. There was a significant change in SCIM score from 55 on admission to 71 on discharge (p < 0.01). 79.8% and 66.7% achieved a clinically significant and substantially significant SCIM score improvement, respectively. Amongst those with follow up data, there was a reduction in post spinal cord injury complications from those experienced either at or during admission. A further 79% of SCIM scores were stable or improved compared to the score on discharge. Conclusions. Provision of effective rehabilitation for spinal cord injury is possible in complex humanitarian emergency situations. A multidisciplinary approach, including psychological support along with partnerships with local and international organizations with specialized expertise, was key to the program's success.

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Conflict and Health
Department of Virology

Armstrong, J., Nichols, B., Wilson, J., Cosico, R., & Shanks, M. (2014). Spinal cord injury in the emergency context: Review of program outcomes of a spinal cord injury rehabilitation program in Sri Lanka. Conflict and Health, 8(1). doi:10.1186/1752-1505-8-4