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ISSICON 2021: Global experts discuss recent advances and ongoing research on treatment for spinal injury patients

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India sees about 15,000 cases of spinal cord injury every year. About 75% of them struggle to access rehabilitative care and treatment. However, if we take into consideration non traumatic spinal cord injuries (the theme of the conference), the numbers increase significantly (26%)

Renowned spine surgeons and rehabilitation specialists as well as other health professionals from all over the world gathered at the 21st International Spine and Spinal Injuries Conference (ISSICON), organised virtually for the second year in view of the pandemic, to discuss current trends and future potentials for management of non-traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI). The four-day conference being held under the aegis of Asian Spinal Cord Network and international Spinal Cord Society was inaugurated by Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog. Dr Ruth Marshal, President, International Spinal Cord Society was the Guest of Honour for the inaugural ceremony in which Maj. H P S Ahluwalia, Chairman, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre gave the welcome address.

The annual conference, organised by the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC) was attended by doctors, physiotherapists, nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, psychologists, assistive technologists, orthotists, peer counsellors and consumers from neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. The event is also being supported by the Association of Spine Surgeons of Nepal, Bangladesh Spine Society as well. Doctors will also discuss other advanced rehabilitative processes which would include among others, improving respiratory functions of SCI patients (neural control of the respiratory muscles) and help them control bladder and bowel functions better.

Amitabh Kant at the inauguration of ISSICON 2021 said, “Incidence of non-traumatic spinal cord injury is difficult to determine due to so many different causes and no major registry. About 39 per cent of all spinal cord injuries are non-traumatic and 24 per cent of them are due to spinal stenosis. The incidence is rising due to the rapidly growing elderly population in India — it is estimated that India will have 194 million elderly people by 2031, an increase of 41 per cent. Therefore, early detection is important for prevention and management of non-traumatic spinal injury. The Ayushman Bharat – PMJAY has packages to treat non-traumatic spinal injury and work is in progress for a senior care programme.”

India sees about 15,000 cases of spinal cord injury every year. About 75% of them struggle to access rehabilitative care and treatment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every year, between 250 000 and 500 000 people suffer a spinal cord injury across the world. People with a spinal cord injury are two to five times more likely to die prematurely than people without a spinal cord injury, with worse survival rates in low- and middle-income countries such as India.

Dr H S Chhabra, President – Spinal Cord Society,  Immediate Past President – International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS) and Chief of Spine Service & Medical Director, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, New Delhi said, “Ongoing research for spinal cord injury such as spinal cord epidural stimulation have shown promising results globally. AO, the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC), has carried out this procedure on 5 SCI patients and the outcome is encouraging. It will be important to allow access to knowledge regarding spinal cord epidural stimulation and other such novel treatment methods so that more and more doctors in India and abroad are able to adopt them in their practice. With the COVID-19, caring for spinal cord injury patients has also undergone a change and models like telemedicine are being increasingly used to manage the patients. This has been a tremendous achievement for us and has benefitted patients from far-flung areas the most. The theme of ISSICON 2021: Virtual is “Non-traumatic spinal cord injury”. This is apt seeing the prevalent scenario. There have been less RTAs and falls, thanks to lockdown across India and even across the globe. Non-traumatic spinal cord injuries were even otherwise proving to be a more common cause of spinal injuries. This conference would help health professionals to understand current guidelines and management of such spinal cord injuries.”

“ISSICON has been an annual observance and it has played a critical role in improving the quality of care for spinal cord injury patients. We did not allow any disruption due to the global COVID-19 situation and turned virtual last year. We thank all participating experts for their continued commitment to the cause,” says Sugandh Ahluwalia, Chief Strategy Officer, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, New Delhi.

The training workshop for spinal cord epidural stimulation was conducted by Megan Gill, Research Physical Therapist, Assistive and Restorative Technology Laboratory & Peter J. Grahn, Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation & Department of Neurologic Surgery, Scientific Director, Office for Education Diversity, Equity and Inclusion & Senior Engineer, Assistive and Restorative Technology Laboratory from Mayo Clinic, the US while Dr Anthony Di Marco Internal Medicine , Pulmonologist and Sleep Medicine conducted the workshop on neural control of respiratory muscles and methods to improve breathing of patients suffering from cervical spinal cord injury. Doctors also attended a focused workshop on electrical control of paralysed bowel and bladder in spinal cord injury patients, conducted by Dr Graham Creasey Emeritus Faculty – University Medical Line, Neurosurgery & Member, Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. The telemedicine workshop was organised in collaboration with Telemedicine Society of India.

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