Background: The incidence of neural tube defects is known to vary among regions. Very little has been reported about the incidence in Sub-Saharan Africa except for the general impression that the prevalent rates are low.
Objective: To determine the profile of patients presenting with neural tube defects in Lagos, Nigeria
Methods: We studied all patients with congenital midline back swellings presenting to one of two neurosurgical services in the state over a 5-year period to establish the incidence of spina bifida and develop demographic data. Data collected included the age at presentation, maternal age, education and parity, presence of co-existing anomalies and the social status of the parents.
Results: One hundred and eight patients with congenital midline swellings of the back were studied. Meningomyelocele accounted for 96% of the cases seen. Half the patients presented within the first two weeks of life and although fifty percent of mothers had ultrasound scans done during pregnancy none of the patients were diagnosed prenatally. Seventy-three percent of mothers of affected children were from a low socio-economic class. The commonest co-existing congenital anomaly was lower limb deformity (Talipes equino-varus).
Conclusion: Spina bifida is the commonest indication for neurosurgical clinic referral with the exception of trauma in our environment. The prevalence is higher among women in the lower socio-economic groups. Improved perinatal care is required to ensure that children with such birth defects get prompt medical attention and thereby prevent worsening of an already complex problem.