Prevalence of anencephaly in Africa: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Sci Rep. 2021 Dec 9;11(1):23707. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-02966-w.


Anencephaly is a severe anomaly of the brain that results from the failure of the cephalic part of the neural tube to close during the fourth week. It occurs at least in one per thousand births and is the major cause of fetal loss and disabilities in newborns. The objective of this review is to determine the birth prevalence of anencephaly in Africa. We identified relevant studies via a search of databases like PubMed Central, PubMed/Medline, Science Direct, Joanna Briggs Institute, African Journals Online, Embase, Google Scholar, Web of Science, and Cochrane Library. After examining the heterogeneity of studies via the Cochran Q test and I2 test (and Forest plot for visual inspection), the prevalence of anencephaly was estimated using the random-effect meta-analysis model. Consequently, we carried out subgroup, sensitivity, meta-regression, trim and fill, time-trend, and meta-cumulative analyses. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, the twenty-four studies reported a total of 4,963,266 births. The pooled birth prevalence of anencephaly in Africa was 0.14% (95% CI: 0.12, 0.15%). Higher burden of anencephaly was detected in Ethiopia (0.37%, CI: 0.15, 0.58%), Algeria (0.24%, CI: 0.24, 0.25%), and Eritrea (0.19%, CI: 0.19, 0.19%). The higher pooled prevalence of anencephaly was observed in the studies that included both live births and stillbirths (0.16%) and in studies done after the year 2010 (0.25%) whereas, the lower burden was detected among countries that had a mandatory folic acid fortification (0.05%). High birth prevalence of anencephaly was detected in Africa. Strong prevention and control measures should be the priority because of an increment in the magnitude of anencephaly. Helping in prevention programs, which should be the ultimate contribution of this study to the field.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa / epidemiology
  • Anencephaly / epidemiology*
  • Anencephaly / etiology
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Population Surveillance
  • Prevalence