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General Information

General Information

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a global epidemic. Based on conservative average annual incidence of 22 people / million population in the western and developing world1 it is estimated that over 130,000 people each year survive a traumatic spinal cord injury and begin a “new and different life” bound to a wheelchair for 40 years or more.

With an average age at injury of 33.4 years and most injuries occurring at the age of 192 and life expectancy diminished only by an average less than 10 %, and advances in health maintenance and emergency healthcare, it is clear that the population of people living with SCI is steadily increasing around the world.

By 2005, NEW injuries will swell the total world population of people living with spinal cord injury induced paralysis to over 2.5 million .

The economic impact on the community, in terms of the long term cost of care and cost of social welfare support reaches in excess of tens of billions of dollars each year. Reliable reports have estimated the cost in the United States alone at $ 7.7 billion dollars annually. In Canada that figure is $1.5 billion, over $500 million British Pounds in the United Kingdom and Australia around $1 billion.

Until recently, the bleak prognosis for effective treatments to restore loss of function, has caused the community and government to focus attention on the provision of basic and essential long term care services. Given the scientific understanding prior to the early 1990’s that regeneration of the central nervous system tissue was impossible, this was an appropriate strategy.

Today however, we face a new horizon, and our strategy must change to address the opportunities to hasten the pace of discovery and develop effective treatments to find cures for the paralysis and loss of function caused by traumatic SCI.

Global Summary of Spinal Cord Injury

Governments and communities must address the very real evidence of effective nervous tissue regeneration being demonstrated in the laboratories and turn these discoveries into effective therapies for young men and women whose recent injuries have devastated their lives and the lives of their families. Initiatives must be undertaken to step up the level of basic research, and commence programs to transform discoveries in laboratories to effective therapies in clinics, to restore lost function to the thousands who eagerly await treatment.

In some countries, particularly Canada, Australia and the United States of America, recognition of the direct relationship between spinal cord injuries and motor vehicle related road trauma (on average over 50 % of spinal injuries are road crash related) is initiating research funds created by levying traffic infringement fines.  The funds allow greater emphasis and focus to be given to regeneration research and the development of effective treatments.

Spinal cord injury paralysis is a global pandemic. Cures must be found in the next decade if we are to save 1 million people from ever experiencing the horror of paralysis.

The table below summarises the epidemiological information presently available from published studies regarding the incidence and economic impact of Spinal Cord Injury.

With approximately 200 independent nations around the globe, and published epidemiology studies for SCI limited to a handful of nations it is difficult to establish a completely accurate picture. Nonetheless, it is possible to extrapolate figures from published studies in order to develop some basis for a global SCI incidence.

Table summarising published data on Spinal Cord Injury

Country/ population (milllions)

Injuries/ annum and ratio/ million

Population estimated living with SCI

Estimated  annual cost (Local Currency)

Direct Govt. investment in SCI cure related research




$7.736 billion

70 million[ii]




$1.5 billion

6 million




>500 Mill





$1.0 Billion

5 million









































RHONE ALPS  FRANCE[xiv] regional

























sub total


(6 nations)









131,623 NEW CASES / YR


2.5 million conservatively

$10 billion in 4 of 200 nations

perhaps $150 million

* NYK = not yet known . No reliable data available.

Whilst the data in this table is by no means comprehensive or conclusive it does establish a solid basis for the estimated totals shown. The endnote to this document references the many published studies which provide the basis for the estimates of incidence. Further reference can be obtained from “The Economic Consequences of Traumatic SCI” by M Berkowitz et al published in 1992 for the Paralysed Veterans of America or the more recent study by De Vivo referenced in the end note.

[1] Total world population is approaching 6 billion (Source United Nations Population Division).
[2] Based on injuries in the USA, statistics provided by National Spinal Cord Injury Association.

 [i] DeVivo M.J. “Causes and costs of spinal cord injury in the US” Spinal Cord December 1997 35 (12).
[ii] NIH published 1999 budget for SCI research programs.
[iii] National Trauma Registry Annual Report 1995/96.
[iv] Zarb “SCI Incidents and prevalence survey” Letter to International Spinal Research Trust December 1991.
[v] Cripps R. “National Spinal Cord Injury Register 1996/97” National Injuries surveillance unit, Flinders University.
[vi] Shingu “Spinal cord injuries in Japan…Survey in 1990” Paraplegia January 1994 32 (1).
[vii] Karamehmetoglu et al, “Traumatic spinal cord injuries in South east turkey…” Spinal Cord August 1997 35(8).
[viii] LiangShon Lee M.D. Head and Spinal Cord Research Group , Neurology Society, R.O.C. Taiwan 1994.
[ix] Exner & Meinecke, “Trends in the treatment of patients….period of 20 years in German centres”. Spinal Cord July 1997 35(7).
[x] Dr Bas Blits, 1993, Amsterdam.
[xi] Schonherr MC, Groothoff JW, Mulder GA, Eisma WH.  Spinal Cord 34(11):679-683, Nov 1996.
[xii] Otom et al “Traumatic Spinal Cord ijuries in Jordan…” Spinal Cord April 1997 35 (4).
[xiii] Maharaj J.C. “Epidemiology of SCP in Fiji…. Spinal Cord September 1996 34 (9).
[xiv] Minairre P, Casanier, Girard, Berard, Deidier, Bourret.  Paraplegia 16:76-87, 1998-9.
[xv] Biering-Sørensen F, Pedersen V, Clausen S.  Paraplegia 28:105-118, 1990.
[xvi] Ju, G. Inst. Of Neurosciences. 4th Military Medical Univ. China. 1997 Health Ministry Estimate. Quoted via email to Luba Vikhanski, Dana Brain Foundation Oct 2000.
[xvii] Martins F, Freitas F, Martins L, Dartigues JF, Barat M.  Spinal Cord 36:574-578, 1998.
[xviii] Present global population approx 6 billon. 1999 Estimate.

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