Hydrocephalus is the most common pediatric neurosurgical condition, with a high prevalence in low- and middle-income countries. Untreated, hydrocephalus leads to neurological disability or death. The epidemiology and outcomes of hydrocephalus treated by ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunts in Sub-Saharan Africa are not well defined and vary by region. The aim of the present study was to examine the mortality and morbidity rates and predictors of mortality in children treated by VP shunt placement for hydrocephalus at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi.
This is a prospective study of 100 consecutive children presenting with hydrocephalus who were treated with VP shunt placement from January 2015 to August 2017. Demographics, nutritional status, maternal characteristics, developmental delay, shunt complications, readmissions, and in-hospital and 3-month mortality data were collected. Multivariate logistic regression was used to identify predictors of death within 3 months of surgery.
Overall, 46% of participants were female, with an average age of 5.4 ± 3.7 months at the time of surgery. The majority of patients were term deliveries (87.8%) and were not malnourished (72.9%). Only 10.8% of children were diagnosed with meningitis before admission. In-hospital and 3-month mortality rates were 5.5% and 32.1%, respectively. The only significant association with mortality was maternal age, with older maternal age demonstrating decreased odds of 3-month mortality (OR 0.9, 95% CI 0.8–1.0, p = 0.045).
Surgical management of hydrocephalus with VP shunts portends a high mortality rate in Malawi. The association of younger maternal age with mortality is likely a proxy for social determinants, which appear to contribute as much to mortality as patient factors. VP shunting is inadequate as a sole surgical management of hydrocephalus in resource-limited settings.