What happens if your spinal cord is injured? We explain how Motivation's work supports people in the developing world with spinal cord injuries.

On Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day, we talk with Motivation’s Technical Resource Team Manager, Rosy, about how our work impacts people with Spinal Cord Injury.

What happens if your spinal cord is injured?

After a spinal cord injury, information is prevented from travelling between the brain and parts of the body that lie below the level of injury. Depending on the location and severity of the injury, this can affect someone’s control of movement and other body functions, such as bowel and bladder control.

A range of secondary complications can occur when living with a spinal cord injury; pressure ulcers or urinary tract infections are common without proper preventative measures, and may even lead to death.

Globally, 90% of injuries are the result of a traumatic event, such as a road traffic accident, but damage can also be caused by other health conditions.

Life-changing services and products

Spinal cord injuries have a life changing impact. In low and middle income countries – including in Motivation focus countries – the survival rates are far lower than in developed countries.

Motivation works to provide appropriate services that help someone who has a spinal cord injury to survive, adjust and improve their quality of life.

We’ve also seen how discrimination and stigma creates social barriers, so education and empowerment is vital to enable people with spinal cord injuries to look after their own health, improve confidence and understand their rights.

This is why we improve access to assistive technology that helps people to achieve greater autonomy in their day to day lives.

Bringing specialist skills to Sri Lanka

In the north of Sri Lanka, we recently supported development of a new specialist unit to provide healthcare and rehabilitation to people with spinal cord injuries. This involved building the skills of a multi-disciplinary team, including physiotherapists, occupational therapists, wheelchair service personnel, nurses, medical staff and peer trainers.

By understanding World Health Organization (WHO) standards for wheelchair services, the team could ensure all wheelchairs they provided would be properly fitted to users, and that users could also understand how to use and maintain their new wheelchair.

Previously, no one in the area had received any specialist training in spinal cord injury care. So, we focused on developing the knowledge and skills of the healthcare team and raising awareness of staff who refer people to the unit.

We also provided training in specialist care for spinal cord injuries to staff at the unit and hospitals in surrounding districts. Two tutors from nursing colleges were invited to join this training, and they plan now to advocate for spinal cord injury care to be added to their curriculum. This is a positive indication of sustainable learning beyond the life of the project.

The nurses even took the initiative to set up a new network: The Spinal Cord Injury Nurses Association for Northern Sri Lanka which will provide a platform for nurses to share learning and experience, and will be supported by the specialist spinal cord injury nurse trainer.

Peer to peer support

Bama’s spinal cord injury was as a result of a gunshot injury during the civil war. She works in a preschool but needed assistance to get there. Through Motivation she received a wheelchair and peer training, which covered wheelchair mobility skills, pressure sore prevention, bladder and bowel management as well as disability rights and awareness. She explains:

[Now] I can manage to wheel my wheelchair alone. I have enough confidence about bowel and bladder management after the training, and pressure relief techniques helped me to spend more time with my children. I can now maintain good health, which enables me to attend preschool-related seminars and workshops in far areas. I feel empowered and can empower others. 

This Motivation Peer Training was run a number of times as part of the project; peer trainers are now an integral part of the multi-disciplinary team and their rehabilitation plans.

Advocating for national change

Alongside Motivation training, we supported rehabilitation staff to lobby the government. In great news, this resulted in the government committing to build a new rehabilitation hospital and to expanding wheelchair services in the northern Sri Lanka by 2020. They also went on to build and equip a bigger physiotherapy department in one major hospital, and an accessible kitchen for use by the patients as part of their rehab.

Projects that make sustainable change

As a result of successes like this in Sri Lanka, we’ve now completed all our projects in the country and handed them over to skilled, trained healthcare staff. This is just one example of our work to help people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities across the world.

Read more about our work with project partners throughout India, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda.