Neural tube defects are a type of congenital anomaly caused by an abnormality in the development of the brain and spinal cord during embryogenesis. They cause high rates of mortality, morbidity, and lifelong disability. There are several studies carried out worldwide reporting different findings on the burden and associated factors. The aim of this study is to carry out a systematic review and meta-analysis of the burden of neural tube defects and their associated factors in Africa.
A total of 58 eligible articles were identified systematically using databases such as PubMed, Embase, African Journal Online Library, ProQuest, Cochrane, Google Scopus, Google Scholar, and Grey literature. Extracted data were analyzed using STATA 16.0 statistical software. The heterogeneity of studies was determined using the Cochrane Q test statistic and I 2 test statistics with forest plots. A random effects model was used to examine the pooled burden of neural tube defects, subgroups of the region, subtypes of NTDs, sensitivity analysis, and publication bias. The association between NTDs and associated factors was studied using a fixed-effect model.
Fifty-eight studies with a total of 7,150,654 participants in 16 African countries revealed that the pooled burden of neural tube defects was 32.95 per 10,000 births (95% CI: 29.77-36.13). The Eastern African region had the highest burden in the subgroup analysis, with 111.13 per 10,000 births (95% CI: 91.85–130.42). South African countries had the lowest burden, at 11.43 per 10,000 births (95% CI: 7.51–15.34). In subtype analysis, spina bifida had the highest pooled burden at 17.01 per 10,000 births (95 percent CI: 15.00-19.00), while encephalocele had the lowest at 1.66 per 10,000 births (95% CI: 1.12-2.20). Maternal folic acid supplementation (AOR: 0.38; 95% CI: 0.16-0.94), alcohol consumption (AOR: 2.54; 95% CI: 1.08-5.96), maternal age (AOR: 3.54; 95% CI: 1.67-7.47), pesticide exposure (AOR: 2.69; 95% CI: 1.62-4.46), X-ray radiation (AOR: 2.67; 95% CI: 1.05-6.78), and history of stillbirth (AOR: 3.18; 95% CI: 1.11-9.12) were significantly associated with NTDs.