Meningomyelocele is a rare condition wherein the membranes that cover the spine, or sometimes the spinal cord itself, protrudes through a defect in the vertebral column. It is caused by a developmental anomaly known as spina bifida, which occurs when the vertebral column’s bony encasement does not close completely during foetal development, leading meninges to push through. Meningomyelocele, also known as spina bifida cystica, is the most severe form of the condition in which there is either a visible external protrusion originating from the spinal cord or a fully exposed section of the cord itself, making the patient – commonly newly born infants – highly susceptible to infection. In some cases, the defect also allows spinal fluid to leak out.
The only treatment option for meningomyelocele is surgery, in which the patient’s back is closed surgically. This is a major and complex procedure with many patients experiencing some form of leg paralysis and bladder or bowel problems despite undergoing treatment. To ensure the procedure's success, advanced surgical equipment, as well as extensive skill and precision from the surgeon, are a must.
Due to the procedure’s complexity, it is understandably not available in many countries. Thus, many patients with meningomyelocele are advised to seek prompt surgical treatment abroad, specifically in countries with access to advanced surgical technology. In the past, patients were limited to the hospitals in the US and UK, making treatment a challenge, especially for non-Western patients due to the high costs of surgery itself as well as incidental travel expenses.
Now, however, breakthrough surgical technologies are also available in Southeast Asia, giving more meningomyelocele patients hope for a better quality of life. Southeast Asia currently has three countries leading the medical tourism race in the region namely Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia. Among these three, Singapore is the most ideal destination for patients seeking orthopaedic and spine surgery.
Singapore General Hospital, one of Singapore’s best healthcare facilities, is the first hospital in the region to perform minimally invasive spine surgery. To date, it is recognised as the leading centre for specialist spine services in Asia. The hospital features an in-house international medical service, which focuses on improving the quality of service and overall experience for international patients and their family members.
On top of this, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia are some of the few countries that have access to innovative technologies that are newly available, including spinal robotics technology. This new technology uses a special surgical guidance system that allows spine procedures to be performed using robotics. It is expected to further raise the standard of medical care available for patients with complex spinal deformities like meningomyelocele in the coming years.