A Survey of the Practice of Electroconvulsive Therapy in South Africa

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The aim of this study was to describe the contemporary practice of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in South Africa.


A 36-item questionnaire was sent to all hospitals that practiced ECT in a 12-month period between 2011 and 2012.


Forty-two institutions had an ECT machine on site, but 13 institutions reported nonuse. Electroconvulsive therapy services were available in only 6 of the 9 provinces. Questionnaires were sent to the 29 active sites. Twenty-four units (82.8%) responded, and of these, 20 institutions (68.9%) responded to question on the number of patients treated with ECT. Pre-ECT procedures commonly involved informed consent, a physical examination, and basic blood investigations. Bilateral, unilateral, and bifrontal electrode placements were used, whereas dose titration methods and seizure monitoring were used by most respondents. The number of persons treated with ECT per 10,000 persons per year was 0.22, whereas the number of ECT procedures performed per 10,000 persons per year was 1.19. The most common indication for ECT was depression, with most patients being between the ages of 18 and 59 years.


The characteristics and rate of ECT utilization in South Africa have been determined and generally emulated international guidelines and trends. However, accessibility to services and aspects such as training and accreditation could be improved.

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