Member Spotlight: Ernst Scriba

April 6th, 2020

Ernst Scriba


 What inspired you to become a physician?

I was aiming to use my love for the sciences and psychology to improve people’s lives.

Tell us about your medical school experience and early experiences as a physician.

 I studied at Stellenbosch University (Stellenbosch, South Africa) from 1986 to 1991 and was thoroughly equipped to be an independent medical practitioner.  I then worked in numerous hospitals in order to broaden my scope of practice, including in the United Kingdom.  I finally started in spinal cord injury (SCI) care in 1997.

 Who inspired you to become involved in rehabilitation and SCI medicine?

 I started working in the Conradie Spinal Unit (Cape Town, South Africa) in 1997 under the mentorship of Dr. Dennis Newton.  I immediately felt part of a bigger “calling” and part of a family of passionate people (staff/colleagues, the SCI community and ex-patients) committed to improving spinal cord care in South Africa.

 Describe the care and equipment available for persons with SCI in your early days as a physician.  Please describe the advances in care that you have witnessed and/or were involved with since that time.

 Specialised care of patients with traumatic and nontraumatic SCI in South Africa has unfortunately gotten worse for the general population/public in the State sector due to various reasons.  Private care has improved in leaps and bounds in a few areas of the country (mainly the major cities).  The Conradie Spinal Unit’s closure in 2004 negatively influenced service delivery to SCI patients in the Western Cape as SCI-related complications are not being addressed at the appropriate level of care.  Our Centre (the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre, WCRC) in Cape Town, however, delivers world-class inpatient SCI rehabilitation.

 What kind of medical and surgical procedures do you/have you performed in your role as a physician in SCI medicine?

 As is needed in the nature of traumatic and nontraumatic SCI medicine: suprapubic catheter insertions, proximal femorectomies, plastic surgery assistance, urodynamics, intrathecal baclofen screening/test-dosing and arranging for neurosurgical insertion, botulinum toxin injections, nerve blocks, closed reductions of slow velocity cervical dislocations, pressure sore debridements and selection of plastic surgery candidates.

 Tell us about the efforts that were made to improve the quality of life in general and participation in society of persons with SCI in South Africa that you witnessed and/or were involved with. 

 We have multiple organisations lobbying for disability rights, the main one being known as the Quadruplegic Association of South Africa (QASA).  The South African Spinal Cord Association (SASCA) has been an advocate for SCI treatment to be improved in South Africa for more than 24 years.

 Please describe the current state of postgraduate education available for rehabilitation medicine physicians in South Africa.

 The South African Society for Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine (SASPRM) has been formed by rehabilitation physicians in South Africa to promote the qualification of physicians in rehabilitation here in South Africa.

 Tell us about the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre (WCRC).

 WCRC is a 156-bed rehabilitation facility in Lentegeur, Cape Town which specialises in rehabilitation of all physical disabilities.  It offers multidisciplinary inpatient rehabilitation including all the disciplines.  We have come from the Conradie Spinal Unit in Pinelands and united with the Karl Bremer Hospital (which provided general rehab services) to form the WCRC  in 2004.  Acute SCI treatment is now being done at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.

 Tell us about the South African Spinal Cord Association (SASCA).

 SASCA has been an advocate for traumatic and nontraumatic SCI treatment to be improved in South Africa for more than 24 years.  It is a non-profit organisation of about 200 members consisting of SCI clinicians from all over South Africa.  We have biannual conferences (the next one is on 29-31 October 2020 in Stellenbosch) and a vibrant website (  Our aim is to study all of problems concerning traumatic and non-traumatic afflictions of the spinal cord and, more particularly, the advancement of medical and surgical intervention, rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons with SCI.

 When did you join IMSoP/ISCoS?

 In 2003, if memory serves me correctly…

What have been your most memorable/favorite activities you have participated in as a member of ISCoS/IMSoP?

The journals have been invigorating and the conferences even more special.  Visits to South Africa by ISCoS colleagues have been very encouraging.  Keeping contact and learning from each other is very empowering.

What are the greatest obstacles and/or challenges that you or your peers  face in your career?

Burnout challanges SCI rehabilitation care provision while the inability to attract new clinicians who are passionate about SCI remains an obstacle.

What languages do you speak?

 English, Afrikaans, German (fluent written and spoken), Xhosa (limited to some medical vocabulary), and minimal Italian.

Who is the person(s) you would most like to thank and why?

 Dr. Dennis Newton, who was a great mentor and a passionate SCI physician, my creator and of course my wife Anél. They have given me the will and strength to do my work with passion.

Where are the most memorable places you have traveled?

 With respect to ISCoS conferences: Austria and Montreal.  On holiday: Italy, Paris and the rural areas of the United Kingdom.

Where to find us

National Spinal Injuries Centre,
Stoke Mandeville Hospital,
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire,
HP21 8AL, United Kingdom

How to contact us

Tel: +44 1296 315 866


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