When Seconds Matter: The Need for Improved Medical Care and Emergency Response in Developing Countries
Imagine being injured in a motor vehicle crash. No flashing lights, no ambulance, just a slow and arduous journey to a far-away hospital. This is often the reality faced by crash victims in many developing countries.
Estimates show than 2 million lives could be saved annually by improving emergency transport and medical care in developing countries.
Low-income countries face many barriers to improved emergency care:
- Public health resources are spread too thin. Developing countries often focus their already-sparse public health dollars on disease prevention. In more developed countries, attention to road safety is shared across multiple governmental offices, recognizing that the problem should not be the exclusive concern of one agency.
- Road quality is inadequate. Deteriorating roadways hinder passage of both emergency responders and crash victims. When assessed by the International Road Assessment Program (iRAP), more than half of roads in low- and middle-income countries were rated one to two stars, out of a maximum of five. For every increase in star rating, estimates report that the cost of a crash is cut in half. iRAP tools can help these countries evaluate road investments.
- Road infrastructure is poor. When transport to and from the crash scene is hampered by indirect routes and traffic congestion, crash victims pay the price. Recent studies in Sweden and Norway show that safety improvements to road networks helped reduced crashes and make hospital transport more efficient. To improve the safety of road networks, countries are encouraged to commit at least 10 percent of road budgets to safer infrastructure.
- Pre-hospital care is lacking. Developing countries are in need of trained medical responders able to assist the injured at the scene of the crash. Programs in low- and middle-income countries have shown that individuals with little formal education can be successfully taught to be competent first responders. Such training could be supported by hospital systems and healthcare workers from higher income countries.
- Hospital and ambulatory trauma guidelines are lacking. For life-threatening trauma, tested protocols and procedures are essential. This is standard in the United States and other developed countries, where medical practitioners are trained extensively in trauma care. Development of trauma care programs in lower-income countries could be supported by hospital systems and healthcare workers from developed countries.
- Mobile communication is inadequate. Drivers in low- and middle- income countries may not be able to alert first responders to a crash or potential road hazard due to lack of personal mobile phones. Further, working telephone lines to inform hospitals about incoming injured are also often inadequate. Vehicle manufacturers can collaborate with partners in information technology and communication to develop safe methods of connectivity.
While progress has been made in developing countries, there is still significant room for improvement when it comes to road safety. A collaborative effort focusing on fixing infrastructure, sharing knowledge, and providing resources is needed to achieve a more uniform, worldwide standard of emergency medical response.