In all countries, the priority for reducing road traffic injuries should be prevention. Nonetheless, there are low-cost ways to strengthen the care of injured persons, that will help to lower the toll from road traffic. The purpose of this review was to elucidate ways to accomplish this goal in the context of less developed countries. Studies selected for this review were obtained by Medline review, selecting on key words such as trauma, injury, trauma care, essential health services, and developing country. Articles pertaining to any country and all available years were considered. In addition, the authors utilized articles from the gray literature and journals from Mexico and Ghana that are not Medline referenced. Studies surveyed point to road safety and other forms of injury prevention, as well as prehospital care, as likely priorities for developing countries. Nonetheless, hospital-based improvements can contribute to decreases in mortality and, especially, decreases in disability. For both prehospital and hospital based care, studies revealed several critical weak points to address in: (1) human resources (staffing and training); (2) physical resources (equipment, supplies, and infrastructure); and (3) administration and organization. The 'essential services' approach, which has contributed to progress in a variety of fields of international health, needs to be developed for the care of the injured. This would define the trauma treatment services that could realistically be made available to virtually every injured person. It would then address the inputs of human resources, physical resources, and administration necessary to assure these services optimally in the different geographic and socioeconomic environments worldwide. Finally, it would identify and target deficiencies in these inputs that need to be strengthened.