Objective: To give critical care clinicians in Western nations a general overview of intensive care medicine in less developed countries and to stimulate institutional or personal initiatives to improve critical care services in the least developed countries.
Data source: In-depth PubMed search and personal experience of the authors.
Data synthesis: In view of the eminent burden of disease, prevalence of critically ill patients in the least developed countries is disproportionately high. Despite fundamental logistic (water, electricity, oxygen supply, medical technical equipment, drugs) and financial limitations, intensive care medicine has become a discipline of its own in most nations. Today, many district and regional hospitals have units where severely ill patients are separately cared for, although major intensive care units are only found in large hospitals of urban or metropolitan areas. High workload, low wages, and a high risk of occupational infections with either the human immunodeficiency virus or a hepatitis virus explain burnout syndromes and low motivation in some health care workers. The four most common admission criteria to intensive care units in least developed countries are postsurgical treatment, infectious diseases, trauma, and peripartum maternal or neonatal complications. Logistic and financial limitations, as well as insufficiencies of supporting disciplines (e.g., laboratories, radiology, surgery), poor general health status of patients, and in many cases delayed presentation of severely sick patients to the intensive care unit, contribute to comparably high mortality rates.
Conclusion: More studies on the current state of intensive care medicine in least developed countries are needed to provide reasonable aid to improve care of the most severely ill patients in the poorest countries of the world.