Background: Of all deaths from injury, 90% occur in low- and middle-income countries, and most of the injured die before reaching a hospital. We have previously shown that a rural trauma system in Northern Iraq significantly reduced mortality in victims of mines and war injuries. In this follow-up study, we evaluated the adaptation and maturation of the system to changing injury patterns, focusing on mortality, time intervals from injury to medical help, and treatment effect on the physiologic impact of injuries.
Methods: Approximately 6,000 first responders and 88 paramedics were trained in Northern Iraq from 1996 to 2004 and treated 2,349 victims. All patients were prospectively registered with monitoring of time intervals, interventions performed, prehospital treatment effect, and mortality.
Results: Injury pattern changed markedly during the study period, with penetrating injuries decreasing from 91% to 15%. Mortality in victims of mines and war injuries (n = 919) decreased from 28.7% to 9.4% (p = 0.001), as did the time interval from injury to first medical help, from 2.4 hours to 0.6 hours (p = 0.002). The prehospital treatment effect improved significantly in the later part of the study period compared with the first years (p < 0.0005). Improvement was maintained in new injury groups. Retention of paramedics in the program was 72% after 8 years.
Conclusions: This low-tech prehospital emergency system designed for dealing with penetrating trauma matured by reducing time to first medical help and by improving physiologic parameters after prehospital treatment during the 8-year study period. The program adapted to changing injury patterns without compromising results.