Background: The burden of musculoskeletal trauma is growing worldwide, disproportionately affecting low-income countries like Malawi. However, resources required to manage musculoskeletal trauma remain inadequate. A detailed understanding of the current capacity of Malawian public hospitals to manage musculoskeletal trauma is unknown and necessary for effective trauma system development planning.
Methods: We developed a list of infrastructure, manpower, and material resources used during treatment of adult femoral shaft fractures-a representative injury managed non-operatively and operatively in Malawi. We identified, by consensus of at least 7 out of 10 experts, which items were essential at district and central hospitals. We surveyed orthopaedic providers in person at all 25 district and 4 central hospitals in Malawi on the presence, availability, and reasons for unavailability of essential resources. We validated survey responses by performing simultaneous independent on-site assessments of 25% of the hospitals.
Results: No district or central hospital in Malawi had available all the essential resources to adequately manage femoral fractures. On average, district hospitals had 71% (range 41-90%) of essential resources, with at least 15 of 25 reporting unavailability of inpatient ward nurses, x-ray, external fixators, gauze and bandages, and walking assistive devices. District hospitals offered only non-operative treatment, though 24/25 reported barriers to performing skeletal traction. Central hospitals reported an average of 76% (71-85%) of essential resources, with at least 2 of 4 hospitals reporting unavailability of full blood count, inpatient hospital beds, a procedure room, an operating room, casualty/A&E department clinicians, orthopaedic clinicians, a circulating nurse, inpatient ward nurses, electrocardiograms, x-ray, suture, and walking assistive devices. All four central hospitals reported barriers to performing skeletal traction. Operative treatment of femur fracture with a reliable supply of implants was available at 3/4 hospitals, though 2/3 were dependent entirely on foreign donations.
Conclusion: We identified critical deficiencies in infrastructure, manpower, and essential resources at district and central hospitals in Malawi. Our findings provide evidence-based guidance on how to improve the musculoskeletal trauma system in Malawi, by identifying where and why essential resources were unavailable when needed.