This White Paper has been formally accepted for support by the International Federation for Emergency Medicine (IFEM) and by the World Federation of Intensive and Critical Care (WFICC), put forth by a multi-specialty group of intensivists and emergency medicine providers from low-and low-middle-income countries (LMICs) and high-income countries (HiCs) with the aim of 1) defining the current state of caring for the critically ill in low-resource settings (LRS) within LMICs and 2) highlighting policy options and recommendations for improving the system-level delivery of early critical care services in LRS. LMICs have a high burden of critical illness and worse patient outcomes than HICs, hence, the focus of this White Paper is on the care of critically ill patients in the early stages of presentation in LMIC settings. In such settings, the provision of early critical care is challenged by a fragmented health system, costs, a health care workforce with limited training, and competing healthcare priorities. Early critical care services are defined as the early interventions that support vital organ function during the initial care provided to the critically ill patient—these interventions can be performed at any point of patient contact and can be delivered across diverse settings in the healthcare system and do not necessitate specialty personnel. Currently, a single “best” care delivery model likely does not exist in LMICs given the heterogeneity in local context; therefore, objective comparisons of quality, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness between varying models are difficult to establish. While limited, there is data to suggest that caring for the critically ill may be cost effective in LMICs, contrary to a widely held belief. Drawing from locally available resources and context, strengthening early critical care services in LRS will require a multi-faceted approach, including three core pillars: education, research, and policy. Education initiatives for physicians, nurses, and allied health staff that focus on protocolized emergency response training can bridge the workforce gap in the short-term; however, each country’s current human resources must be evaluated to decide on the duration of training, who should be trained, and using what curriculum. Understanding the burden of critical Illness, best practices for resuscitation, and appropriate quality metrics for different early critical care services implementation models in LMICs are reliant upon strengthening the regional research capacity, therefore, standard documentation systems should be implemented to allow for registry use and quality improvement. Policy efforts at a local, national and international level to strengthen early critical care services should focus on funding the building blocks of early critical care services systems and promoting the right to access early critical care regardless of the patient’s geographic or financial barriers. Additionally, national and local policies describing ethical dilemmas involving the withdrawal of life-sustaining care should be developed with broad stakeholder representation based on local cultural beliefs as well as the optimization of limited resources.
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