Future directions for emergency medical services development in low- and middle-income countries

Peter G. Delaney, Jon Moussally, Benjamin W. Wachira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The lack of prehospital care access in low- and middle-income countries is one of the greatest unmet needs and, therefore, one of the most urgent priorities in global health. Establishing emergency medical services in low- and middle-income countries poses significant challenges and complexities, requiring solutions tailored to prevailing conditions, informed by needs assessments, and adapted to meet local demands in a culturally appropriate and sustainable manner. In areas without existing emergency medical services, patients must rely on informal networks of untrained bystanders and community members to provide first aid and transport to definitive care. Since 2005, training lay first responders has been recommended by the World Health Organization as the first step toward formal emergency medical services development. However, efforts to formalize lay first responders networks have not expanded with the increasing need for prehospital emergency care in low- and middle-income countries, despite their potential. The rapid expansion of communication technologies like mobile smartphones penetrating resource-limited settings offers effective and inexpensive options for dispatching and coordinating lay first responders that were not previously available. These technologies can also be used for more advanced emergency medical services, obviating expensive communications and dispatch infrastructure. Despite disproportionately bearing the global injury burden, lay first responders frequently lack accurate and comprehensive surveillance data secondary to widespread underreporting, especially for non-fatal events. Lay first responders expand surveillance, which may inform future targeted prevention efforts, assisting in the development of tailored countermeasures suited to local hazards and diseases. Emergency medical services development in low- and middle-income countries involves a strategic approach focused on understanding the unique needs of diverse communities, requiring broad stakeholder involvement to create a sense of ownership to maintain volunteer networks and enhance sustainability. By embracing these relatively low-cost, bottom-up strategies, low- and middle-income countries can develop more accessible, efficient, and community-oriented emergency medical systems, ultimately improving public health outcomes and averting preventable deaths to address the emergency burden.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-222
Number of pages3
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2024


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