High morbidity and mortality after lower extremity injuries in Malawi: A prospective cohort study of 905 patients.

A lower extremity injury can be a devastating event in low-income countries due to limited access to surgical care. Its incidence, treatment patterns, and outcomes, however, have not been well-described.

We prospectively enrolled all patients admitted with lower extremity trauma to a tertiary hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi between October 2010 and September 2011. Patients with a lower extremity injury but primarily admitted for unrelated reasons were excluded. The outcomes were deaths, complications, and length of hospital stay.

Of the 905 patients eligible for analysis, 696 (77%) were males. Most patients had femur fractures (46%), and most were treated non-operatively (70%). Overall mortality rate was 3.9%. For adult patients with femur fractures, mortality was higher in patients treated with traction (9.0%) than for those treated with surgery (1.3%). The total complication rate was 15%, with adjusted odds of developing a complication higher in patients with concurrent head injury (OR = 2.8; 95% CI: 1.3–6.0), and patients who had an operative treatment (OR = 2; 95% CI: 1.2–1.9). The median length of stay was 16 days (IQR: 6–27) and was greatest among patients with femur fractures.

Lower extremity injuries resulted in substantial mortality and morbidity in this low-income country. Mortality was particularly high among patients with femur fractures who did not have surgery. Modern orthopedic trauma surgery is greatly needed in low-income countries.