Tracheostomy without mechanical ventilation in patients with traumatic brain injury at a tertiary referral hospital in Malawi: a cross sectional study

Gift Mulima1 , Stein Atle Lie2 , Anthony Charles3, Asma Bilal Hanif1 , Carlos G. Varela1 , Leonard N. Banza1 , Sven Young1,4

Corresponding author: Gift Mulima,


Tracheostomy alone, without mechanical ventilation, has been advocated to maintain a free airway in patients with traumatic brain injury in low-income settings with minimal critical care capacity. However, no reports exist on the outcomes of this strategy. We examine the results of this practice at a central hospital in Malawi.

Methods This is a retrospective review of medical records and prospectively gathered trauma surveillance data of patients admitted to Kamuzu Central Hospital, with traumatic brain injury from January 2010 to December 2015. In-hospital mortality rates were examined according to registered traumatic brain injury severity and airway management. Results

In our analysis, 1875 of 2051 registered traumatic brain injury patients were included; 83.3% were male, mean age 32.6 (SD 12.9) years. 14.2% (n=267) of the patients had invasive airway management (endotracheal tube or tracheostomy) with or without mechanical ventilation. Mortality in severe traumatic brain injury treated with tracheostomy without mechanical ventilation was 42% (10/24) compared to 21% (14/68) in patients treated without intubation or tracheostomy (p= 0.043). Tracheostomies had an overall complication rate of 11%.


Tracheostomy without mechanical ventilation in severe traumatic brain injury did not improve survival outcomes in our setting. Tracheostomy for severe traumatic brain injury cannot be recommended when mechanical ventilation is not available unless there are sufficient specialized human resources for follow up in the ward. Efforts to improve critical care facilities and human resource capacity to allow proper use of mechanical ventilation in severe traumatic brain injury should be a high priority in low-income countries where the burden of trauma is high.

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