Use of bubble continuous positive airway pressure (bCPAP) in the management of critically ill children in a Malawian paediatric unit: An observational study

Sarah Myers, Precious Dinga, Margot Anderson, Charles Schubert, Rachel Mlotha, Ajib Phiri, Tim Colbourn, Eric McCollum, Charles Mwansambo, Peter Kazembe, Hans Joerg Lang

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Introduction In low-resource countries, respiratory failure is associated with a high mortality risk among critically ill children. We evaluated the role of bubble continuous positive airway pressure (bCPAP) in the routine care of critically ill children in Lilongwe, Malawi. Methods We conducted an observational study between 26 February and 15 April 2014, in an urban paediatric unit with approximately 20 000 admissions/year (in-hospital mortality <5% approximately during this time period). Modified oxygen concentrators or oxygen cylinders provided humidified bCPAP air/oxygen flow. Children up to the age of 59 months with signs of severe respiratory dysfunction were recruited. Survival was defined as survival during the bCPAP-treatment and during a period of 48 hours following the end of the bCPAP-weaning process. Results 117 children with signs of respiratory failure were included in this study and treated with bCPAP. Median age: 7 months. Malaria rapid diagnostic tests were positive in 25 (21%) cases, 15 (13%) had severe anaemia (Hb < 7.0 g/dL); 55 (47%) children had multiorgan failure (MOF); 22 (19%) children were HIV-infected/exposed. 28 (24%) were severely malnourished. Overall survival was 79/117 (68%); survival was 54/62 (87%) in children with very severe pneumonia (VSPNA) but without MOF. Among the 19 children with VSPNA (single-organ failure (SOF)) and negative HIV tests, all children survived. Survival rates were lower in children with MOF (including shock) (45%) as well as in children with severe malnutrition (36%) and proven HIV infection or exposure (45%). Conclusion Despite the limitations of this study, the good outcome of children with signs of severe respiratory dysfunction (SOF) suggests that it is feasible to use bCPAP in the hospital management of critically ill children in resource-limited settings. The role of bCPAP and other forms of non-invasive ventilatory support as a part of an improved care package for critically ill children with MOF at tertiary and district hospital level in low-resource countries needs further evaluation. Critically ill children with nutritional deficiencies and/or HIV infection/exposure need further study to determine bCPAP efficacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere000280
JournalBMJ Open Respiratory Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2019



  • Bubble Continuous Positive Airway Pressure
  • critically ill children
  • Malawi
  • non-invasive ventilatory support
  • pneumonia
  • resource-poor setting
  • respiratory failure
  • sub-Saharan Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine

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