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Management of patients with severe or critical COVID-19 is mainly modeled after care for patients with severe pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) from other causes, and these recommendations are based on evidence that often originates from investigations in resource-rich intensive care units located in high-income countries. Often, it is impractical to apply these recommendations to resource-restricted settings, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). We report on a set of pragmatic recommendations for acute respiratory failure and mechanical ventilation management in patients with severe/critical COVID-19 in LMICs. We suggest starting supplementary oxygen when SpO2 is persistently lower than 94%. We recommend supplemental oxygen to keep SpO2 at 88-95% and suggest higher targets in settings where continuous pulse oximetry is not available but intermittent pulse oximetry is. We suggest a trial of awake prone positioning in patients who remain hypoxemic; however, this requires close monitoring, and clear failure and escalation criteria. In places with an adequate number and trained staff, the strategy seems safe. We recommend to intubate based on signs of respiratory distress more than on refractory hypoxemia alone, and we recommend close monitoring for respiratory worsening and early intubation if worsening occurs. We recommend low-tidal volume ventilation combined with FiO2 and positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) management based on a high FiO2/low PEEP table. We recommend against using routine recruitment maneuvers, unless as a rescue therapy in refractory hypoxemia, and we recommend using prone positioning for 12-16 hours in case of refractory hypoxemia (PaO2/FiO2 < 150 mmHg, FiO2 ≥ 0.6 and PEEP ≥ 10 cmH2O) in intubated patients as standard in ARDS patients. We also recommend against sharing one ventilator for multiple patients. We recommend daily assessments for readiness for weaning by a low-level pressure support and recommend against using a T-piece trial because of aerosolization risk.

Original publication




Journal article


The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene

Publication Date





60 - 71


1Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Research Centre, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.


COVID-LMIC Task Force and the Mahidol-Oxford Research Unit (MORU), Humans, Respiratory Function Tests, Respiration, Artificial, Developing Countries, Disease Management, Practice Guidelines as Topic, Hypoxia, Respiratory Distress Syndrome, COVID-19, Oxygen Saturation