Road traffic accidents: A major public health concern

Road crashes result in destruction of lives and property ? ?
Road crashes result in destruction of lives and property
Road crashes result in destruction of lives and property ?  ?
Road crashes result in destruction of lives and property ?

For some time now, I have been trying so hard to convince myself about what exactly makes it so difficult for us, as a country, to find effective solutions to some of the challenges undermining our development, particularly those that can be significantly tackled by just insisting that a particular good law be made and applied or an already existing one effectively enforced.

Unfortunately, there are so many of such challenges all over the place but on this occasion, what strikes me most is that of road traffic accidents. It has been established that over 90 per cent of road crashes are caused by human error and in Ghana, nearly all the human factors in road crashes are the result of the failure to make or apply one regulation or another.

Just last week, a very good family friend of mine died through a ghastly accident on the Aflao-Accra road. It was alleged that apart from the driver speeding, he was at the same time talking on the phone. Is there not a law banning driving while talking on the phone in this country? Is this law being enforced and how far has public education gone with this particular law?

Increasingly, road traffic accidents resulting in injuries, disabilities and deaths are becoming a major issue of public health concern in this country. Unfortunately, we seem to talk about it only when it occurs and soon after, we all go to sleep. I wish we could give the same concerns and effort to road traffic accidents when they occur as we did for the Melcom disaster or the recent Nii Boi town building disaster.

Effects of road accidents

The loss of innocent lives through road traffic accidents in Ghana is simply alarming. For every person who dies in a road traffic accident, many others are affected either permanently or temporarily. In addition to deaths, there are often many others who are either severely injured or disabled each time there is an accident on our roads.

Looking at the national statistics, the magnitude of road traffic accidents is simply mind boggling and affects all groups of ages. The most worrying is even the bigger impact these road traffic accidents and injuries have on the productive and young people.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), road traffic accidents affecting young and productive age is reported globally as the second cause of death followed by HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. This obviously must be of great concern to governments at large and public health practitioners in particular.

Social, economic cost

The biggest concern of road traffic accidents apart from death and disability is the social and economic costs. We may not necessarily have the statistics on cost of traffic injuries, but global statistics estimate that the cost of road crashes was approximately US$518 billion in 2000. In 2013, WHO estimates that road traffic accidents cost to most countries between 1?3 per cent of their gross national product, while the economic impact on individual families has been shown to result in increased financial borrowing and debt.

The annual costs of road traffic crashes in low income and middle-income countries are estimated to be between US$65-100 billion, more than the total annual amount received in development aid (UN, 2008). The estimated costs as a percentage of the Gross National Product in most African countries range from about 0.8 per cent in Ethiopia, one per cent in South Africa to 2.3 per cent ?in Zambia and 2.7 per cent ?in Botswana to almost five per cent in Kenya.

Effect on GDP

In 2007, National Road Safety Commission in Ghana estimated road traffic accidents to cost 1.6 per cent of GDP. This translated to US$165 million. Of the various kinds of vehicles involved, motorcycle accidents account for four per cent of all road traffic accidents in Ghana.

In most of Africa for example, the rate of deaths due to injuries from a traffic accident is as high as 24.1 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. This is an extremely worrying statistics. Considering the magnitude of effect, there is no doubt that road traffic accidents must be of public health concern to all of us and should deserve special attention and focus.

Public health issue

As a major emerging public health issue, it is important that we, as a country, take pragmatic steps to stop the carnage on our roads by implementing laws that address road traffic accidents. We must vigorously disseminate national plans and policies that address the problem of road traffic accidents.

These should include traffic regulations and laws, road traffic accident prevention practices, improvement in road traffic infrastructure etc. For example, laws and regulations regarding speed limits, drunk?driving, use of motorcycle crash helmet, compulsory use of seat-belt, law on mobile phone use while driving, compliance with road signals, strict examination and licensing of drivers and riders, use of road worthy vehicles and motorcycles and bikes, etc are practices that must be strictly enforced. In many developed countries, what makes significant difference are not just the laws but the enforcement of these laws, policies and regulations.

It is unfortunate that in Ghana, where the incidence of road traffic accidents is high with huge economic consequences, such important and necessary road traffic laws, regulations and policies are rather not enforced, or given the needed attention.

The enforcement of public policies such as reduction of speed limits on highways and reduction in the level of tolerance of blood alcohol concentration has drastically reduced the incidence of traffic accidents in many developed countries.

Accidents exert high cost on the society. With road traffic accident as a major public health issue competing with other health sectors priority interventions such as communicable diseases, that have been traditional favourites of many globally funded programmes, it is imperative that policy makers, governments, public health practitioners and indeed stakeholders begin to formulate relevant road accident control policies backed with enforceable regulations that attract the needed national attention, voice and funding.

Improve road infrastructure

The issue of improvements in road infrastructure is critically important since safer roads have a huge impact on road accident prevention. How good or poor a road is may be the difference between life and death. Vehicle standards is very important since the safer vehicles, the less likely it is for accidents to occur.

General public information, education and communication on dangers that road traffic accidents poses to the pedestrian public should be a major focus of our national campaigns to reduce accidents, death and injuries to the general populations.

As one of the leading preventable causes of illnesses and premature deaths, implementation of effective road traffic policies and laws and improvement in road infrastructure and good transportation system can make a difference and reduce the menace of road traffic accidents, injuries and deaths in our country.

There is the need for concerted,multi-sectorial effort to combat the huge menace of road traffic accidents. It will be one important means to ensure that we save lives from needless road traffic accidents. Yes, together, we can save hundreds of lives.

The writer ?Koku Awoonor-Williams? ?is the Regional Director of Health Services, Upper East Region.?

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