World Health Day bombshell...
Guyana ranks 5th in traffic accidents in the Americas
--- costs average $1B each year
Guyana Chronicle
April 7, 2004

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GUYANA is ranked fifth among countries in the Americas in terms of rates of traffic-related deaths, and according to Health Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, this frightening statistic ought to jar Guyanese out of their complacent approach to road usage.

"We cannot stand by and allow the carnage on our roads to continue unabated," Dr. Ramsammy said in a message to mark World Health Day, which is being observed today under the theme - 'Road Safety Is No Accident'.

"With more and better roads, poor driving habits and poor use of roads in general, the rates of deaths and the carnage would continue to increase unless we do something now..." the Health Minister said.

He said it is not only the deaths, but the number of persons injured, including those disabled for life that are frightening. "We estimate that the cost of taking care of accident victims amount to more than $100M per year at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation alone," he contended.

He noted that when loss of productivity, among other things, are taken into consideration, accidents cost Guyana more than $500M per year. This, the Minister said, is an enormous amount of resources for Guyana to have to expend on a problem that is absolutely preventable. When replacements of parts and vehicles and cost for life-long disability are computed, road traffic accidents easily cost Guyana about $1B per year or more than 1.5% of our national budget, Ramsammy stated.

"The fact is, accidents just don't simply happen; they are caused," he said.

Such accidents are caused by users using the roads improperly, by inexperienced and unqualified drivers, by drivers breaching the rules and common sense, including total disregard for speed limits, by pedestrians ignoring safety rules in their own use of the road, by lack of education among all categories of users, by inadequate rules and regulations or under-implementation of the rules and regulations, by too many persons drinking and driving (driving under the influence of alcohol), by persons ignoring the seat belt rules, by persons insisting on the use of cell phones while driving, by a general lack of knowledge in how to use roadways safely and by poorly designed roads or roads not in proper conditions or, in general, poor road environments.

"If we are going to reduce accidents, save lives and reduce disability due to accidents, traffic safety must become a priority in our everyday lives (and) it must become the business of every individual, every family, every user of the roads, including pedestrians, drivers and passengers, schools, churches, local governments and the central government," he asserted.

Traffic and road use education and awareness must become a priority not for a day, or a week or a year - but all the time. Alluding to the fact that we must sustain our efforts in promoting knowledge and safety on the roads, Minister Ramsammy indicated that our laws, rules and regulations must be adequate to ensure enough safeguards to protect persons from those who refuse to adhere to simple rules that promote safety.

In the end, if Guyana is to reverse the trend of increasing rates of deaths due to traffic accident, if we are to demonstrate the efficacy of the notion that 'Road Safety is No Accident', it will have to be a united effort, he posited.

This effort, he said, will require inter-sector approaches involving the Ministries of Health, Home Affairs, Education, Labour and Social Security and Youth, Culture and Sports. Also the efforts of individuals, communities and NGOs. "Everyone must play a role," he said, adding, "This is a battle we can win".

He noted, too, that traffic accident is a universal phenomenon and affects the health and development of all countries.

Annually, between 20 and 50 million persons are injured with more than five million disabled for life and more than one million killed by traffic accidents around the world.

According to statistics provided by Ramsammy, each day more than 140,000 persons are injured because of traffic accidents and more than 3,000 die with more than 15,000 disabled for life.

Indeed, road traffic injuries today rank as the #9 to ranked contributor to the Global Burden of Disease, he said. He also pointed out that at the present rate of road traffic accidents, injuries cause by road traffic accidents will rank as the #3 cause of Global Burden of Disease by 2020 unless we make a change.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that traffic accidents cost the world more than US$520B annually. In developing countries, traffic accidents cause annual expenditures amounting to more than US$65B per year.