Linking road safety and health Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
April 9, 2004

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WHEN Guyana joined other nations in observing World Health Day on Wednesday, few Guyanese expected the linking of road safety and health. "What does road safety have to do with healthcare?" they ask, clearly alarmed by the connection.

Their bewilderment is understood. But fuzzy as it may seem, the connection is justifiable.

Road traffic injuries are a major public health concern because money and resources allocated to healthcare have to be increasingly diverted to expanding accident wards, injury-healing medication and care, including therapy, and the lingering health effects of post-accident trauma.

Globally, says the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), "more than 1.2 million people are killed on the road annually. Millions more are injured or disabled, with an economic cost estimated at US$518 billion."

We're not sure what percentage Guyana contributes to those depressing data.

But looking at what we know from a small country perspective, the statistics are frightening. An average of 2,872 accidents takes place in Guyana each year. 170 of these accidents result in fatalities, about 1,225 in injuries and 1,484 in property damage.

Taken together, accidents and their aftermath "easily" cost Guyana about G$1 billion per year and rank the country fifth in traffic related deaths in the Americas!

As if all this isn't bad enough, of equal concern is the uncaring attitude with which many Guyanese still approach road safety. Even after an unrelenting campaign by Mothers In Black, media articles and photographs detailing every serious mishap, and the grim reminder that at least 40 of every hundred front-seat passengers die each year from refusing to wear seatbelts, Guyanese frowned in July of last year when the Police Traffic Department began enforcing the wearing of seatbelts.

They saw seatbelt wearing as a cumbersome, time-wasting exercise instead of a mechanism for reducing human injury and death from road accidents.

Clearly, however, the exercise has to be sustained. But so also must the campaign to curb the traffic mishaps that occur on our roads as a result of speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, sleep driving - that is, people nodding as they drive - and the persistent belief by many drivers that consideration for how others use the road isn't their business.

Mothers In Black is doing a commendable job to increase awareness of the dire consequences of careless road usage and we hope road users will take heed of the organization's contention that road accidents are avoidable.

We also expect the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Public Works to contribute more to accident reduction by placing traffic lights and traffic signs where they are needed, by replacing obsolete traffic lights, by reintroducing crosswalks or pedestrian crossings at appropriate road junctions and pedestrian lights next to the regular traffic lights and at other vantage points in populated areas.

Road safety associations and schools should be more proactive in teaching students and the general public the rules of the road and work closely with the Police Traffic Department on ways to traffic accident reduction.

If we truly begin to link road safety and health, we should aim to work feverishly at reducing accidents and the time, money and resources they take away from improving healthcare delivery in so many areas that need attention.