Guyana 5th in Americas in road fatality rates
-accidents cost country at least $1B each year - Ramsammy
Stabroek News
April 7, 2004

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Guyana is ranked 5th among countries in the Americas for fatality rates related to traffic accidents and this is something that ought to jar people here from complacency, Health Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy says.

In his message to mark World Health Day today, Dr Ramsammy announced the establishment of a broad-based, inter-sector National Committee to be convened shortly by the Ministries of Health and Home Affairs and by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) to formulate plans for a sustained and aggressive road safety programme. The body will also include industry, NGOs and civic society members.

In recent years, the non-government group Mothers in Black has fought a vigorous campaign for sterner measures by the government to reduce traffic deaths. One key measure introduced as a result was the mandatory use of seat belts.

The theme for this year's observance of World Health Day is "Road Safety is No Accident", and the role of traffic accidents is being highlighted as a major contributor to ill- health and under-development in this country.

"This is a battle we can win," Dr Ramsammy assured, and he recommended inter-sector approaches involving the Ministries of Health, Education, Home Affairs, Labour and Social Security, and Youth, Culture and Sport as well as the efforts of individuals, communities, NGOs and industry.

In addition, the Ministry of Health will appoint a person within its Health Promotion Unit to have permanent and exclusive responsibility for promoting road safety.

Government would also promote a permanent awards scheme to schools for designing and implementing road safety programmes. Each year schools would be awarded prizes and recognition certificates for their programmes, Ramsammy disclosed.

He noted that the five countries with the highest rates of death per 100,000 due to traffic accidents in the Americas are Belize (30.1), Guadeloupe (26), El Salvador (25.2), Guatemala (22.6) and Guyana (21.6), adding that the rate per 100,000 population worldwide is 19.

In developing countries, the rate is 20.2, so the rate for deaths due to traffic accidents for Guyana is above the rates both worldwide and for developing countries also, the Heath Minister stressed.

He said further that the concern is not only over the deaths, but also the number of persons injured, including those disabled for life. It is estimated, he said, that the cost of taking care of accident victims amounts to more than $100M per year at the Georgetown Public Hospital alone. And when loss of productivity and other factors are considered, accidents cost Guyana more than $500M per year.

"This is an enormous amount of resources for Guyana to have to spend for 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 argued.

He contended too that accidents are caused by persons using roads improperly, by inexperienced and unqualified drivers, by drivers breaching the rules and commonsense, including total disregard for speed limits. He also cited pedestrians for ignoring safety rules and a lack of education among all categories of users, besides inadequate rules and regulations or their under-implementation.

Ramsammy said also that too many persons drive under the influence of alcohol, ignore the seat belt rules, insist on using cell phones while driving, while poorly designed roads as well as poor road environments are also contributory factors.

"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. 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," Ramsammy advised.

Meanwhile, PAHO disclosed in a news release on World Health Day that in this country, there is an average of 2,872 accidents per year, and when disaggregated that results in 146 fatal accidents, 1,225 injury accidents and 1,484 in property damage only or what is known as fender benders.

PAHO noted also that there are 170 fatalities resulting from these 146 fatal accidents. Of the pedestrians being killed on the roadways, the organization said 49% are working adults 20-54 years old and 23% are school-age children 3-17 years old. And among the school-age children being killed on the roadways, 46% are within the 5-9 age group.

The economic costs of these accidents and injuries to Guyana, according to PAHO, is estimated at 3.2% (US$18M) of the GNP which was $552.6 million in year 2000. These costs include direct and indirect medical costs, productivity costs, and premature funeral expenses, among other expenditures, the release added.