By Adnan Hyder, HSG Board Member
Walking the streets of Dhaka or Kampala it is not uncommon to see rickshaws zooming through the streets, right beside children playing in the dirt, mothers with babies walking to the market, and young people selling all types of goods. A road in these contexts is not just for cars, but also for people, matatus, boda bodas, pedestrians and motorcyclists—it is all part of the hustle and bustle —and yet offers unparalleled dangers killing thousands every day.
The situation in these cities is not unique. Road traffic injuries (RTIs) claim an astounding 1.25 million or more lives globally every year, or over 3,000 deaths every day worldwide. Developing countries, like Bangladesh and Uganda, bear the largest burden of these deaths— a whopping 90%—even though they have only 54% of the world’s total vehicles.
The struggle to define road traffic injuries as a public health burden in dire need of a solution has been a lengthy one, yet reached a turning point when they were finally included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. Specifically, SDG 3.6 is focused reducing fatalities and serious injuries from road traffic by 50% by 2020, an ambitious goal whose fruition remains unclear as the opportunity gap narrows for action.
The World Day of Remembrance for Victims of Road Traffic Injuries is a poignant reminder that we are nearing closer to 2020 and still have a way to go. The good news is that deaths and injuries are often entirely avoidable, and we have the knowledge and proven strategies to prevent them. But if we are to reach this bold target, we need to take an action-focused approach, which goes across sectors. Indeed, there is role for everyone to play. Governments, private corporations, universities and NGOs alike.
Governments need to implement legislation
Governments need to be aggressive in implementation. Legislation is one of the most effective ways to save lives, especially at a population level. The onus is often put on pedestrians to protect themselves, but what we should really be doing is creating environments that are people centered and not car centric.
Policymakers can protect their citizens by managing speed—the fundamental element behind crashes—by enforcing speed limits and designing better streets; improving infrastructure such as redesigning roadways so that sidewalks are accessible and placing physical barriers between bike and car lanes; and diverting funding into road safety by making it a priority on their agenda and investing in public transportation.
The medical costs associated with injuries can be devastating; road traffic injuries place an enormous financial burden on emergency medical and health systems, and the loss of productivity and earning potential that comes with being injured—potentially for life—is more than families can bear. It is for this reason that the World Health Organization (WHO) is promoting the SAVE LIVES package.
NGOs need to build bridges
NGOs provide a vital link between communities, governments and funders. They can raise awareness to a cause, establish connections within communities, and can provide additional sources of funding. But in order to be effective, NGOs need to work together.
By sharing best practices and relevant data, NGOs can create a network that is able to respond and step in to fill gaps where governments cannot. For example, Safe Kids Worldwide, an NGO that works with over 400 coalitions to reduce injuries in children under 15 (including global road safety), has successfully harnessed the power of local, national and global NGOs to bring awareness of the issue to the forefront and respond accordingly.
Private sector need to contribute
Safe streets and vehicles are not solely a public sector concern. Halving deaths and injuries by 2020 will not happen without the support and partnership of corporations. Private companies can have a lot of sway over how vehicles are built and roads are designed– and economic considerations must not come at the cost of egregious deaths from road traffic injuries.
The private sector can also offer assistance in the form of philanthropic aid, through innovation in safe vehicle and roadway design, and through meaningful private-public partnerships that leverage combined resources.
Academics and researchers need to support
Finally, universities and research institutes need to play their role in both generating data for decisions and to train the next generation of leaders in road safety. This is especially true now as evidence is needed in each country, and trained human resources are required for implementation of key interventions.
Networks of researchers (such as the global Road Traffic Injuries Network and Health Systems Global) and opportunities to hear and present innovations (such as the World Conference of Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion) support these larger initiatives.
We clearly have the tools to prevent deaths from road traffic injuries, but 2020 is a short two years away so swift, but considered action is urgently needed. There is no doubt that it is the responsibility of us all to contribute and influence change.