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Road Injury: A Big Problem for Global Health (5 May 2006)

A major review published today in The Lancet has revealed the enormous burden of road traffic injuries in countries that can least afford to meet the health and economic costs.

The authors of the review, from the University of Auckland, the George Institute for International Health in Sydney and the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, believe that while motorisation has enhanced the lives of many individuals and societies, the benefits have come with a high price, highlighting a critical need to address road traffic injuries as a public health priority.

Associate Professor Shanthi Ameratunga, of the University of Auckland, reported that: "Although the number of lives lost in road crashes in high-income countries has decreased in recent decades, for the majority of the world's population the burden of road traffic injury is increasing dramatically in terms of societal and economic costs."

In 2002, 1.2 million people were killed and 50 million injured in road traffic crashes worldwide, costing an estimated US$518 billion. The economic costs of road crashes are estimated to exceed the total amount of development assistance low and middle income countries receive annually. "Without appropriate action, road traffic injuries are predicted to escalate from being the ninth leading contributor to the global burden of disease in 1990 to the third leading contributor by 2020," Dr Ameratunga added.

"The World Bank reports that in 20 years the global road death toll will increase by 66%, with an even greater divergence between rich and poor nations projected in the future. While a 28% reduction in fatalities is expected in high-income countries, increases in fatalities of 92% and 147% are anticipated in China and India, respectively."

I am voluntarily not bringing in the deaths of the coal industry so as not to turn this (too quickly) into that kind of brawl... Rather, my point is a combination of the following:

  • we seem to tolerate pretty outrageously high death toll to support our addictions to "mobility", "cheap energy", etc... even when such tolls could easily be massively reduced by fairly simple and well known policy prescriptions;

  • even if the exact number of deaths caused by the Chernobyl accident is unknown and/or downplayed, the perception of it as the worst industrial accident ever is firmly established, and the consequent taint of the whole nuclear industry is very real and has had very real consequences as a number of countries have given up on nuclear energy altogether. So, in effect, even if the number of deaths is in dispute, the policy consequences have happened nevertheless. In that, anti-nuclear advocates have been a lot more effective than road safety ones;

  • in such a context, how do we use the attention on the Chernobyl catastrophe and its deathly toll, even if temporary, to leverage that into action on other hecatombes? Can we mention other causes of massive death tolls (on the basis of "we are willing to do something about Chernobyl, let's do something for another, even bigger problem") or is this seen as an attempt at somehow reducing the importance of the Chernobyl toll?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 07:39:56 AM EST

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