“Road accidents in Africa: a major but neglected public health problem”

IR researcher Emmanuel Bonnet laments that road safety is the number one cause of death among 5-29-year-olds, but states on the continent are only taking short-term measures.

Tribune. Road kills, more in Africa than anywhere else. The January 9 bus accident near Kaffrine, Senegal, was highly publicized because of the number of victims: 40 dead and 101 injured. But it reminds us of a situation that happens very often in most African countries. Thus, this drama has been added to the long list of recent gruesome clashes.

On January 5, 14 people were killed and 70 injured in a bus accident in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast; 25 dead north of Abidjan in August 2022; At the end of July 2022, 30 dead in southeastern Kenya and 25 in central Egypt during the same period. The cause of the accident in Kaffrin – a burst tire – highlighted the poor condition of the vehicles and lack of control over safety elements.

In 2010, under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly, the decade of global action on road safety was declared. Ten years later, in February 2020, the Stockholm Declaration highlighted that no low-income country had reduced road mortality and morbidity rates. Africa has the highest rates. The average death rate is 27.5 per 100,000 population on the continent, and more than three times lower in high-income countries. Traffic accidents are also the leading cause of death among children and youth aged 5-29.

Underrated national balance sheets

If this decade was a failure in terms of reducing deaths and injuries, it would at least have the merit of putting it at the center of the political agenda: to reduce the number of injuries and deaths on the world’s roads by 50% by 2030 under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

But first, the real question is whether African countries can produce reliable statistics. For example: many West African countries take their data from police intervention reports. However, the national police are not the most involved actors when a serious accident occurs.

Firefighters are the ones who intervene to rescue victims and bring them to treatment centers. Several studies in Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire suggest that data from firefighters and emergency situations in hospitals may be more accurate. Then there are four times more injuries and deaths. Therefore, national balances are underestimated.

The issue of injury is also crucial. They are forced to engage in caregiving, which is often very costly to their income. As for the reception and care facilities in hospitals, they are insufficient and should be developed and modernized, especially outside the capitals. Some injured people suffer from permanent disabilities that are more difficult to treat in Africa than elsewhere. Thus, traffic accidents and related injuries also (and above all?) represent a major but neglected public health problem: few tools are applied at the pre-hospital, hospital and post-hospital levels to meet the needs.

African nations are establishing road safety agencies under the supervision of their transport ministries to implement policies, educate users and develop certain accident-prone areas. Most countries also have a whole arsenal of legislation on traffic rules, but the vast majority of these laws are not enforced. Wearing a helmet, wearing a seat belt, and even blood alcohol levels are almost never checked in the field.

Short-term measures

States rely on these institutions without the means to actually act. They depend on other ministries who rarely take outside instructions. There are inter-ministerial commissions, but they meet rarely or when there is a major incident like the Kaffrin accident. A number of measures were subsequently taken to improve road safety, but they resulted in short-term field measures.

In 2021, the government in Côte d’Ivoire decided to make helmets compulsory after several fatal accidents in the north of the country. A year later, we’re back to where we were: only 20% of users wear a helmet. States are trying to act, but road safety must be implemented over a long period of time, in several sectors simultaneously, and this is true in the difficult economic, social and political-security context of these countries.

Finally, the Kaffrine accident should not obscure all other road accidents: pedestrians, who represent the vast majority of injuries and deaths in Africa, involving vulnerable users of two-wheelers – motorized or not. We don’t talk about them much, but they happen every day and generally among the most disadvantaged populations.

Acting on road safety requires more commitments from states and more international assistance. It also involves educating about road risks from an early age to change behaviour. It is within these conditions that real progress will emerge.

Emmanuel Bonnet He is the research director of the Institute for Research and Development (IRD) (UMR PRODIG), a specialist in road safety in Africa.

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