By Beatrice Akite Wanyama
According to World Health Organisation (WHO, 2015), injuries represent a leading cause of death in African region, where it claims over 900,000 lives annually. In fact, 20-50 people worldwide are injured and 10 people die daily on the road. To this effect, Johns Hopkins University in collaboration with Makerere University Chronic Consequences of Trauma, Injuries and Disability in Uganda (Chronic-TRIAD) Program hosted a symposium to discuss the burden of injuries. This 2-day symposium (1-2 March 2018) at Sheraton Hotel, Kampala brought together leading researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and activists working in the field of injury prevention in East Africa and the world to share their research, experience and discuss solutions to the growing burden of injuries in the region.
The symposium was made possible by the Road Traffic Injuries Research Network (RTIRN) which is an independent network of re-searchers, scientists, practitioners and policy makers focused on the promotion, conduct and utilization of research in order to reduce the global burden of road traffic injuries, especially in low-middle in-come countries (LMICS). Under the theme; ‘Translating Trauma and Injury Prevention Knowledge into practice,” the East African Injury symposium this year focused on countering the effects of injuries in reference to road safety. Dr. Rhoda Wanyenze, the Dean of the Makerere University School of Public Health, while addressing the audience at the opening of the forum suggested having a multi-sectoral approach to drive the message home. She urged all to holistically address the burden of injuries.
In addition, Jean Todt, United Nations Special Envoy on Road Safety, observed that, much as everyone is a road user, and road safety is a responsibility for every citizen, it remains overlooked.
To counter the burden, he suggested enforcement of laws and education in schools. Adding to his voice, Dr. Abdulgafor M. Bachani, faculty directory Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of public Health (MD JHSPH) also explained that there are no roads reserved for other users (pedestrians). He cited that due to their risky behaviour, males and high income countries where drivers are used to driving beyond the speed limit, are the most affected. It was also observed that Injuries are most likely to be rampant in commercial places, entertainment areas, speed hymps where pedestrians are more likely to be knocked at Zebra crossings.
Dr. Nhan Tran, Coordinator Unintentional Injury prevention, World Health Organization, on the other hand explained that injuries happen due to systems that failed. He called upon countries to have infrastructures that support the cause for safety. He tasked all to be more ambitious to cause a change. ‘There is need for local champions, investing in human resources and enforcement of laws. Let us challenge ourselves to a bigger vision,’ he exemplified. Likewise, Dr. Adnan A. Hyder, Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit observed that while enforcement is the big challenge, road safety ‘…is everybody’s problem.’ While looking at the impact of injuries, Nukhba ZIA, MBBs; Doctorate Candidate Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health observed that children are the most affected. She observed that injuries come with disability, depression, loss of productivity, lack of education and employment. ‘There is no way it will be reduced at once, but we are called to minimize injuries,’ she explained. In fact, Anthony Omodingo, the deputy traffic officer, Uganda acknowledged that pedestrians, motorists, and children are the most affected road users.
On the other hand, Brenda Arieto a victim observed that the city does not have rehabilitation centres. She expressed a challenge in increasing rate of dependency due to injuries, costly living and limited facilities for disabled people. Also, Angela Balaba, another survivor gave in limited accessibility as a grave effect of injury. Calling upon policy makers to think about all the victims of injuries, she suggested having inclusive budget that caters for victims of injury. ‘Our votes are not disabled,’ she decried. ‘There is nothing for us without us. Think of me as you plan,’ she explained.
According to Hon. Tony Ayoo, representative Member of Parliament at the gathering, said that walking on the roads of Kampala has become dangerous. He explained that the challenge of road safety is that there is no strong lead in enforcing road safety regulations. Though he observed that Road safety is given priority, he explained that the Government has not ratified United Nations on road safety. To aid in road safety, he suggested education, strict implementation and punishment of culprits (drivers), in addition to support from the public.
Eng. Jacob Byamukama, Deputy Director Roads Management Kampala Capital City Authority also observed that the behaviour of drivers leaves a lot to be desired. He suggested having more priorities for pedestrians. ‘There are inadequate guidelines, educate the masses,’ he suggested.
Closing the function, Dr. Henry Mwebesa, the Ag. Director of Health Services, Ministry of Health, applauded the symposium and acknowledged the positive collaboration of Makerere University with police, Ministry of Health, John Hopkins, Kampala Capital City Authority, among others to cause a change. He said that the Ministry can rely on organisations which run ambulance (Uganda Red cross, St. Johns ambulance, OPM) in the region to counter road safety challenges.
To crown the day, Dr. Olive Kobusingye, Accident and Injury epidemiologist, the brain behind this symposium was awarded the John Hopkins University (USA) award of excellence in Injury Research, the first of its kind. The challenge of injury can be reversed by road safety education and creating awareness. The symposium acknowledged implementation failures due to systems that have stalled. Though many agreed that Road safety is not simple, it demands more than a single solution; change of systems, human behaviour…are ways suggested to counter the rampant cases of injuries on the roads. However, as observed, it is us to make a change; it starts with you.
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