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Traffic accident deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa: a worrying trend

Traffic accident deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa: a worrying trend

As a global region, Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest number of vehicles on the road and yet by 2015, road accidents are expected to become the biggest killer of children aged 5–15.

Rapid urbanisation in sub-Saharan Africa is resulting in new health threats for the region’s population, especially a rise in non-communicable illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, and an increasing number of road traffic injuries. A new report sponsored by the World Bank highlights the challenge posed by these threats to an already resource-constrained environment.

The region’s high road accident rates are a key concern. Around 24 out of every 100,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa are killed by traffic accidents each year according to the World Bank and the number of road deaths is predicted to rise by at least 80% by 2020. Seven countries account for almost two-thirds of road deaths in the region – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. And young people are disproportionately affected. In just two years time, deaths among children from road accidents in the region are expected to outstrip those caused by malaria and HIV/AIDS.

Children from poor communities are identified by the report as being at the greatest risk, since they often live alongside the fastest roads and have to negotiate dangerous routes to school. And when children are involved in an accident, limited access to emergency care can often mean worse outcomes from injuries.

Though increasing urbanisation is the main factor underlying the rising death rate from road accidents, other factors such as alcohol consumption among drivers are also believed to play a part. For example, a study of police reports in Nigeria between 1996–2000 discovered that half of all car crashes involved drink-driving. To reduce accidents, the authors of the World Bank report therefore highlight how better law enforcement on drink-driving, as well as on speed reduction, needs to be combined with public awareness campaigns. There also needs to be increased education about seatbelt use and helmet wearing, as well as better urban planning with a greater number of safe crossings over busy roads. 

Nigeria and South Africa have the highest fatality rates in the region, at 34 and 32 deaths per 100,000 people each year respectively. Both countries have been developing their national road safety programme, but efforts could be better coordinated and managed. In South Africa, recent high profile campaigns, such as the one launched in memory of Nelson Mandela’s 13 year-old granddaughter, Zenani Mandela, who was killed in a road traffic accident, have also brought new focus to improving road safety for children in South Africa. But as the World Bank report highlights, much more still needs to be done.

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