Road accidents: Ghana’s emerging public health threat

Arguably, road traffic accidents and the accompanying deaths and permanent disabilities have become a growing public health problem worldwide – especially in countries like Ghana, where they are claiming more lives than the combined effects of the  so-called ‘killer diseases’.

In that vein, the carnage on Ghana’s roads has raised road accidents to the status of a ‘public health’ threat, according to some health experts.  Two weeks ago, the killing of more than 80 passengers in two road accidents on the Kintampo-Tamale and Winneba-Mankessim roads have given cause for road accidents to be classified as a public health threat. In fact, several literatures by the World Health Organisation (WHO) buttress the fact that road accidents constitute a public health threat. In this article, these literatures and statistics on the rate of Ghana’s road accidents will be used to justify the call for road accidents to be classified as a public health threat.

Some studies have shown that road traffic injuries are a major cause of death and disability globally, with a disproportionate number occurring in developing countries (Banthia et al., 2006 in Gebru, 201). WHO (2013) buttressed the fact that road accident is one of the leading health problems along with diseases such as Diarrhea, Malaria, HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis, especially in low- and middle-income countries, including Ghana. According to WHO (2013), road traffic injuries account for 30 to 86% of the trauma admissions to hospitals in low-income and middle-income countries.

It is also a major cause of premature mortality and injuries, leaving many victims with physical pain and emotional anguish that are beyond any economic compensation. Thus, comprehensive and holistic efforts are required to reduce them through effective and sustainable prevention and management mechanisms, particularly in the developing world (ibid).

According to the WHO, road accidents are an emerging national and global threat compared to terrorism, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis etc. This undoubtedly makes road traffic accidents one of the serious threats to the survival of human beings around the world. Road traffic accidents claim the largest loss of human life and tend to be the most serious problem all over the world (Anh and Dao, 2005, in Gebru, 2017).

As statistics in Ghana indicate, road accidents affect many sectors of society: individuals, families, communities and countries. Victims of fatal road accidents die on the scene or in hospital. Survivors also suffer from different types of injuries and disabilities, which can affect their quality of life. As these victims suffer, their families and communities will suffer too; they sometimes carry the burden of caring for the victims. WHO notes that road traffic accidents have been ranked the 9th leading cause of mortality, morbidity, diseases burden, in terms of Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) lost globally (WHO, 2013).

It is so alarming that some studies have projected that by 2020 road traffic accidents could become the third major killer and leading cause of death and disabilities after human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) and Tuberculosis (TB) (WHO, 2013).

According to the WHO (2013), Africa has the world’s highest death rate per population – that is, 24.1 per 100,000 of the population, even though data are not correctly reported. This is because many vulnerable road users are involved, poor transport conditions such as failure to use seat-belts, overcrowding, and hazardous vehicle environments (ibid).  In addition, the lack of pre-hospital and hospital emergency care after accidents makes the outcome of car accidents in Africa the worst (Abrahim et al., 2001, in Gebru, 2017).

At least, road accident statistics in Ghana confirm the above statistics. It is estimated that road traffic accidents in Ghana have killed 46,284 between 1991 and 2018. This is large enough to fill the Kumasi Sports Stadium, Ghana’s biggest stadium. Data from the Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service show that there was a 12.76% increase in road accidents in 2018 (2,341) over 2017 (2,076).  The data indicates that on average 1,714 are people killed each year on our roads.

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Deaths by Age-Groups (1991-2016)

0-5yrs – Out of the number of commuters killed during the period, 2,393 were children between the ages of five years and below. This represents 6.4% of all deaths during the period.

6-15yrs – The age group of 6 to 15 years recorded 4,506 deaths, which represents 12% of the fatalities.

16-25yrs – A total of 6,351 commuters whose ages range from 16 to 25 were also killed in road traffic accidents between 1991 and 2016. This represents 17% of all deaths.

26-35yrs – The NRSC data put the number of fatalities for the age group of 26 to 35 at 9,660; representing 25.8%.

36-45yrs – The data revealed that 6,537 – representing 17.5% of travellers aged 36 to 45 years – died from road traffic crashes during the period.

46-55yrs – The ages of 46 to 55 years recorded 3,618 deaths, and this represents 9.7%.

56-65yrs – A total of 2,540 from the age group 56 to 65 years also died in accidents during the period.

Above 65yrs – Also, the age group above 65 years registered 1,817 deaths, representing 4.9% of all deaths during the period.

Road accident statistics

Yearly deaths 1991-2016

1991 920
1992 914
1993 901
1994 824
1995 1,026
1996 1,049
1997 1,015
1998 1,419
1999 1,237
2000 1,437
2001 1,660
2002 1,665
2003 1,716
2004 2,186
2005 1,779
2006 1,856
2007 2,043
2008 1,938
2009 2,237
2010 1,986
2011 2,199
2012 2,240
2013 1,898
2014 1,836
2015 1,802
2016 2,084

Source: MTTD

Analysis of the figures shows that only in a few years did road accidents drop, but the drop was insignificant. From 920 deaths in 1991, the number of deaths shot up to 2,084 in 2016; 2,076 in 2017; and 2,341 in 2018. We are only in the first quarter of 2019 and figures already look frightening, considering the latest accidents in March 2019.  Judging from the statistics, no age-group has been spared; children as well as the aged are dying like animals on our roads. And the situation seems to be getting out of control.

As Gebru (2017) noted, the poor reporting system in Africa has a tendency of masking the problem’s magnitude on the continent. It is reported that Africa accounts for nearly 20% of global road deaths, while having less than 2% of all vehicles. On the other hand, high-income countries have more than half of all registered vehicles, but face only 8.5% of all fatalities annually (UNECA, 2009).

Causes

Many analysts have classified the causes of road traffic accidents into three major components: human factors (road users’ error); environmental factors; and vehicle defect factors. Fanuel (2006,in Gebru, 2017) adds that there are many factors which result in road accidents: these include driver distraction such as fiddling with technical devices, arguing  with passengers, talking on phone while driving, eating while driving, dealing with children or pets in the back-seat; driver impairment by tiredness, illness, driving while using alcohol or drugs – both legal and illegal; mechanical failure including flat-tyres or tyres blowing out, brake-failure, axle failure, steering mechanism failure.

The others are roads unsuitable for motor vehicles – such as narrow roads, low quality surfaces, undefined crossing sites, dangerous curves/intersections; poor visibility, lack of sidewalks; lack of proper signs, signals, markings, intersection layout and control; and mechanical defects of vehicles such as brakes, lights etc.

According to Silcock (1991, Gebru,2017) and Ogden (1996, in Gebru,2017), overspeeding causes more road traffic accidents than other related factors. Other country reports show that speeding is the principal cause of fatal crashes, being responsible for up to 40% of the total road fatalities (WHO, 2013).

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Of all the causes, it has been established that human factors are the leading contributing factors of road traffic accidents. Many investigations have revealed that as high as 70 to 80% of all traffic accidents are due to human error – out of which drivers’ errors takes the bulk of the blame, especially in developing countries (WHO, 2013).

Vehicle-related factors are other contributory factors to many road traffic accidents, particularly in developing countries like those in Africa. Fanuel (2006, in Gebru, 2017) argues that vehicle factors like mechanical and technical defects lead significantly to road crashes. This is mainly due to lack of regular maintenance, from which defective tyres and brakes result most frequently. It is not only improvement in the standards and design of vehicles that matters, but also adequate maintenance of the vehicle during its working life is also a pertinent matter (WHO, 2013). For instance, a country like Ghana largely depends on used vehicles and old spare-parts, which easily expose the vehicles to accidents.

Road accidents, no doubt, wreak a lot of havoc on individuals, families and the economy at large. Of all its negative effects, its impact on health-delivery gives cause for worry. It will be recalled that in 2006 three prominent urologists – including an 80-year-old retired urologist – lost their lives on the Sunyani Road while returning to Accra from a national assignment. When an economy loses economically-active segments of its population, it reduces economic productivity.

The huge numbers of victims seeking health care makes it an enormous development and economic challenge to a country like Ghana (more on this in the next article). Thus, the negative impact of overstretching our scarce resources in treating victims due to avoidable road accidents deserves serious policy attention.

Social effects

Besides the health security threat, the social impact of road traffic accidents is also widespread. It restricts social interactions, and promotes loneliness and economic dependency on family members.

The other threat of road traffic accidents is permanent disability. The victims of head and spinal injuries may be unable to return to their normal lives. They may even require full emotional and economic care. Loss of physical health means loss of productive capacity. The sorrow, pain and grief caused to victims are another personal security threat which affects the personal welfare of victims and their families (Gebru, 2017).

In short, the loss of lives, damage to property and the scars it leaves on the human mind are profound (Peden et al., 2004, in Gebru, 2017).

References

Gebru, M.K. (2017) “Road traffic accidents: Human security perspective”. Mekelle University, Ethiopia. International Journal of Peace and Development Studies.

Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service (2016) Road accident statistics

National Road Safety Commission (2016) Road safety and accident Statistics

United Nations Environment Program (2009). From Conflict to Peace building: the role of natural resources and the Environment.

World Health Organization (2004). World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, Peden M. et al (eds.), World Health Organization, Geneva.

World Health Organization (2009). Global Status report on Road safety Time for Action Switzerland; WHO Press, World Health Organization. Geneva.

World Health Organization (2013). Pedestrian safety: A road safety manual for decision-makers and practitioners. WHO Press, World Health Organization.

(***The writer is a Development and Communications Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate.  All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not, in any represent those of any organization(s). (Email: safoamos@gmail.com

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