All year through 2012, the newspapers have been reporting one horrific road accident story after the other, throughout the country, all year round.
One day it is a bus accident here, a trailer overturning, a taxi losing control, then a head-on collision somewhere. The world is, in a word, traumatised.
Injuries, mainly from motor vehicles, are rapidly becoming the number one global health threat to children, youth and young adults and developing nations with between 20 and 50 million people experiencing traffic-related injuries. In any given year, about one out of every three people will be injured severely enough to seek medical care.
In Uganda, during the festive season, there have been a number of road accidents that have left families shedding tears during the festive season, rather than shouting the joys and happiness that comes with Christmas. On Christmas day alone, the police in Kampala arrested more than 60 people for drink-driving, along various routes in the city. Thank God that none of these drivers added up to the deaths due to driving while under the influence of alcohol.
The police attribute more than 40 per cent of the road accidents to drunken driving. According to the 2012 police statistics, there were 16,765 road accidents registered in the country, accidents that have left hundreds dead and thousands injured. Much as there was a decrease in accidents by 9.5 per cent from 2011 which had 18,528 accidents, the number is still high number. On the Entebbe-Kampala Road alone, there are 4-6 road traffic fatalities per week.
Between 10 and 20 victims of boda-boda accidents are received at Mulago hospital on a daily basis and 20 per cent of the victims are left disabled; 60 per cent of the hospital budget is now used to treat trauma and injuries alone.
The resultant injuries, trauma and burdens are the second highest burden of disease currently in the country and by 2020 health losses from traffic accidents are projected to rank only second to HIV/Aids according to the World Health Oganisation. On average, the country has about 46 road accidents occurring daily anywhere in the country, making Ugandan roads the worst in East Africa, even beating Kenya that has more cars; and among the deadliest in the world. To make it even worse, statistics indicate that 40 per cent of the deaths due to accidents occur to pedestrians, followed by passengers on boda-bodas, in buses and then taxis.
Several action points have been devised to reduce accidents but none has been as effective as may have been planned. The speed governors were implemented for a while, as well as the seat belts, helmets, instant fines, among other policies that have been implemented but all in vain.
And therein dwells the enigma of road carnage in Uganda; the population knows that driving while drunk will lead to accidents: drivers know that over speeding leads to accidents: the drivers are aware of black spots on highways. Passengers know that keeping quiet while a bus driver over speeds is wrong: passengers on boda-bodas have on several occasions encouraged the rider to speed so as to beat a deadline or be in time for an appointment: moneyed patrons indulge in excessive drinking and then attempt to drive back home under the influence.
The point of all these examples is that we all need to chip in and contribute a concerted effort towards reducing the road carnage. The road carnage has disastrous health and economic effects on the victims, leading to chronic pain, disability that may result in loss of employment, and the heavy costs of continuous rehabilitation. These accidents are however easily preventable.
As we begin 2013, I implore all Ugandans to stand up and take the preventive means necessary to reduce the road carnage.