Tufton says road fatalities still a public health issue

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, July 14, 2018

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DESPITE a decrease in the number of road fatalities since the start of the year, health minister Dr Christopher Tufton says greater effort must be made to further reduce casualties as it remains a public health issue.

The National Road Safety Council reported that since the start of the year, 178 people have been killed in 154 motor vehicle crashes. This is in comparison to 190 fatalities recorded for the same period last year.

So far, 40 of those killed were motorcyclists, 39 were pedestrians and 30 were passengers in private motor cars.

According to Dr Tufton, 90 per cent of all road crashes were preventable.

“If 90 per cent can be prevented, it seems to me that prevention ought to dominate the discussion and the approach to minimising fatalities,” the health minister said.

He made the call at the National Road Safety Council's mid-year press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in Kingston on Thursday.

Pointing out that a study conducted in seven hospitals revealed that injuries related to more than 13,000 crashes are treated each year, Dr Tufton said road fatalities are a burden on the public health system.

In fact, director of Mona GeoInformatics Institute Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr, who also spoke at the briefing, said road crashes account for $3.2 billion worth of damage to health care alone per annum.

Dr Tufton also said that the cost to people's health makes reducing the number of crashes even more worthwhile.

“The Ministry of Health's budget sees just under 20 per cent... of the goods and services budget linked to road traffic accidents. In other words, monies that have to get spent to secure or to repair... the injuries that are sustained. We have seen where, in terms of body parts, head and face injuries [account for] 34 per cent of the [injuries sustained in road crashes]; upper and lower extremities [account for] 14 per cent; vertebral columns, spinal, internal organs, and ribs [account for] 10 per cent; [and] superficial injuries, 10 per cent.

“So it is almost guaranteed that when you engage in an accident, whether you are the victim or the aggressor, chances are you[will] sustain bodily injury that requires hospitalisation and major repair at the cost of all concerned,” the minister said Thursday. “In fact, the University Hospital of the West Indies some years ago, under Professor [Archibald] McDonald, did a trauma [study] and, in one instance, from reading from that study, there was a bike victim who sustained head injuries and had to be admitted to ICU (intensive care unit) for operation. Long-term stay and 17 million Jamaican dollars later, he was still being treated.”

The health minister, while noting that victims of road crashes are primarily young people, said attention should be placed on that population given the impact road fatalities have on productivity and economic sustainability.

Another concern he expressed was the fact that motorists are influenced by bad practices or bad habits. He suggested that in order to accomplish a 90 per cent reduction in crashes, motorists would have to change their behaviour.

In the meantime, Dr Tufton cited the 2016 National Drug Use Prevalence Survey, saying that just under 15 per cent of the population had driven under the influence of illegal drugs. He said that of this amount, 17 per cent were males and 7.3 per cent females.

“... In fact your attempt at manoeuvring that locomotive is not entirely up to you because you are probably seeing two or three roads in front of you. I was frankly astonished when, in looking at the statistics in... Westmoreland... you had a head-on collision on a big road with a white line dividing the direction — two bikes that are travelling in opposite directions collided head-on. That tells me that the riders are seeing many, many white lines and roads in front of them and perhaps many bikes, and trying to determine which one is the real bike,“ Dr Tufton said.

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