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WHO Meeting Focuses on Auto Safety

The World Health Organization is this week addressing the problem of traffic accidents, which kill more people each year than malaria.

Experts say more than 1.2 million people die in traffic-related accidents each year.

"We have this huge problem that's killing people; that's disabling people, sending people to hospitals for [a] very long time and destroying so, so many families and very little attention is being given to it," said Etienne Krug, director of the Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention at the World Health Organization, and one of the organizers of a 20-nation summit in Geneva that this week studied the problem of traffic-related accidents and deaths.

The WHO meeting included officials of the automobile industry, representatives from victims advocacy groups and ministers of transportation and health from the countries participating in the conference.

In addition to deaths and injuries, it's estimated that traffic accidents in developing countries cost $100 billion per year, or twice the amount of economic assistance earmarked for development.

Mr. Krug says many road injuries and deaths could be avoided if developing countries adopt inexpensive safety measures that have worked well in the West.

"People have introduced safer cars," he said. "There's now seat belts. There's now efforts to limit speed, to control alcohol consumption. There's efforts to improve the health services so that there's better emergency responses."

Road safety will be the focus of World Health Day in April 2004. WHO officials hope the global initiative draws attention to a problem that leads to millions of needless injuries and death.