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WHO Alarmed over Africa's High Rate of Road Deaths - 2004-06-24

The World Health Organization says Africa has the world's highest rate of road fatalities per capita, and is calling for national governments to do more to promote traffic safety. Ghana, which has one of the highest rates of fatalities in Africa, is implementing a series of measures to reduce the death toll.

The World Health Organization says more than one million people die on roads each year, and 90 percent of the fatalities occur in developing countries.

A regional adviser with the WHO, Olive Kobusingye says if current trends continue, road fatalities will be one of the top three causes of death in developing countries by the year 2020, rivaling AIDS and other diseases.

"If you were to look at a whole lot of diseases and illnesses, throw in the big ones - HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, cancer, heart disease - you will still come up with this huge number that are being killed by just one type of injury, road traffic," she said. "And the projection is even more frightening. It is that if we do not do anything differently, in the year 2020 road traffic injuries are going to be the third leading cause of death in low and middle income countries, so even given that these countries are still going to be dealing with infectious diseases, with HIV-AIDS certainly, they are going to have a huge burden of road traffic deaths and injuries."

Ms. Kobusingye says the global numbers of road fatalities have been relatively constant in recent years, but are on the rise in the developing countries. West Africa, and specifically Ghana, the WHO says, has the worst road fatalities record.

Ghana's minister of roads and transportation, Richard Anane, says driver errors are a major cause of accidents.

"A large chunk of accidents are due to the human factor. Of which, the driver is the major cause but we also believe that the pedestrian may also be a cause," he said. "In our country, the first thing that we have to remember is that our color is black and therefore, especially in the night time, if drivers are moving and people are crossing roads and we do not have lights or we have poor lighting systems, there sometimes happen to be these conflicts."

He says poor roads in Ghana and heavy traffic are major contributing factors.

"In August 2003, under the auspices of the United Nations, ministers of transportation met in Kazakhstan and the declaration was that countries which border the sea, the coastal nations should provide traffic corridors for the landlocked, especially landlocked poor developing countries," he said. "In the sub-region, Ghana is one of the countries on the coast but because of the current problems in Cote d'Ivoire, which also provided a traffic corridor for these landlocked countries, we now have diverted to Ghana virtually all the transiting of goods to our ports."

He says Ghana has imposed a road tax and uses the revenue to improve the country's dilapidated roads. Later this month, it will require drivers to pass a tough, written driving test to obtain a license.