WHO declares first annual road safety week

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CAIRO: The United Nations has declared April 22 – 29 the first annual Road Safety Week to call attention to the dramatic impact of road accidents on both human lives and economic development.

To inaugurate the initiative, the Cairo office of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) held a conference to highlight the dangers of unsafe driving conditions in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean region, under the slogan “Road Safety is No Accident.

“Road safety can only happen through the deliberate and determined efforts of many sectors of society, both government and non-governmental, said Hussein Gezairy, the regional director of the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region.

The conference comes one week after a high-profile bus crash in Giza which killed 16 students on their way to school, and injured eight others.

More than 6,000 people die every year in car crashes in Egypt, and over 30,000 are injured.

The conference drew representatives from many government ministries, the WHO, non-governmental organizations such as the Red Crescent and the Boy Scouts of Egypt, diplomats from the United States embassy, and a host of celebrity goodwill ambassadors like actors Khaled Abul Naga and Youssra.

According to the UN, road crashes kill 1.2 million people every year world wide and millions more are injured. Young people are especially hard hit, as accidents are the leading cause of death world wide for people between the ages of 10 and 24.

According to figures provided by the Ministry of Health, 65 percent of those injured in accidents on Egypt’s roads in 2004 were between the ages of 15 and 45.

“This places tremendous pressure, not only on the public sector health care services, but, through direct and indirect costs, on the national exchequer in general, said Gezairy.

“Estimates from the World Report on road traffic injuries prevention indicate that for a country like Egypt, this cost may be around 1 to 1.5 percent of the total gross national product per year, which may rise if the current trend continues.

The challenges that poor driving and unsafe road conditions pose for developing countries is formidable. The United Nations says that a widespread and daunting challenge calls for a widespread, coordinated response.

“The problem is more than any one agency, sector, government department or ministry can do, said M.A. Jama, a representative of the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office. “A number of governments must come together to make a difference, and that is why the UN as a whole and the General Assembly has come together with you to declare the first UN Road Safety Week.

“Road safety can only happen through the determined effort of many people and groups, he added. “Today we expect a commitment to improve what we see on the roads of our cities.

At the conference, the WHO unveiled a number of television commercials which will air around the world telling people to fasten their seat belts, wear a bike helmet, and not drink and drive. In one video, a young Egyptian boy nervously tells the camera about the death of his best friend.

“We were riding in a micro bus, my friend and I, and the driver was going very fast, the child says, staring in to the camera. “Then there was another bus also going fast, and we had an accident. My friend died.

The WHO wants television viewers all over the world to know that people everywhere can take simple steps to prevent road accidents and save lives.

“We all know that prevention is the key to the road safety crisis, anywhere in the world, said Gezairy.

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