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Sept 5, 2003

The Herald [Harare]

A World Health Organisation report just released says the mortality rate from road traffic accidents in Africa is the highest in the world, costing the continent $7,3 billion or one percent of its gross domestic product annually.

"The most affected groups of people are pedestrians, passengers and cyclists," the report says.

The report attributes the high rate of road accidents to inadequate roads design, excessive alcohol consumption, speeding, under-utilisation of seat belts and child restraints, unsafe vehicular design, poor maintenance of vehicles and roads, insufficient training of vehicle users, and a lack of implementation of road safety guides.

The report, which examines injury prevention and control in Africa, identifies conflicts and interpersonal violence as other leading causes of mortality and disability related to injuries.

Other causes of injury-related mortality and disability listed in the report are fire-related burns, drowning, suicide, falls and poisonings, child abuse, neglect of the elderly (now regarded as a form of 'family violence'), rape, child marriage, child trafficking and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation.

"In the year 2000, in the African region alone, an estimated 725 000 people died as a result of injuries, accounting for 7 percent of all deaths in Africa and 15 percent of world-wide injury-related deaths," said the report.

About 116 000 of these deaths were due to interpersonal violence, 27 000 suicide-related or "self-directed violence", and 167 000 due to collective violence, with almost half of these deaths occurring among young males in the economically active age range of 15 to 44 years.

Sections of the report are devoted to war-related injuries which account for the highest number of injury-related deaths in Africa.

Studies quoted in the report indicate that in 1997, 25 new conflicts were identified in Africa and that the proportion of non-combatants among those killed as a direct result of conflict was likely to exceed 50 percent.

Many who survive direct injury are permanently disabled and suffer from a variety of psychosocial abnormalities following or resulting from a disease or injury or treatment.

The health, economic and social impacts of injury and violence are more significant in poor countries and for disadvantaged populations because injuries may lead to poverty which is a risk factor for injury and violence.

The report recommends that countries should embark on awareness-raising programmes on injury and violence prevention, develop and implement pertinent information systems, prioritise research to bridge information gaps, and build partnerships with appropriate stakeholders.