Seat belts! So I mentioned in an earlier post that I was happy the American ambassador plugged the public health message to wear our seat belts three times in the five minutes that we met him. I think of him every time that we are in taxis or tro-tros and, more often than not, the seat belts have been secured in a manner preventing their use. Often the seats of taxis have been taken out and reinstalled with the seat belts secured under and behind them. Sometimes tro-tros actually have belts that are strapped and buckled – around the back of the seat. Other times they have removed parts of the belt. As reinvigorated as I am each time I see the remains of car accidents with the distinctive head prints on the front windshields, my efforts to free the belts have mostly been rewarded only with broken nails.
While data is a term used loosely and that on causes of death varies quite a bit – the World Health organization lists 11% of deaths as caused by malaria; the Ghana Health Service lists 44% of deaths as caused by malaria – the lists all include traffic accidents among the top ten causes of death and estimate that they account for between 3-6% of all deaths. In a country where infectious diseases, maternal mortality, malnutrition, and a lack of improved sanitation exact a high toll, road safety may not seem like a high priority.
But the US Highway Administration estimates that using seat belts results in about 50% fewer deaths and 40% fewer serious injuries. Deaths from road accidents plummeted after the United States enacted legislation requiring people to wear seat belts. As long as they are already built into cars and as long as there are frequent police stops here in Ghana (where bribes are sometimes collected), I think that requiring people to wear seat belts here would be a relatively straight forward public health measure to implement. If seat belts are as effective here as the highway administration estimates they are in the United States, that could prevent 1.5-3% of the deaths that occur in Ghana, or save between 110,000 and 220,000 lives each year.