Road accidents are the seventh leading cause of death in Guyana – Health Minister
By Dale Andrews
If Guyana is to achieve its goal of reaching a life expectancy of 75 years by 2015, death by accident needs to be drastically reduced.
This was the message to schoolchildren and their teachers by Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy during a special symposium at the National Stadium, Providence yesterday.
The activity is one of the highlights of Road Safety Month 2009, which is being observed under the theme ‘Be vigilant, be wise, practice road safety to stay alive’.
Minister Ramsammy who delivered the feature address disclosed that of the 6000-odd deaths Guyana experiences every year, road accidents are the seventh leading cause.
He pointed out that the real tragedy is that not a single road death should occur since it is something that is preventable.
“In Guyana virtually all of our families have somebody that died before their time, we have somebody living with disability because of accidents. That is unacceptable,” Dr. Ramsammy said.
He pointed out that since the future of Guyana rests with its young people, he was happy that the symposium targeted the country’s schoolchildren.
The Health Minister reminded the teachers, however, that teaching is not only about Mathematics and English, it is also about moulding the minds of the young people. Integrally involved is instilling proper discipline with regards to the use of the road, Dr. Ramsammy told the teachers and students who were drawn from schools throughout the country, from as far away as Essequibo and Berbice.
“One of these days one of you will want to be a Minister of Health…the head of the traffic department in Guyana…the next President…or the next Chanderpaul. But you cannot be these things if you don’t stay safe,” Ramsammy told the gathering.
He made special mention of the wanton disregard for lives by some drivers who throw caution to the wind and imbibe in alcohol and then get behind the steering wheel of a vehicle.
According to Minister Ramsammy, any amount of alcohol impairs a person’s judgement.
Police statistics have revealed that a significant number of road accidents are caused by alcohol consumption.
The Minister warned that should a person have to drink alcohol, especially during the present festive season, they should give the vehicle keys to someone else.
“You children can lead a revolution in this country. If you have a relative who drives, and took a ‘drink’, don’t go into that vehicle,” Minister Ramsammy urged.
Over the years a number of legislations have been introduced, while others have been strengthened with the aim of reducing road accidents.
One of these is the introduction of breathalysers to prosecute drivers who are inclined to drink and drive.
Many of the new legislations could be linked to the strident efforts of several groups like Mothers in Black.
Denise Dias, who formed the ‘Mothers in Black’ organization almost 10 years ago in the wake of a number of shocking road accidents, including a personal loss, believes that unfortunately, not much has changed.
She too addressed the gathering at yesterday’s symposium.
“As we were coming here, there was madness on the roads just to come up to the stadium. People are just overtaking haphazardly. From the beginning of Road Safety Month, there is an overflow of road crashes and it seems as if since we started road safety month, we’ve had at least ten deaths, so unfortunately it’s not a good note,” Dias told this newspaper.
Through the efforts of Mothers in Black, legislation has been strengthened for the use of helmets for motorcyclists; legislation has been introduced making it mandatory for the use of seat belts and the breathalyser.
“It’s just that we need to do more on the education side… especially our young people. I’ve been in contact with ‘Mothers Against Drunken Drivers, which is an organization in North America and they took years to achieve some things. So it’s just baby steps at the time. We’re sorry that more mothers are joining us because they keep losing their children.
We can only hope and keep praying that someday people will stop speeding and stop drinking and driving,” Dias said.
The month of November has been one of the deadliest months in the year so far as it relates to road accidents.
According to Traffic Chief Neil Semple, so far 11 persons have lost their lives as a result of road accidents, second only to the month of May, when there were 17 road fatalities.
“We have taken cognizance of that and we are reinforcing our campaign using the breathalysers,” the Traffic Chief said.