The Kurdistan region of Iraq has a relatively small population of 5.2 million people and has fewer vehicles on its roads than do most western cities. Yet, every day, an average 28 people in the region are injured in vehicle crashes, and three die.
Dilshad Jaff, program coordinator for solutions to complex emergencies in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Research, Innovation and Global Solutions office, has analyzed this public health challenge and proposes strategies that can diminish the financial and human toll associated with road traffic accidents in the region.
Jaff’s commentary, “A Public Health Initiative to Address Road Traffic Accidents in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq,” was published online Jan. 31 in the Middle East Journal of Family Medicine.
After the 2003 war in Iraq, rapid economic growth resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of cars in use, from 200-500 per day in 2003 to 5,000-8,000 per day in 2013. This increase, coupled with young and/or inexperienced drivers and reckless behaviors, including speeding, failure to use seat belts, and calling or texting while behind the wheel, has made the roads in the region quite dangerous.
Added to the challenge is the fact that many in the region suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, grief, panic and bereavement as a result of past and continuing conflicts in the region.
Jaff found driver behavior to be the principal cause of the accidents and proposes that an effective road safety education program is needed urgently.
Among the short- and long-term strategies he proposes are:
- Initiate road safety campaigns in local languages through an animated website and multimedia materials.
- Display posters in the local languages in public, highly visible locations and reinforce safety messages during cultural and religious feasts and events.
- Train local nongovernmental organization (NGO) staff in road safety education.
- Deliver messages to remote communities through NGOs.
- Develop and implement school education curriculum on driving safety.
- Create working groups of community members and public health professionals to address barriers to reducing traffic accidents.
- Improve surveillance, data collection and reporting methods.
- Start partnerships and coalitions with public- and private-sector organizations to share knowledge and resources.
- Establish a high-school driver’s education program that emphasizes safety.
“It is essential to increase awareness among the youth through public health initiatives, which will contribute ultimately in decreasing road traffic accidents in the region,” said Jaff, who is also adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School.