Safer, Cleaner Transport Crucial for Improving Global Health, Report Shows

March 31, 2014

Report assesses health loss from combined impact of road injuries, vehicle pollution

LONDON, MARCH 31, 2014 - Safer and cleaner road transport is critical for achieving health and development goals around the world, according to a new report that --for the first time--assesses the global health loss from the combined impact of road injuries and pollution that can be attributed to motorized transport.

Entitled “Transport for Health: the Global Burden of Disease from Motorized Road Transport”, the report was prepared by the World Bank-led Global Road Safety Facility and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, along with contributions from authors of other institutions.  Findings of the report were discussed today in London at an event hosted by the Overseas Development Institute.

Building on previous Global Burden of Disease (GBD) studies, the report breaks new ground by quantifying the health impacts from injuries due to road traffic crashes over the last two decades, and air pollution from vehicles.  Findings show injuries and pollution from vehicles contribute to six of the top 10 causes of death globally. Combined with the health losses from vehicle pollution, the road transport death toll exceeds that of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or diabetes, based on GBD data.

The report also highlights the growth in road deaths and injuries globally, and their substantial impacts on maternal and child health. Road crashes, for instance, result in 1.3 million deaths annually and 78.2 million nonfatal injuries warranting medical care.  Road injury also is among the 10 leading causes of death in children ages 1 through 14, and among women ages 15 to 44.

“That is a powerful wake-up call.…These alarming findings underscore the urgent need to spread improvements in transport pollution and safety across world regions,” writes World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim in the foreword to the report. “Road crashes cost an estimated 1 to 5 percent of GDP in developing countries, undermining efforts to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity.”

“Transport for Health” calls for increased collaboration of the transport, health, and urban sectors, among others, to achieve sustainable transport and health policies, noting that the benefits of road safety and air quality improvements outweigh their costs, thus making a compelling case for urgent action.

"Health officials are typically viewed as the chief stewards of countries’ population health, but reducing the burden of disease from motor vehicles requires action from multiple sectors,” says Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. “As demand for cars and roads increases, the transport sector plays a vital role in designing, building, and maintaining an infrastructure and regulatory system that encourage economic growth while minimizing health loss.”

The report describes how the health burden associated with road transport spreads with economic growth and rapid motorization, and notes that mitigating this risk requires a long-term investment strategy to build the capacity of national institutions so they can better manage safety and mobility performance.

“Transport for Health” also highlights the need to improve statistical systems that collect information necessary to evaluate the health impacts of road transport. The absence of reliable accounting of health effects not only endangers effective action across sectors, but can also waste government resources or development aid funding targeted at ineffective interventions.

The report comes at a time when the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety, launched in 2011, aims to bring under control the growing burden of road traffic injuries, saving some 5 million lives around the world by 2020. The findings of this and other reports confirm the need for urgent support to this development priority.

The report also follows a multilateral commitment, at the last Rio +20 meeting, to encourage “sustainable transport” as vital for future global health, particularly addressing issues like increased road transport emissions.

Some of the key conclusions from the report include:

  • Deaths from road transport exceed those from HIV, tuberculosis, or malaria.
  • Injuries and pollution from vehicles contribute to six of the top 10 causes of death globally.
  • Health loss attributable to motorized road transport exceeds that from key risk factors affecting children, including suboptimal weight and breastfeeding.
  • Road injuries rank among the top 10 causes of death after the first year of life through age 59. In addition, road injuries are a top-10 cause of death among women of childbearing age and are the fourth-leading cause among women aged 15 to 29 years.
  • While the burden of road injuries is highest in poorer regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, health loss due to vehicular pollution tends to be highest in richer regions, such as Western Europe.
  • Road crashes result in 1.3 million deaths annually and 78.2 million nonfatal injuries warranting medical care.
  • Over the last two decades, deaths due to road crashes grew by 46%.  And deaths attributable to air pollution, to which motor vehicles are an important contributor, grew by 11%.
  • Pedestrians alone account for 35% of road injury deaths globally, and over 50% in East and Central sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Official government statistics substantially underreport road injuries. For example, GBD estimates of road injury deaths are more than twice the official statistics in India, four times those in China, and more than six times the official numbers in parts of Africa.

In addition to the World Bank and IHME, the “Transport for Health” report is the result of a broad collaboration by lead authors of various institutions, including: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Health Effects Institute; University of British Columbia; Schneider Institute for Health Policy; and Health Canada

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