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News from Southern Africa
  1. David Bass
  1. Department of Paediatric Surgery, Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, Rondebosch 7700, South Africa (Tel: +27 21 658 5199, fax: +27 21 689 1287, e-mail: daveb{at}redxch.wcape.gov.za)

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    As in previous years, Child Injury Prevention Week (CHIP Week) in mid-August provided the Child Accident Prevention Foundation of Southern Africa (CAPFSA) with its annual opportunity to jockey for public attention, and to renew awareness of childhood injury. This short turn in the spotlight has become more and more of a challenge as the number of health related lobbies also demanding a piece of the action throughout the calendar year grows steadily, and the national Department of Health is always ready to oblige with a seven day slot—clearly oblivious to the fact that there are only 52 weeks in the year, and that the ability of the average citizen to absorb health propaganda has a certain saturation point. Last year we had to share the month of August with dental health (same week), cancer awareness, breast feeding, cerebral palsy, and National Women's Day. In order to make some sort of lasting impression, an energetic and imaginative campaign was clearly necessary. This was achieved through collaboration with the Paraffin Safety Association, and prepublicity in the form of over 1000 safety resource kits and 23 000 educational leaflets and video cassettes which were distributed nationally three months before the event. Reports containing details of activities conducted during CHIP Week can be obtained from Nelmarie du Toit (CAPFSA, PO Box 791, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa).

    The Weekend Argus of 14 November 1998 carried two reports on separate pages which on the surface would appear totally unrelated to the average reader. 2 carried the dramatic account of a closeknit group of neighbours in a poor suburb of Worcester (about 90 km inland of Cape Town) where two children had been killed by speeding or reckless motorists within the space of two weeks. In order to force a meeting to discuss possible safety measures with regional traffic officials, these plucky citizens barricaded their streets to traffic, and refused to budge until their concerns were recognised and dealt with. The second report appeared on 4, and dealt the depressing news that rail services in the Western Cape will be drastically reduced—particularly on weekends—from the beginning of 1999. More commuters will therefore become dependent on private transport, traffic congestion will increase, and so will the hazards to pedestrians. So the two reports are intimately linked to one another. In contrast with first world trends where local authorities do their utmost to decrease or discourage reliance on private transport, we in Africa are moving in the opposite direction, and threatening to aggravate an already unacceptable incidence of traffic related casualties. Back in Worcester, one might frown upon the quasi-anarchy of ordinary citizens barricading their streets in an apparent act of desperation, but from a formal safety perspective, they probably have the right idea. Their strategy is cheap, effective (from the young pedestrians' point of view, anyway), and self enforcing. It discounts shortages of money and manpower as well as the exponential increase in traffic flow such as will ultimately invade all urban areas 5–10 years from now. The concept of community driven “Safe Streets” as a cost effective passive safety measure is one that I have held close to my heart ever since I encountered my first patient injured as a pedestrian—and also one which I have sporadically tried to sell to transport officials over the last decade—without success. I sincerely hope that the people of Avian Park in Worcester have more luck than I.

    Editor's note: Sadly, this is the final contribution that David Bass will be making as a regional editor. He has decided that the time has come to step down and devote his finite energy to other causes after many years as a staunch advocate of children's safety. His thoughtful, graphic pieces that have appeared regularly will be greatly missed. The cause of child injury prevention can ill afford to lose the David Basses of this world. I hope his absence from the field will not be permanent.

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