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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sweeping road safety changes needed, says medical expert

ONE OF PNG's foremost medical experts believes major legislative changes are needed to underpin the national Road Safety and Awareness campaign launched nationally in November.

Professor  Mathias Sapuri, whose decorated medical career includes being President of the Medical Society of Papua New Guinea for the past 12 years, believes the campaign launched by MVIL, 'Road Safety: It's Not a Game' is a necessity to help reinforce safe driving practices. But the introduction of speed guns and breath testing units to PNG on the back of the campaign should be the start of further sweeping changes he believes.

"PNG should introduce by law alcohol breath testing, ban open back passengers, impose penalties for not wearing seat belts, enforce road worthy checks, cancel a driver's license if found guilty of traffic offences, establish medical emergency response teams to attend to motor vehicle accidents  and provide follow up care and counseling of victims," Professor Dr Sapuri said.

"Motor vehicle accidents in PNG are a major health issue especially in the past 10 years. PNG now sees three to four major accidents daily and most are not reported. Studies done by medical students a few yearS ago show that the major cause of accidents are due  to alcohol, overloading of passengers on open back vehicles, faulty and unroad worthy vehicles, unlicensed  drivers, careless and irresponsible drivers and driver fatigue, as well as no seat belts. Many passengers and drivers also die because of non availability of a medical rescue response team."

 If the threat of prosecution and loss of license did not serve as enough of a disincentive, Professor Dr Sapuri outlined the major traumas resulting from high speed motor vehicle accidents.

"The common injuries sustained are head injuries, fractures of limbs, fractures of pelvic bones, internal organ injuries, chest injuries, bleeding vessels and shock, hematoma, massive bruises and abrasions, lacerations, eye and dental injuries and injuries to unborn child. These horrific injuries should be enough to ensure sensible drivingpractices."     

 Motor vehicle accidents are now a major health and socioeconomic issue for PNG, he added.

 "We must be serious about addressing this as a national response issue.
Recent increases in fatalities on our roads in PNG will not stop until we put in place laws and measures to address this problem. PNG must act now or it will continue to see more innocent lives lost and people with permanent physical injuries and long term psychological damage. 

 "PNG should seriously plan for the future also because the health cost implication would escalate. The projected economic boom with the LNG project will put more money in people's pockets and alcohol and drink driving will significantly increase. History in PNG will repeat as we have seen this in mining towns for example."

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