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World Health Day
2004

Road Safety: the example of Heather Mills-McCartney

Washington, April 7, 2004 (PAHO)—A panel of traffic safety and health experts, inaugurating the observance of World Health Day at the Pan American Health Organization, heard first-hand examples of the results of traffic crashes, starting with Heather Mills-McCartney, who told the story of how she lost part of her left leg.

Heather Mills y la Dra. Mirta Roses
Heather Mills-McCartney talks to PAHO Director, Dr. Mirta Roses Periago (Photo: Armando Waak). Click on the photo for high resolution

"I had recently returned from Yugoslavia, where I was exposed to landmines and to snipers, but it was a sunny August day, in a London street, when a human error caused an accident in which I lost part of my left leg," recalled the wife of former Beatle Paul McCartney, who received PAHO’s Champion of Health award for her support of road safety campaigns.

"I was crossing carefully when a police motorcycle ran me over. I remember that I did not feel pain, even though my new shoes were full of blood, far away," she said.

Ironically, 20 years earlier, her mother also had an accident in which she almost lost a leg, and later died.

Mills, who now devotes time to recycling orthopedic prostheses and helping people obtain low-cost limb replacements, said "We have managed to make a prosthesis for 50 dollars that works very well. And we are adapting them to the needs of each region. We seek simple solutions to very complex problems."

Heather Mills y la Dra. Mirta Roses
Heather Mills-McCartney received the Champion of Health Award from PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago (Photo: Armando Waak). Click on the photo for high resolution

PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses said "Road insecurity is a social and public health problem, and the victims in the majority of cases are users of public services, migrants, pedestrians and cyclists."

For Kirk Van Tine, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, it is essential to have sustained safety campaigns over time. He said deaths in the U.S. have been reduced drastically as a result of seat belt campaigns.

Claude Allen, deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and David de Ferranti, vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean of the World Bank, presented their perspectives on the road safety issue and the importance of joining PAHO and the Department of Transportation in a campaign to reduce the toll of death and injury in the Americas. The four organizations signed a declaration agreeing to work together toward that goal. Other organizations at the session, including the American Automobile Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Safe Kids are joining the campaign.

Allen also introduced a video message from President George W. Bush, who said: "Today the death toll from traffic injuries is highest in developing countries and it continues to grown as nations become more prosperous and motorized. In the United States, traffic accidents remain the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 35."

The World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention released today has a series of recommendations to cut deaths in developing countries, such as the appointment of a lead agency in every country to coordinate multi-sectoral efforts, national road safety strategies and plans of action with clear roles and objectives for each sector, and the implementation of proven interventions to prevent crashes and minimize injuries and their consequences. The report notes that road safety is a shared responsibility, and calls on the expertise of people across many sectors and disciplines, including public health professionals, health care providers, road and motor vehicle engineers, law enforcement officials and educators.

Successes in improving the design of vehicles and roads and focusing on legislation, enforcement and sharing of information about the use of seat-belts, helmets, and child restraints and about the dangers of speeding and drunk-driving can be applied in many countries, the report said.

Apart from the human suffering caused by road crashes, with 1.2 million people dying every year as many as 50 million more injured or disabled, the economic impact is also significant, the report noted. In low- and middle-income countries, the cost of road traffic injuries is estimated at US$ 65 billion, exceeding the total amount these countries receive in development assistance. Road traffic injuries cost countries between 1 percent and 2 percent of their gross national product, amounting to US$ 518 billion every year.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. PAHO works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of its people. It serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

For more information, video material, or photographs please contact: Daniel Epstein, Office of Public Information, (202) 974-3459, e-mail: epsteind@paho.org.