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Speech by World Health Organization Representative (a.i), Viet Nam to the Launch of the "Decade of Action for Road Safety"

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Date: Thursday, 11 May 2011
Event: Launch of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020
Speaker: Dr Graham Harrison, Acting WHO Representative in Viet Nam

Prime Minister;
Vice Minister;
Representatives from various Ministries, mass organizations of Viet Nam;
Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues and friends


It is a great pleasure to be here to today at this official launch of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, representing the United Nations as well as other international road safety stakeholders in Vietnam.

Around the world road traffic injuries have become a leading killer, particularly among the young. The 1.3 million people that WHO estimate die on the world's roads each year make them the 9th leading cause of death. In the absence of sustained action to prevent road trauma, it is estimated that by 2020, 1.9 million people will be lost each year.

This Decade seeks to provide the opportunity, particularly for low and middle income countries, for sustained long-term and coordinated activities in support of regional, national and local road safety so that the surging tide of increasing road trauma can be halted and begun to be pushed back.

It also provides a timeframe for action to encourage the commitment of political, financial and human resources, both globally and nationally. We hope that low and middle-income countries can use it to accelerate the adoption of effective and cost-effective road safety programmes and that high-income countries can use it to make further progress in their already developed performance whilst taking the time to share their experiences and knowledge for the benefit of low and middle income countries, and that donors will use the Decade as a stimulus for further integration of road safety into their assistance programmes.

Since the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention was released in 2004, the evidence has been thoroughly compiled, reported, piloted and demonstrated. We have the tools and so when combined with the highest of Government commitments the results for road safety around the world could be staggering.

To mark the launch of the Decade, governments and other stakeholders in more than 70 countries high income and low have reported to WHO, their plans to host high-profile events and release national plans to improve safety and services for victims. A number of landmark national monuments will also be illuminated with the road safety "tag", the new symbol for the Decade. These include Times Square in New York City; Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro; Trafalgar Square in London; the Jet d'Eau in Geneva and the historic Dong Xuan Market in Ha Noi.

In Viet Nam road traffic injuries are a major cause of death and disability in Viet Nam. In 2009, the Ministry of Health reported more than 14,000 deaths and a further 140,000 hospitalised injuries from road traffic crashes. Representing an average of 38 deaths each and every day, this is a staggering and heartbreaking tragedy felt by families and loved ones one a daily basis.

Despite the common belief that road traffic crashes are "accidents" the "science" of road traffic injury prevention is well established. We know what increases the risk of crashes, injuries and deaths and we know what can be done to prevent these tragic events.

Viet Nam is to be heartily congratulated for its leadership and action towards strengthening the supportive national environments for road safety. This includes the development of a comprehensive legislative framework that addresses major risk factors for road traffic injuries, a new national strategy for the next 10 years almost ready for approval and implementation and now recognising the Decade of Action with an official national launch.

Viet Nam has established an ambitious but achievable target for the national strategy, to be implemented during the Decade of Action and beyond, stating their objective to reduce road trauma by almost 40% to 8 deaths per 100,000 people by 2020 and we hope this very commendable objective remains as the national strategy is finalised and approved.

On behalf of the United Nations and other international partners working in Viet Nam, I would like to take this opportunity to urge the further development of a safe road traffic system in Viet Nam. A "safe system" recognizes that humans are fallible and make mistakes but that these mistakes shouldn't result in a serious or fatal injury. This is accomplished by accepting that the human body has limits to the amount of trauma it can be exposed to before serious or even fatal trauma is sustained. Under such a system there is a role for everyone, whether it be the Government which designs and enforces the system, down to the road users who take responsibility for their individual behaviors, with users wanting to adhere to all the road safety laws, not just for their own safety but for the safety of other road users as well.

A global plan has been prepared for the Decade based on the safe system approach to road safety. This Plan outlines steps towards improving the safety of roads and vehicles; enhancing emergency services; and building up road safety management generally, all areas that are also addressed in the draft of the national road safety strategy.

The global plan also calls for increased legislation and enforcement on using helmets, seat-belts and child restraints and avoiding drink and driving and speeding. Today only 15% of countries have comprehensive laws which address all of these factors. Current legislation in Viet Nam covers many but not all of these issues. In many countries, including Viet Nam, emergency care and other support services for road traffic victims are insufficient and avoidable road traffic injuries overload already stretched health services.

If effectively and sustainably implemented, the activities of the Global Plan could save 5 million lives, prevent 50 million serious injuries and lead to US$ 5 trillion in cost savings over the course of the Decade.

Through its very successful mandatory helmet law, Viet Nam has provided a very important example of how road safety can be strengthened even in developing countries. This legislation has received wide international acclaim. Whilst ongoing challenges such as helmet wearing in children as well as challenges in helmet quality still require further attention, other risk factors such as drink driving, speeding, overloaded vehicles, poor infrastructure, insufficient public transport and limited capacity for pre hospital trauma care also contribute substantially to road traffic injuries in this country of more than 32 million registered vehicles.

WHO will play a role in coordinating global efforts over the Decade and will monitor progress towards achieving the objectives of the Decade at the national and international levels. In Viet Nam, WHO along with other international stakeholders continue to work with the Government to strengthen the prevention of major road safety risk factors, particularly drink driving, and increasing capacity for pre-hospital trauma care at the community level.

In closing, I would like to thank the Government of Viet Nam, particularly the Prime Minister, the Minister and the Ministry of Transport for their leadership in ensuring national road safety and in organizing today's commemoration to the Decade of Action. Today is just the first day and we have a long period of sustained work and action ahead of us, but with effective partnerships both national and international, many of whom are here with us today, we are confident that this Decade will be a legacy opportunity for road safety in Viet Nam.

Together, WHO and UNICEF look forward to continuing our cooperation and collaboration with the Government and other partners, to achieve our common goal of saving lives on Viet Nam's roads and making this Decade of Action for Road Safety a success.

Thank you/Xin Cam On