A collaborative study between The University of Auckland and the Fiji School of Medicine documenting the scale and nature of traffic injury in Pacific Island nations could help minimise death on the roads.
Pacific Island nations have among the highest traffic-related death tolls in the world and most rank it among the top five causes of mortality.
Entitled “Traffic related injury in the Pacific (TRIP)”, the research project received a substantial grant from the Wellcome Trust of the United Kingdom and the Health Research Council of New Zealand.
The study is a joint initiative between The University of Auckland’s School of Population Health and the School of Public Health and Primary Care at the Fiji School of Medicine and will help establish the incidence of road traffic injuries in Pacific nations, starting with Fiji and extending to Samoa and Palau.
Professor Rod Jackson, from the School of Population Health at The University of Auckland, and co-leader of the project team says the majority of crashes in the Pacific affect young adults of working age costing Pacific nations up to an estimated two percent of gross domestic product annually.
Road collisions are the most common cause of death from injury and the ninth leading cause of total deaths worldwide. According to Professor Jackson and his team, traffic injuries are largely preventable.
“The major reasons for collisions in the Pacific are at this stage unknown and that’s what we aim to find out. If the factors that make road crashes more likely can be established, then the best ways of preventing them can be identified,” says Professor Jackson.
The problem of preventing traffic injury in the Pacific is difficult as there is a lack of precise data and the first step for the Project team is to set up a traffic injury “trauma register” in Fiji.
Dr Shanthi Ameratunga, the Project Director of the Auckland team says filling the data gaps is a priority.
“Our colleagues based at the Fiji School of Medicine will collect data, from hospitals and other sources, on traffic-related injury and the related mortality and disability rates. Additional data will also be collected from roadside surveys to better understand how common potential risk and protective factors for crashes are in Fiji.
“An important part of this research is to train the Pacific workforce and develop the Pacific research capacity so that local researchers can maintain comprehensive trauma registers and undertake further work that can help establish effective injury prevention strategies,” says Dr Ameratunga.
As part of the study, researchers will determine which risk factors correlate most highly with traffic injury or crashes. The team will use roadside surveys to collect data from drivers flagged down at roadblocks and compare this with information collected from drivers involved in crashes.
“This will include information on the state of vehicles, the quality of roads, seat belt use, alcohol consumption and other potential risk factors,” says Dr Ameratunga.
A vital aspect of this project is the work alongside policy makers, community organisations, service providers and other end-users to develop a plan for minimising traffic injury.
“Most of the time when people think of preventing injuries they think of what the victim could have done differently, but there are also options of working with the vehicle and the environment.
“Making vehicles and pedestrian crossings more visible and improving the quality of the road surface could be part of the solution,” says Dr Ameratunga.
The research has drawn considerable attention from the World Health Organisation and Dr Ameratunga represented the project team at the World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion in Vienna earlier this month.