Call for urgent action as ‘fatal disconnect’ in global health policies fails child victims of road traffic

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Watch the Unfinished Journey video.
Child deaths from road traffic and toxic outdoor air pollution are just the tip of the iceberg.
Child deaths from road traffic and toxic outdoor air pollution are just the tip of the iceberg.
Olympic champion sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (centre) is supporting the campaign: I call for action for the children of my country and the world. We cannot stand by and allow them to face threats and danger when all they are doing is trying to get to school.”
Olympic champion sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (centre) is supporting the campaign: I call for action for the children of my country and the world. We cannot stand by and allow them to face threats and danger when all they are doing is trying to get to school.”
Environmental campaigner and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas endorses the call for a UN Special Summit: “This is the kind of action that we need to get people around the table with a good degree of urgency and a real commitment to action.”
Environmental campaigner and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas endorses the call for a UN Special Summit: “This is the kind of action that we need to get people around the table with a good degree of urgency and a real commitment to action.”
NGOs, schools and families are supporting the campaign for a global summit and high level action, reminding policymakers that #ThisIsMyStreet.
NGOs, schools and families are supporting the campaign for a global summit and high level action, reminding policymakers that #ThisIsMyStreet.

The international community is failing to take action on a global health crisis caused by road traffic, which kills 350,000 children and adolescents each year and causes serious harm and injury to millions more, says a new report and campaign launched today at the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

The report, ‘Unfinished Journey: The Global Health Response to Children & Road Traffic’, released by the Child Health Initiative, which is coordinated by the FIA Foundation, identifies road traffic as one of the most neglected issues affecting the health and wellbeing of young people. The scale of the epidemic is being recognised and documented by UN agencies, but little or no action follows. This ‘fatal disconnect’ in policy is failing the world’s children.

The report, launched this week to coincide with the World Health Assembly in Geneva, and the inter-governmental International Transport Forum being held in Leipzig, spearheads a new campaign calling for a first ever summit of world leaders on child and adolescent health to urgently re-focus global policy to address this road traffic-related health crisis. NGOs around the world are launching calls for action, urging world leaders to ‘walk the talk’ on providing safe environments for children and adolescents, while young people are joining the campaign to emphasise that #ThisisMyStreet.

The report argues that the headline figures of child deaths caused by road traffic, appalling though they are, are just the tip of the iceberg:

  • Road Traffic Injury: 227,000 children and adolescents (0-19) die on the world’s roads every year. Yet for every death there is a life changing disability and for every disability, several serious injuries. The equivalent of at least two large schools are emptied of children every day;
  • Air Pollution: Outdoor air pollution kills more than 127,000 children under the age of five each year, and 300 million children live in areas which dangerously exceed the WHO air quality limits for PM10. Road traffic emissions are a significant factor;
  • Unhealthy Lifestyles: 81% of adolescents were insufficiently physically active in 2010, while obesity has increased tenfold since the 1970s. The dominance of road traffic and perception of road danger curtails and reduces children’s outdoor activity, contributing to this health burden;
  • Inequality: Road traffic fatalities disproportionately affect low- and middle-income countries, where 90% of global road deaths occur. Across the world poorer children are more likely than their wealthier counterparts to be victims of road crashes, live close to busy roads and be exposed to dirty air.

Despite this serious health burden, the causes are not being tackled. UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets are set, and the solutions are well known but not funded or implemented. The focus of international health policy remains too narrow, and is failing to adapt to changing global challenges. There is a lack of coordination and accountability.

To tackle this, the report recommends:

  • A first ever UN Special Summit on child and adolescent health to raise visibility, build political commitment and deliver action and resources for neglected areas of public health;
  • A Global Commission on Road Traffic-related child health issues, to coordinate a response and report urgently to the UN Secretary General;
  • Specific indicators and funding for road traffic-related health policies and solutions within ‘Every Woman, Every Child’, the UN’s global strategy for child and adolescent health;
  • Joint action with climate funds, to scale up ‘healthy streets’ policies designed to enable safe walking and cycling, improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions.

The call for a first ever UN Special Summit on emerging issues of child and adolescent health is supported by leading policymakers and campaigners on health, environment and development, including the President of the World Resources Institute, Andrew Steer; UNICEF’s director of global health, Stefan Peterson; Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Chairman of the FIA Foundation; CEO of Save the Children UK, Kevin Watkins.

Also supporting the call for a summit is environmental campaigner and co-leader of the Green Party in England & Wales, Caroline Lucas MP, who said: “In terms of generating action in this area, I want to pay special tribute to the Child Health Initiative, because it’s down to their work that we’re beginning to see a little bit of momentum growing around the idea of a UN Special Summit. This is the kind of action that we need to get people around the table with a good degree of urgency and a real commitment to action.”

Zoleka Mandela, grand-daughter of Nelson Mandela and Global Ambassador for the Child Health Initiative, said: “I know what it is like to suffer as a result of a road traffic injury. I lost my daughter to this man-made epidemic. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions. Are we serious about the health and welfare of all our children? Or are we going to continue to neglect them and allow millions to suffer or die? Our leaders need to start taking the health and rights of young people seriously, and our action agenda provide a clear path forward.”

Saul Billingsley, Executive Director of the FIA Foundation and author of the report, said: “The world has halved child mortality with a rigorous focus on under-fives health, yet as these children survive and grow into adolescence and independence they are abandoned. UN institutions are counting, but not countering, the avoidable deaths, injuries and ill-health that result. Many governments take their cue from the inaction of these global health and development leaders. So we need a change of approach, and a UN special summit on child and adolescent health can provide the urgency and leadership to save millions of lives between now and 2030.”

Supporters of action on traffic-related child health will promote the campaign in Geneva on 23rd May at an advocacy event during the World Health Assembly. Jamaica’s Minister of Health, Dr Chris Tufton, will help unveil a new advocacy film featuring Jamaican Olympic sprint champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce; and senior speakers from WHO, UNICEF, Save the Children, NCD Child, the G4 Alliance and the FIA Foundation will join young people from around the world to make the case for a stronger UN response to this global epidemic and urge world leaders to ‘walk the talk’ on road traffic injury and pollution.

Read ‘Unfinished Journey: The Global Health Response to Children & Road Traffic’

Support the campaign at www.everylife.org