WE appreciate the Health director-general’s concern about the surge in road traffic accidents and deaths during the recovery movement control order period, as reported in The Star on June 11 (online at bit.ly/star_accidents). Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah highlighted the negative impact of lives lost and the burden of permanent disabilities on the public healthcare system and the welfare of the public.
While the public health sector has held a leadership role in dealing with the current Covid-19 crisis, we would like to point out that it can also take a potentially enhanced role in promoting road safety. While traditional public health does focus some effort in the area of occupational safety, in Malaysia it has neglected its role in other areas of safety, such as transportation safety, home/school safety, drowning prevention, etc. Collectively, all these areas account for about 10,000 deaths each year and many times more the number of citizens permanently disabled.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has clearly defined the roles of the health sector in safety promotion as follows: data collection, community education, research, capacity building (i.e. training), advocacy, and provision of technical expertise for policy development. Depending on the nature of injuries and contextual background in a country, the health sector is supposed to play one of these roles: show leadership, be supportive or facilitative, or act as coordinator.
The WHO has organised numerous regional training workshops for the public health sector (for which the letter writers have been facilitators) in Malaysia in the past. How-ever, there has been minimal sustained or visible impact of injury prevention efforts. While literally the whole public health sector has been (rightly) concentrating efforts on the current crisis, only one officer in the Health Ministry is coordinating efforts at injury prevention (and that is in addition to other duties). Our universities, too, need to share some of the responsibility for this neglect since research and training are their prime duties.
We are practising clinicians who have worked in injury prevention and we urge all doctors, especially public health specialists, to play an enhanced role in preventing the unnecessary loss of lives and disabilities incurred due to all types of injuries (and diseases in general). The universities have to play a similar role to initiate and, more importantly, sustain these efforts.
Very few diseases kill or disable as many children or adults each year as injuries do. It is time we invested more resources to stop this epidemic.
DR KRISHNAN RAJAM & DATUK DR AMAR SINGH HSS
Kuala LumpurNote: Dr Krishnan is a former technical officer (injury prevention) for the World Health Organisation’s regional office for the Western Pacific;
Dr Amar Singh is a senior consultant paediatrician and a senior fellow at the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy
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