WHO official, advocates hope road safety gets urgent attention similar to coronavirus

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Nearly 2,000 government officials and civil society leaders from 140 countries attend the opening of the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety. (FILE PHOTO)

Stockholm, Sweden (CNN Philippines, February 19) — A World Health Organization official and road safety advocates appealed to governments to address road crash fatalities as urgently as they have been responding to coronavirus.

Road crashes are now the top killer of children and young people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The agency estimates about 1.3 million people die in road crashes around the world each year.

“The response to the current corona virus outbreak shows that with the right political will, strong measures can be put in place quickly. These numbers call for strong levels of political action as well," said Dr. Etienne Krug, WHO director for Social Determinant of Health.

At least 80 transportation ministers and close to 2,000 advocates attended the program Wednesday, which also marked the conclusion of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.

“Children and young people are dying everyday because of road crashes… but where is the same urgency to road crashes?” said youth activist Omnia El Omrani in front of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, and hundreds of government officials and civil society leaders who attended the opening of the third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety.

His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden leads the opening ceremonies at the Stockholm Waterfront Congress Center.

The country’s Department of Transportation (DOTr) has no representative during the event. CNN Philippines has learned that DOTr cancelled the participation of Assistant Secretary Manuel Gonzales due to travel concerns related to the coronavirus. The Philippine consulate in Sweden was instead requested to represent the agency.

Stockholm Declaration

During the event, Sweden’s Minister for Infrastructure Tomas Eneroth unveiled the Stockholm Declaration, which outlines the global road safety goals for this decade.

“The declaration went through an extensive consultation with member states, and a transparent and inclusive public consultations open to everybody around the world,” said Eneroth. He also urged the UN General Assembly to adopt the declaration which primarily aims to reduce road traffic deaths worldwide by at least 50 percent by 2030.

In a video message, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom urged governments to implement proven road safety actions and shift to sustainable mobility systems that truly benefit the people.

“With the right leadership, transport systems could be reconfigured to reduce road traffic deaths,” Adhamon said.

The past decade’s road safety action also targeted to reduce road crash fatalities by 50 percent, from 1.9 million to 800,000 by this year.

While the world failed to meet its target, WHO remains optimistic. “We are making significant progress,” said Krug.

The third Global Ministerial Conference is co-organzed by the World Health Organization, and a follow up to previous high-level conferences in Russia (2009) and Brazil (2015).

Makoi Popioco is a former CNN Philippines correspondent. He is a fellow of the ICFJ-WHO Safety Program and Bloomberg Philanthropies.