Zoleka Mandela, granddaughter of Nelson Mandela and a global ambassador for the Child Health Initiative, has questioned whether the world is serious about the welfare of children following a report released on Monday at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.
“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 provides a clear path forward,” said Mandela.
Her comments followed release of the report ‘Unfinished Journey: The Global Health Response to Children & Road Traffic’ which stated that the international community was 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.
“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,” Mandela added.
The report identifies road traffic as one of the most neglected issues affecting the health and well-being of young people. The scale of the epidemic is being recognised and documented by UN agencies, but little or no action follows.
The report, launched this week to coincide with the World Health Assembly and the inter-governmental International Transport Forum, calls 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.
The report shows that 227 000 children and adolescents aged 0-19 die on the world’s roads every year. 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.
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. Road traffic emissions are a significant factor.
Also, 81 percent of adolescents were insufficiently physically active in 2010, and 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.
Road traffic fatalities disproportionately affect low- and middle-income countries, where 90 percent 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.