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Road Work Ahead

By Ted Alcorn

For many working in public health, economic development is a wind at their back: As incomes rise, for example, the incidence of infectious disease tends to diminish.

But for the experts at the Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit (IIRU), economic development sometimes creates dangerous headwinds. This is particularly true of road traffic injuries. “As development proceeds, you have more roads, but not necessarily safer roads,” says JH-IIRU director Adnan Ali Hyder, MD, PhD ’98, MPH ’93. “So you have roads where people actually drive faster and not necessarily safer.”

Hyder first became interested in road traffic injuries (RTIs) 20 years ago as a young physician in northern Pakistan, where he treated many motor vehicle–related injuries. RTIs kill more than 1.2 million people annually. Yet they attract far less attention than HIV or malaria, a gap that Hyder set out to fill.

Hyder established IIRU to collect data and train new practitioners. One of the Unit’s major projects is a multicountry collaboration with other institutions called Road Safety in 10 Countries Project (RS-10), supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

RS-10 has already yielded new data on the prevalence of seatbelt use and speeding rates in major developing countries that had not been previously available. In Kenya, where the project also addresses trauma care, IIRU has identified key areas for improvement, developed a trauma care registry and helped strengthen trauma care legislation. And IIRU has trained more than 550 individuals worldwide—from researchers, to health specialists, to transportation professionals, to data collectors. IIRU is now in the process of developing a free online training program to reach many more, says Hyder.

“The other thing that is happening as a result of this project is that health [researchers are] working very closely with police and transport, and that has not traditionally happened much,” says Hyder, adding that this cross-sectoral collaboration is important to any project seeking to improve global road safety in the future.