Road Safety in Myanmar: data collection begins on the Yangon-Mandalay Highway

Team visits highway police station along the Expressway.
WHO / F. Maurizio

Deaths and injuries related to road crashes remain one of the most pressing public health concerns for low- and middle-income countries around the world. As reported in the latest WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety in 2015, 90% of road traffic deaths occur in these countries, even if they only possess 54% of the world’s vehicles. Despite the increased adoption of road safety strategies and policies which target the issue, more has to be done to reverse this alarming trend.

In Myanmar the number of deaths related to road crashes has increased since the last report in 2013, and now totals at a very high 20.3 per 100,000 people. Myanmar is now 2nd only to Thailand within the WHO South East Asia Region, increasing from a previous ranking of 6th out of 11 countries. Motorcycle crashes are particularly frequent – and deadly.

To address this issue, a multisectoral road safety project has been initiated by the WHO and the Ministry of Health with a focus on the busiest Expressway of the country, the Yangon – Nay Pyi Taw - Mandalay Highway. The project is aimed at multipronged interventions and will serve as a pilot for larger scale operations; data collection on road crashes and deaths on the Expressway is one of the sub-projects included in the multisectoral strategy.

On 20-21 October 2015 representatives from the University of Public Health of Yangon, the Injury and Violence Prevention Units of the Ministry of Health and of WHO Myanmar and a consultant from the Asian Development Bank met with various stakeholders in charge of the concerned databases for the highway, including the Director of the Expressway Maintenance Department and Police Colonels of the Expressway and Traffic Police departments. What emerged from these preliminary findings is that most deaths and crashes on the highway are caused by over speeding and tyres bursting – which identifies a need for increased vehicle and road maintenance as well as awareness-raising on driving practices.

The team also met with the Director General of Road Transport Administration Department, U Chit Ko Ko, who re-stated the national target of reducing road crashes fatality by 50% by 2020 as well as increasing the use of motorcycle helmets by 90%. Possible options to improve road safety data collection and increase funding for road safety research in Myanmar were also discussed. Lastly, to assess the burden on the health system of the country, the team visited three of the main General Hospitals near the Highway – in Nay Pyi Taw, Taungoo and Pyu. The Medical Superintendents of each hospital illustrated their records and analyses of road injuries and related deaths in the past two years, and discussed some of the main challenges that hospitals and health staff face when dealing with increased numbers of patients. These span from limited human resources and medical equipment to insufficient infrastructure – particularly important in cases of mass casualties like bus crashes.

The framework of the multisectoral project is built around the 5 pillars of the WHO Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, which include efforts towards 1) Road safety management, 2) Safer roads and mobility, 3) Safer vehicles, 4) Safer road users and 5) Post-crash response. The project will focus on a variety of activities such as a) ensuring close and regular collaboration with the National Road Safety Council and the transport and police authorities; b) secondary data collection from existing combined data sources; c) road safety data workshop; d) journalist and traffic police workshops; e) “Black Spot” road signage project and f) national workshop in collaboration with the ADB on strategy development for road safety.