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May 13, 2021

A year On: Road Safety Advocacy & COVID-19

Lockdowns, quarantines, a global race to develop a vaccine — the past 14 months have disrupted the way of life for most people. They have also reshuffled the public health priorities of most governments. But even as public health spending was re-routed to slow the spread of coronavirus, reinforce health infrastructure and treat COVID-19 patients, road safety advocates have continued the fight to prevent road traffic deaths and injuries.

Road crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 5 – 29 worldwide. From India to Ecuador, advocates have channeled their energies into facilitating safer transport for people stranded by lockdowns and influencing policy makers to advance lifesaving legislation on speeding and seatbelts. Their efforts have unfolded against the backdrop of extraordinary challenges.

The Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) supports road safety advocacy coalitions across the world. A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, here’s how some of them have adapted to the ever-evolving context.

Colombia’s mass media campaign pivot

In Colombia, advocates were halfway through the Carros Más Seguros mass media campaign elevating awareness around the need for safer cars when the pandemic brought the world to a standstill. Contemporary dancers dressed as crash dummies, who were touring the country, were pulled from the streets under lockdown. They found a home online, spurring digital engagement through social media. In spite of these challenges, the campaign ultimately reached 34 million Colombians, and planning for a second round of the campaign is underway. Meanwhile, advocates have continued to meet virtually with government officials to push for stronger legislation.

Uganda’s road safety coalition comes into being

Uganda’s first year in the road safety program came as the government sought to respond to more than 40,000 COVID-19 cases. Across the country, police have pivoted to enforcing COVID-19 guidelines over measures to reduce risks such as seat belts, speed and helmet use.

In a testament to the importance of local leadership, GHAI colleagues in Uganda helped to identify candidates for the country’s first road safety coalition. By year’s end, four civil society organizations convened to mark the start of a new era of road safety in Uganda. Even as advocates plan for COVID-19-related budget cuts, organizations as diverse as victims’ groups and think tanks have joined forces to undergo political mapping, analyze the media landscape and find strategic inroads to support stronger road safety policies.

Pictured above: Uganda’s advocates, including leadership from the Africa Centre for Media Excellence and the Center for Policy Analysis, gather alongside the country’s transport commissioner, Winstone Katushabe, earlier this year.

India’s road safety advocates expand their efforts, coalition chapters under harrowing circumstances

In India, a catastrophic wave of COVID-19 has overwhelmed the country’s health systems. Road safety advocates, many of whom are grappling with the disease or caring for someone who is, have pressed on. Earlier this year, a bid to strengthen safety precautions for a government-mandated mass transport of migrants helped save lives; in the south, a new chapter of the country’s Road Safety Network is gearing up to launch in Tamil Nadu. In September, a digital event series and accompanying media rollout celebrating the first anniversary of the country’s premier road safety legislation secured a commitment by a high-level official to half the number of deaths on India’s roads by 2025.

Continuing the conversation at the World Health Assembly

GHAI will host an event during the 74th World Health Assembly exploring the intersection public health advocacy — including road safety advocacy — and COVID-19. RSVP here to join.