COPH Dean helps tackle India's challenge of traffic fatalities

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Public Health Dean Donna Petersen, ScD, is USF’s representative to the Indo-U.S. Joint Collaboration in Environment and Occupational Health.

College of Public Health Dean Donna Petersen, ScD, recently returned from intensive meetings in India, where she helped tackle the challenge of reducing fatalities from traffic accidents. With the world’s highest rate of road fatalities, India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the India Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have joined with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Agency for Toxic Substance & Disease Registry to work on reducing this urgent public health problem. Dr. Petersen is USF’s representative to the Indo-U.S. Joint Collaboration in Environment and Occupational Health, which is helping oversee the initiative.

Pedestrians and bicyclists account for 70 percent of the road deaths in India and motorized 2-wheeler riders for 25 percent.

“We first had a very rich discussion with a wide range of people involved in this issue—the chief of police; transportation officials; trauma, hospital and health officials and many other agencies and sectors,” Dr. Petersen said. “There is no 911 and no real agreement on how to set this up, what number to use. As of now, in one area, you call something like 33-22413724 for fire, 33-99313954 for police, and so on.”

Clearly a major concern of the group “is trauma and how to respond within the first critical hour, along with providing trauma treatment/care management” she recounted.

India has the world’s highest rate of road fatalities.

Following this multi-agency meeting, those involved in health care were driven from the New Delhi meeting on the road to Agra for further meetings with the Indian Council of Medical Research.

“This is where reality hit!” Dr. Petersen said. “The road was dark — a highway connecting the two cities, which simply meant nearly everything went faster—taxis, buses, cars, trucks, 2-wheelers, 3-wheelers. The goats, chickens, monkeys, pedestrians were still there too, not to mention the road construction!”

Once the group safely arrived, members followed up from two previous planning workshops. These had led to experimental interventions, such as providing emergency assistance to accident victims on highways and developing plans for a network of trauma centers. Although recognizing the need for a multi-faceted approach with a range of prevention, intervention and management, this particular session focused on the trauma aspects and on building capacity in emergency medicine in hospitals.

“We’re really interested in prevention measures and in surveillance, which will be one outcome, but it’s more likely that College of Medicine folks will become involved in the emergency medicine exchanges—and they have already had some discussions about this,” Dr. Petersen said. “We’ll remain involved to keep our USF Health links with both India and the CDC on this and other health issues.”

Bulls and other animals in the road add to the traffic challenges in India.

– Story by Susan James/USF Health International Programs

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