Burkinabes and bike helmets

On April 6, 2009, in Burkina Faso, road traffic injuries, by Karen Grepin

(Photo credit Helge Fahrnberger)

A few years ago, prior to starting graduate school (OK..it was a bit more than a few years ago, I’ve been in grad school for a very long time) I spent the better part of half of a year in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso volunteering with a community-based HIV organization. While living there I was acquainted, directly or indirectly, with about 7 people who died during my 5-6 months there. I probably knew only about a hundred people directly so this was a relatively high mortality rate. Despite the fact that I knew a lot of people with HIV, most of whom were not accessing treatment (this was in 2000), only 1 of the 7 died from anything related to the epidemic. 5 died in a single car accident traveling to a family event in Bobo and 1 died from a motorcycle accident.

Motorcycles – or mobylettes – are king in Ouaga. I spent nearly ever day driving on the back of one. When I returned to Burkina in 2005 for some work on onchocerciasis I promised my husband that I would not get on another one. They are terribly dangerous things accidents are common daily events.

I guess that is why I really related to this news story about how, despite government efforts, uptake of bicycle helmets has been really slow in the country. I think the article did a good job at raising what might be some of the factors that might be influencing this slow uptake, poor enforcement, high cost of helmets, current practice, and credit constraints. Experiences in Nigeria, a relatively more prosperous country, at trying to enforce the use of helmets was largely unsuccessful. How wealthy does a country have to be before it begins to adopt more life saving behaviors? What types of interventions are likely to be the most successful?

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