The Last Ride Home

by Dr. Tamara S. Augustine

He was about 11 years old on his way home from school. I imagine what his day was like. He was maybe late for class. Perhaps, like most boys his age he might have been disruptive. Or maybe he was the studious type and he sat quietly in the corner trying to get every sum right. The end of the school day would have arrived and he would have eagerly grabbed his school things to head home as he had done every other day. He would get home, hopefully have a meal, do housework, then play until bedtime.

Today was different for him though. He never made it home. Instead his body laid on display on the side of the highway. His head in a pool of blood, the rest of his body still positioned on the motorbike he was riding on.  Today, instead of making it home he became another statistic; another road fatality. There will likely be no news headlines of his death, instead only the tears of his family and the empty seat in class the next day.

Less than one month earlier a family was devastated. On their way home from burying their daughter who had died suddenly, the unimaginable occurred.  The truck carrying countless mourning relatives overturned around a corner sending the almost 50 occupants spilling out of the open back. The deceased woman’s husband and several relatives died. Her 3 children were now orphans.

Unfortunately, stories like these are not as uncommon as they should be. In fact, over one million people die from road traffic injuries annually and 90% of these are in low- and middle- income countries. But why are all these accidents occurring? Why are the poor most vulnerable? It is not difficult to see. There is no need for scientists and analyses. One simply should spend a day in any low or middle income country and one will notice that poor road infrastructure, high speeds, poor vehicle standards and regulation of public transportation, lack of use of seatbelts and helmets all contribute to an environment which is ripe for disasters and fatalities. This is further complicated by lack of both public education and safer alternatives for the poor.

So, while the WHO 2015 Global status report on road safety showed through the use of complicated mathematical formulas that the number of road traffic deaths have plateaued, is enough being done? On the ground it sure does not seem that way. Perhaps there needs to be greater attention brought to the problem. Perhaps there needs to be further activation of all sectors including, health, government, law enforcement and education and they should be held accountable to ensure the risk factors that contribute to road fatalities be lowered. If not, then school boys dying on the side of the road will remain so commonplace that one merely slows down to look then continue on their way.

Brown, the color of your skin,

Still wearing your uniform,

White and green.

Red, the color of your blood,

Which should have been within,

But instead was spread thin,

On the black surface,

Which your head impacted with.

The rest of your body still in place.

White, the color of innocence,

That, you must have been,

While the white sheet hid the last of your suffering.

T.S.Augustine, MD. 16th January 2017. Dedicated to a young school boy that I saw die on the highway in Haiti from a motorcycle accident. R.I.P.