x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Tragic consequence car crashes can have on young children

Local doctors have urged action to improve child safety in cars, as many continue to ignore the rules around seat-belts and car-seats for youngsters.

Dr Amin Gohary. head of Pediatric Surgery at Burjeel Hospital. told the GCC Traffic Week conference about the damage to children. Lee Hoagland / The National
Dr Amin Gohary. head of Pediatric Surgery at Burjeel Hospital. told the GCC Traffic Week conference about the damage to children. Lee Hoagland / The National

ABU DHABI // The head of a paediatric surgery at a local hospital has made an emotional appeal for drivers to ensure the safety of their young passengers.

Speaking passionately at the first International Road Traffic Accidents Conference in Abu Dhabi, Dr Amin Gohary, who works at Burjeel Hospital, told delegates of the tragic consequence car crashes can have on young children.

With traffic accidents being the leading cause of death in the UAE for under 14s, the surgeon pleaded for further action to educate the population on the importance of properly securing children when driving.

A child’s small size, coupled with a disproportionately large head, a small airway and an incompletely calcified skeleton means that the trauma suffered in even a minor car accident can be catastrophic.

“Fatalities are the obvious drastic outcome, but this is just the tip of the iceberg of the shared magnitude of trauma,” Dr Gohary said.

“What is not appreciated is the hidden cost, the psychological trauma for families.

“When a child is injured the whole family is injured. In my practice as a paediatric surgeon I came across families for whom the scar of losing their children lived with them all of their lives. The percentage of divorce is actually very high among these families because the fact they continue to live together is a constant reminder of the loss.”

He said families were not the only ones affected by a child’s death.

“Emotionally and psychologically it can also affect the doctors. There is nothing worse than to lose a child during trauma treatment. Sometimes this feeling lasts for months,” he said.

He offered his advice as to how to tackle the problem.

“The obvious answer to this is prevention. The irony is prevention costs very little but we still are not implementing it. Very simple things are needed.”

Dr Gohary identified the key measures: using baby safety car seats for young children, proper use of seat belts, not allowing young children in the front seat and awareness of pedestrians.

“How much does this cost?” he said. “Very little. But we still have not succeeded.”

Dr Gohary said that the total cost of treating the trauma from car accidents in the UAE runs to more than Dh3.6 billion every year.

This, he said, is money that could be spent preventing future incidents and to educate children in schools about the issue.

“Children can be an effective pressure point for the parents. Educating the children will have a vast effect on safety,” he said.

Despite local law requiring seat belts to be worn and car seats for youngsters to be used, many continue to flout the rules.

Dr Gohary, however, did not believe that harsher punishments were the answer.

“I would like the harshness to come from inside. It should be automatic to buckle up in a car and education of this simple principle is needed. I don’t want the harshness of punishment to be the deterrent; it should be coming from inside you.”

The surgeon’s calls were echoed by Dr Michal Grivna, consultant in community medicine at Tawam Hospital and associate professor at UAE University in Al Ain.

“Unfortunately, road traffic related deaths take a huge toll on the community,” Dr Grivna said.

“Sixty five per cent of injuries to children are related to traffic and it is a leading cause of death which can affect the productive years of our youth.

“We recently invited the chair of the international safe schools network and we discussed measures of inside and outside school.

“School traffic safety is a very important issue. I was impressed with a lot of the schools initiatives, who are working very hard to implement bus and bike safety. Roads around schools during opening and closing times are very busy and this can potentially cause incidents. Children are running between traffic. Many of the children are very small and drivers cannot see them.

“But I am confident authorities here are certainly trying to tackle this issue,” he said.

ksinclair@thenational.ae