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Road deaths on rise in sub-Sahara

The report found the region to have the highest number of accidents, but the fewest vehicles on the road.

An estimated 24.1 people per 100 000 are killed in traffic accidents every year, according to the bank. Younger and poorer people are disproportionately vulnerable: accidents on the road are expected to become the biggest killer of children between five and 15 by 2015, outstripping malaria and Aids.

"The poorest communities often live alongside the fastest roads, their children may need to negotiate the most dangerous routes to school, and they may have poorer outcomes from injuries due to limited access to post-crash emergency healthcare," the report says.

Aside from the obvious distress caused by accidents, sub-Saharan Africa's high-risk roads have a significant economic impact. Crashes are estimated to cost African countries between 1% and 3% of their  gross national product each year, the report finds.

The report considers road safety alongside rising rates of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and cancer. The authors maintain that both represent largely hidden epidemics in Africa.

While there are a "whole bundle of different drivers" behind the rise in road accidents and NCDs, some of the causes show remarkable parallels, said Dr Jill Farrington, the former Europe co-ordinator for the World Health Organisation's NCD programme and the report's co-author.

The shift towards urbanisation is a case in point. City residents typically do less exercise, triggering diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

Rising income drives the demand for processed foods that are higher in sugar, fat and salt. The same factors result in increased car use and more traffic accidents. Alcohol consumption links the two. Though seven in 10 adults abstain from drinking alcohol in sub-Saharan Africa, those who do have the highest prevalence of heavy episodic drinking globally. – © Guardian News & Media 2013

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