USAID supports road safety initiative in Cambodia

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Road Safety workshop held in Cambodia
Road Safety workshop held in Cambodia

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is supporting a major new two-year project to increase motorcycle helmet use in Cambodia, with donor partners including the FIA Foundation.

The non-profit organisation Asia Injury Prevention (AIP) Foundation has been awarded US $635,993 by the Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) program at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The grant, which supports social impact and improved outcomes for sustainability and scale, will fund AIP Foundation’s two-year project, “Head Safe, Helmet On.”, to increase motorcycle helmet use in Cambodia. Additional financial and in-kind support worth over US$650,000 is being contributed by the FIA Foundation, the UPS Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and AIP Foundation. The FIA Foundation’s Road Safety Fund played an important advisory role in helping to secure the USAID funding. On August 8, AIP Foundation organised a nationwide stakeholder workshop in Phnom Penh to introduce the project and partnership. Participants included national-level government officials, international agencies, and representatives from the targeted provinces.

Road traffic crashes are a public health crisis in Cambodia, killing more people than landmines or malaria. In 2012 alone, road crashes caused 13,649 injuries, cut short 1,966 lives - mostly of young people - and cost the nation US$329 million, equivalent to 2.3 percent of its GDP. Motorcycles are the primary mode of transportation. Their drivers and passenger make up the highest portion of all road fatalities. In 2012, 66 percent of these fatalities perished from traumatic head injury. “Often surviving is worse,” said Mirjam Sidik, CEO of AIP Foundation. “Many injuries cause life-long disabilities creating a sudden need for permanent care. In addition to the personal pain and suffering, this negatively impacts families, the public health system, and society in general”.

According to the Cochrane Collaboration, motorcycle helmets are a proven way to increase survivability in a crash, reducing the risk of fatality by 42 percent and injury by 69 percent. In Cambodia, helmets are compulsory for drivers, but not for passengers. Disturbingly, only 9 percent of passengers wear helmets. It is very common to see a family of four on one motorcycle: a helmeted father, an un-helmeted mother, and two children, or more, without any protection.

“Head Safe, Helmet On.” aims to increase passenger helmet rates in targeted communes of Phnom Penh, Kandal and Kampong Speu to 30 percent within the first year, and to 80 percent in the second year, thereby preventing thousands of unnecessary road crash injuries and fatalities while saving Cambodia tens of millions of dollars. This will be accomplished through a series of three, mutually-reinforcing components:

  • A school-based helmet program that creates a new generation of safer road users; 
  • A communications campaign that uses mass media to change behaviour; and 
  • An advocacy campaign that accelerates critically needed legislative change.

This three-pronged approach is modelled after an AIP Foundation intervention in Vietnam that helped bring about a national helmet wearing law in 2007. This resulted in 1,557 lives saved, 2,495 injuries prevented, and savings of US$52 million to the Vietnamese government and people in lost output, medical, and human costs within the first year.

“Head Safe, Helmet On.” will directly benefit 222,445 Cambodians through the distribution of helmets and road safety education, and indirectly benefit another 1,634,555 during the project period. The USAID-DIV investment of US$635,993 intends to generate savings of more than US$1.7 million for the Cambodian government. If the funding is sustained over the course of 10 years, it is projected that the return on investment will increase from US$2.8 to US$14.9. In other words, for every dollar spent, US$14.9 will be saved. The design of the components will be based on findings from assessments conducted at the onset of the project. Intensive monitoring throughout implementation, particularly quarterly helmet use observations utilizing a video method, and evaluation midway through the project and upon completion will be conducted. This will demonstrate progress, highlight challenges, allow for adjustments, and contribute to future project expansion.

Saul Billingsley, Director General of the FIA Foundation, said: “When a low-income Cambodian family loses its main breadwinner in a motorcycle crash the result is emotional and economic devastation. This ‘Head Safe, Helmet On’ initiative can demonstrate the potential for public health of a concerted effort to increase motorcycle helmet use, and will show that this is a strong social investment. We are pleased to be joining this donor coalition with USAID, UPS Foundation and the CDC to support this vital work, and delighted that our grant support for AIP Foundation in Cambodia over recent years has helped to catalyse this wider donor engagement.”

Click here to download the USAID and AIPF infographic for the ‘Head Safe. Helmet On’ project >