Photo: makeroadssafe.org - Nelson Mandela's great granddaughter Zama Dlamini shows him a Zenani wristband
When we think about epidemics, we generally think of a disease - HIV/AIDS, malaria, cholera. But what about car crashes?
Incredibly, nearly 1.3 million people around the world die every year from road accidents - second only to AIDS-related deaths. And road deaths equal or surpass deaths from tuberculosis and malaria.
Not only that, they are the No. 1 killer of young people between the age of 15 to 24.
And nearly a quarter of those who die are pedestrians, including children who face dangerous walks to school as cars race by - often on poorly maintained roads.
In some countries, such as Ghana, the proportion of pedestrians among road traffic deaths is as high as 40 per cent.
This week is Global Road Safety Week, a campaign backed by the United Nations to raise awareness about the need to better protect pedestrians worldwide.
A recent Global Burden of Disease study found road crashes to be among the top 10 causes of death globally, with the vast majority - about 90 per cent - happening in low or middle income countries.
One of the most high profile advocates for road safety are the Mandelas, as in Nelson Mandela and family.
In 2010, his great-granddaughter Zenani (left) was killed in a car crash as she was coming home from a World Cup soccer event in Soweto, South Africa. She had just turned 13.
The Mandelas set up a campaign in her name, in support of the UN's Decade of Action for Road Safey 2011-2020.
On the campaign website, her mother Zoleka Mandela writes "On the same day that I lost Zenani, a thousand other families also lost a child on the world's roads. This disaster continues to rob us of 1,000 young people every single day."
"Other parents must not go through the pain that I am suffering and will continue to suffer. Now is the time for positive action. Every life we save will be a precious victory."
Photo: makeroadssafe.org - Zoleka Mandela wears a campaign bracelet in honour of her daughter Zenani
Ultimately, advocates say these deaths are predictable and preventable, which could go a long way toward improving many countries' economies.
As The World Bank writes, "Road traffic injuries place an enormous strain on health systems in low-and middle-income countries. In Kenya, it is estimated that up to 60 percent of all trauma patients were injured in road traffic crashes. Further, road crash victims and their families in low- and middle-income countries risk falling back into - or being stuck in - poverty due to overwhelming medical costs, poor rehabilitative services, and lack of safety nets."
Today, Zenani's cousin Kweku Mandela - an activist for the campaign and grandson of Nelson Mandela - will take part in a live-streamed event on how to make the world's roads safer, with a focus on making walking safe for children.
He'll be joined by Safe Kids Worldwide President and CEO Kate Carr and Karla Gonzalez, the World Bank's South Asia region transport sector manager.
A short film called 'Dying for an Education,' will be shown during the event, to put a human face to these accidents. Check it out below.
"Many risk factors contribute to the high vulnerability of pedestrians, including the speed of vehicles, alcohol, inadequate visibility, lack of pedestrian safety facilities, and inadequate enforcement of traffic laws," The World Bank writes.
But the Bank says many steps can be taken to change that. For example, it says a "5 per cent cut in speed can reduce fatal crashes by 30 per cent. Road design, land-use planning, and vehicle design are other important factors."
The World Bank has set up a program called the Global Road Safety Facility, to work with countries to try to reduce road deaths by 50 per cent by 2020. But to do that, it says more money is needed from donor governments and organizations.
"As the world continues to motorize, walking needs to be made safer and, particularly in urban environments, promoted as a healthy and less expensive mobility option," said Marc Juhel, World Bank sector manager for transport.
"Unless action is taken, the sheer scale of pedestrian injuries will undermine country efforts to reduce poverty, enhance living standards, and improve public health."
Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon & James Bond 'Tomorrow Never Dies') was in the red chair recently and talked about road safety. Click on the link to watch that interview.