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A man lay unmoving on the Nairobi roadside, as a small crowd of people gathered round him. I assumed he was the victim of a road traffic accident, hit as he tried to dodge traffic on the six-lane thoroughfare, so crowded with cars, matatus, and motorbikes, so thin on traffic lights and designated walkways.

This story is far too common. Road traffic accidents (RTAs) injure up to 50 million and kill 1.2 million people every year, 90 percent in developing countries. At this rate, by 2015 RTAs are predicted to be the leading cause of premature death and disability for children aged five and above (source: Commission for Global Road Safety). It’s a global health epidemic of trauma fueled by staggering urban growth and dangerous roads teaming with an explosion of motorcycles and cars in low- and middle-income countries.

This month marks the launch of the United Nation’s Decade of Action for Road Safety. Together, governments, agencies, civil society organizations and private companies from more than 100 countries are launching the Decade of Action with a range of activities, from illuminating national monuments with a special road safety symbol to hosting local events.

Closer to home, one of the most effective organizations I know—and was honored to work with—is making a difference in the lives of trauma victims every day. Based in Washington State’s Tri-Cities area, the nonprofit SIGN designs, manufactures and donates surgical equipment used to expertly set broken bones—all without expensive imaging equipment or electricity. It’s an innovative surgical system designed for the low-resource settings that so desperately need it. To date, SIGN has trained more than 4,000 surgeons in 50 countries to use its system, helping more than 85,000 people walk again.

It’s a huge accomplishment, made possible by the innovative thinking our region is known for. SIGN engineers took an approach developed during World War II and incorporated equipment modifications that made it more effective for use in developing countries. A finely tooled exterior positioning system guides surgeons as they secure stainless steel implants that align fractured bone pieces. Add to this smart communications:

  • Real-time email exchanges with founder Dr. Lewis Zirkle
  • A global surgical database that tracks outcomes,
  • Visits to hospitals in participating countries by North American orthopedic surgeons
  • An annual meeting that brings surgeons from around the world together to learn from one another.

With such good care, it’s no wonder folks at SIGN are proud to say, “Our Steel Heals.”

To learn more, visit SIGN or go online to the Road Safety Fund, which is targeting young people through youth-made video, posters, and Sesame Street characters. We can help spread word of this campaign and end this global trauma epidemic.

Disclosure:  SIGN is a Weber Shandwick Seattle client.

Image courtesy of Herr_Bert.

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