First aid training for Uganda’s boda drivers

On a dusty, potholed road in Gulu, northern Uganda, which he shares with bicycles, mini bus taxis and other vehicles, as well as pedestrians and, quite often, chickens and cows, Vincent Oloya is learning how to be a Good Samaritan.

“I like being a bodaboda (motorbike taxi) driver but I prefer driving a car,” said the 25-year-old. “It’s dangerous but I’m always trying to drive very carefully.”

Uganda has one of Africa’s highest rates of traffic accidents with 2,954 deaths in 2010, according to the World Health Organisation’s Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013.

The separate Annual Crime and Traffic/Road Safety Report 2013, by Uganda Police, found that between January and December of that year nearly 22 percent of people who died on the roads were boda drivers.

Bodabodas, which earn thousands of young men in the east African country a living but have been labeled “deathtraps on wheels”, are involved in close to 90 percent or more of all road traffic accidents, according to Dr. Bildard Baguma, Under Secretary General Programs and Projects at Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS). A law passed in 2004 requires all riders and passengers to wear helmets but it remains mostly unenforced.

Last September, Oloya was driving home on a near pitch-black dark road, when a car knocked him off his bike. Luckily three people came to his rescue.

“I was very happy and I gave them some small money,” he recalled.

Oloya was taken to a health clinic nearby with only minor scrapes and bruises, but others aren’t so lucky to be rescued, especially during the “golden hour” — the 60 minutes immediately after a trauma injury when treatment to prevent irreversible internal damage and enhance the chance of survival is most effective.

“We don’t have a public ambulance system and it takes such a long time for them to be taken from where they’re injured to the hospital,” stressed Baguma. “So it means one involved in an accident has to be able to depend on a Good Samaritan somewhere able to take them to hospital.”

It is crucial that people have basic first aid skills to help those injured, said Baguma. However, he estimates that no more than three percent of Uganda’s population of about 34 million possess first aid skills.

“It is scary,” said Baguma. “The average person doesn’t know, even the armed forces, the police and others don’t have first aid knowledge.”

And, unlike in many other countries, learning first aid skills is not a particular requirement to obtain a driving license in Uganda.

A bodaboda driver in Bugolobi, a suburb of Kampala. Some Ugandan motorbike riders do wear bright reflective vests, as a law which has been passed but isn’t enforced requires, but the majority don’t. Amy Fallon.

According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in 2010 more than 17 million people globally undertook first aid courses by Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies through face-to-face first aid training in various settings, including training rooms, workplaces and schools.

“(But) currently, first aid awareness is lacking in many vulnerable communities where even a basic knowledge of how to treat an injury could have a profoundly positive impact,” said Erin Law, a regional health officer at IFRC.

“Education is critical in ensuring people know learning first aid only takes a few hours and could save their life, the life of a friend or family member, or a stranger.”

First aid training program rolled out

Dr. Baguma said up to 90 percent of motorbike drivers don’t have a driver’s license. And many of those who have one haven’t been trained properly.

The Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) started a road safety programme in the country targeting school children, drivers, especially the “matatu” (minibus drivers) and “most importantly” bodas, about a decade ago.

Now, in Gulu and Lira, also in Uganda’s north, about 600 riders are being trained in groups, one hour a week for nine weeks, directly in first aid and defensive driving, through a school contracted by URCS.  The charity hopes to train about 1,600 motorcyclists all up before the pilot ends in 2015, but they’re optimistic that it can then be rolled out in the capital Kampala, where there are thousands of drivers, and other parts of the country, resources permitting.

So far, over 50 boda riders have been trained in first aid and road safety and awarded certificates by URCS at a ceremony celebrating the organisation’s 50th anniversary in Entebbe, Uganda’s New Vision newspaper reported.

“We did an assessment and the biggest urban risk is actually road traffic accidents,” said Baguma.

URCS hopes the training will culminate in some sort of identification, such as a reflective vest, being given to the taxis to show they’re properly trained and licensed.

“It’s an attractive programme which allows them also to do their work,” said Baguma.

After all, boda drivers certainly understand the meaning of time being money.

When Oloya, who takes home between 25,000 ($9.57) and 50,000 ($19.14) Ugandan shillings every day to put dinner on the table for his wife and young child, had his accident he couldn’t work for three weeks.

The former cassava seller, who’s been driving a motorbike for one year and a car for two, heard about the URCS training when they came to his boda “stage” (where drivers wait for passengers) in May.

“I want to be able to help people,” said Oloya. “I’ve got a lot of experience. I feel now I’ll be safer in the future.”

URCS has also started a programme supporting road safety activities, including first aid, in towns across Uganda targeting all drivers.

Accident hot spots have been identified and Red Cross Action teams are training more in first aid.

Baguma said while “resource constraints” remained a barrier when it came to road safety in Uganda, changing perceptions on safety culture was also a challenge.

“If people do not appreciate that they need to do this for their own safety and the safety of the passengers, then I think we’ll continue to have problems on the roads,” he said.

URCS is also lobbying the country’s Parliament to adopt a Good Samaritan Law, as similar legislation is known around the globe, which would give legal protection to people who provide reasonable assistance to those who are injured, ill, in danger, or incapacitated.


Amy Fallon is a freelance journalist based in Kampala, Uganda. She is Australian-born and has also lived and worked in the UK for various newspapers, magazines and websites. Follow her on twitter @amyfallon

Main image: Dr Michael Edgar Muhumuza, head of Mulago’s neurosurgery unit, holds up the x-ray of the victim of a boda accident. Last year, he said the trend of motorcycle accident victims had shifted from passengers to riders who were being attacked by passengers with iron bars, but there was still a great need for both to wear helmets. Amy Fallon.

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