The health of Qatar’s children has been in the spotlight this week, on the heels of an international pediatric conference being held here. In a three-part series, Doha News examines some of the most pressing challenges facing kids in Qatar. Here, we look at a new initiative that aims to reduce children’s injuries in road accidents.
More than half – some 54 percent – of deaths among children up to four years old in Qatar are caused by traffic accidents, but with the proper use of child carseats, many of these deaths are entirely preventable, senior Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) doctors have told Doha News.
To encourage parents to actually use these seats, Kulluna (“all of us”) – HMC’s safety initiative, in conjunction with Safe Kids worldwide – is training volunteers to become child carseat technicians and instructors.
During one of these new sessions at Hamad’s International Training Center this morning, Dr. Khalid Abdulnoor Saifeldeen, Senior Consultant in Emergency Medicine and Chairman of the Kulluna safety campaign, told Doha News that the aim is to build up a team of 100 technicians who will educate Qatar’s residents – both expats and nationals – about the importance of securing their children safely in cars.
“Qatar is a virgin country as far as car seats are concerned, so it’s very important education comes before anything” he told us. “We’re happy to run this course every month if necessary. Education comes first. Even before enforcement.”
Saifeldeen said he believes that the most efficient method of education is to reach out to expectant parents before they have their baby, by giving them a car seat, and showing them – and any drivers or nannies they might have – how to use it safely.
While he expressed support for a recent government initiative to give out free car seats to new parents at Hamad Women’s Hospital, he added that the program lacked an educational component.
His niece, for example, was given a free car seat, but didn’t know how to use it, the doctor said.
“Her husband drove and she just sat in the car holding the seat – she didn’t put the seat belt through it. She’s still using it, but she’s not confident, so she’s coming at the end of the course this week to get some advice.”
When unrestrained children get in car accidents, the consequences in Qatar are often severe, Saifeldeen said:
“Fatalities are all from severe brain injuries in this age group, but we also see severe internal injuries, abdominal and chest, and fractures, spinal injuries.
Children can become a floating object in a car – we often use the word missile. It’s not only the impact of the crash itself, but the impact of that missile – the child – on the child’s body, particularly the brain. Those injuries can be, even for those that survive, devastating, not just for the child, but also the families.”
HMC Paramedic Mark Roxburgh is currently training to be an instructor for the Kulluna child car seat course. Speaking to Doha News, he described a typical accident scene involving an unrestrained child.
“We often see a little child who seems from the outside to be fine. But as child’s head is very heavy, as the collision happens, the child will move like a projectile – usually head first. And as the head hits the windshield or another occupant, the head will twist and hyper extend backwards massively, and all of the organs in the neck will be destroyed – the arteries, the veins, the spinal cord.
The child might look fine from the outside, but there’s absolutely nothing we can do. We will still try, we will do our utmost – but it’s often too late. But if they’re in a child restraint, there’s far more hope. In fact, often the child might be crying, but they’ll be fine. They’ll go into hospital for checks, and be discharged later that day.”
According to Saifeldeen, at present there is no detailed data about car accident-related deaths available in Qatar, but HMC is “working hard” to improve the system so that a detailed breakdown of types of injuries, ages of those injured and causes of accidents can be compiled.
Currently, it is not illegal for children in Qatar not be restrained in car seats. The only law on the books is one that prohibits kids under 10 from sitting in the front seat.
Saifeldeen said that a new car safety law is being discussed, but argued that enforcement of existing legislation is paramount:
“At the end of the day, the police must enforce this – this doesn’t need a great deal of education. Putting them in the back seat is just a starting point, a beginning of acceptance that what they’re doing is wrong. We also want to stop people letting their children hang out of windows. Just one pothole, and they could fall out. These things should be just basic parental instinct.”
In water cooler conversations, the issue of carseat education typically focuses on Qatari families, but the doctor added that some expats who come from countries that strictly enforce car safety laws tend to relax their attitudes here.
“I very much hope the trend we’ve noticed doesn’t get bigger,” he said. “That could be quite damaging. We like to see them as role models. This may be the first group we have to target, so they stick to their principles.”
Saifeldeen has a personal reason for wanting to further child seat safety awareness in Qatar. He recalled a serious accident he had in the UK some years ago, which he and his family were lucky to survive:
“I was on the motorway, and I rolled the car five times, going 40 meters off the road and into a field, ending up upside down. I had two kids in the back – a two-year-old and a five-year-old. I’m convinced that if they hadn’t been in car seats, the children would have died. Other than a skull fracture to the five-year-old, they were fine. We’ve been using car seats ever since.”
He added, however, that he’s the only member of his Qatari family to buckle his children into carseats. The reasons for not doing so vary, including the fact that carseats take up too much space, or that it takes too long to strap kids in. But he added that the excuses are not legitimate.
“Affordability is definitely not an issue – there are cheap good quality car seats on sale here for 200-300QR. It’s about acceptance and behavior.”