Kampala-Walking into the surgical unit of casualty ward 3B at Mulago hospital, there is no escaping the feeling of depression that overwhelms when one looks around.
Men, women and children occupying most of the beds in the ward are covered with bandages stained with blood. Their groans and moans of pain rent the air.
In the far left hand corner of the ward is a middle-aged man tossing about in his bed. Tears roll down his peeling, greyish face, which is bruised and patched.
His attendant, Ms Sharifah Nakalema, narrates what happened to her elder brother, Twaha Walugembe, on February 3. “He was riding on the Northern Bypass in the morning when a car knocked and threw him off his bike onto the tarmac,” she says.
Nakalema got to know of the accident in the afternoon when an unidentified person called her number using Walugembe’s mobile phone. She was instructed to go to Mulago hospital immediately where Walugembe had been rushed in critical condition.
“I found him in a very bad state. He was soaked in blood with wounds covering almost every part of his body,” she says with teary eyes.
It is almost two weeks now since her brother has been admitted. Nakalema says even if his condition is still unstable, she is hopeful that he will make a quick recovery soon and eventually be discharged. In the casualty ward, tales like this are commonplace.
According to Dr Micheal Edgar Muhumuza, a consultant neurosurgeon at Mulago, the hospital which is supposed to be a 25-bed ward has more than 50 to 60 patients per day suffering from a number of conditions, including brain tumors, congenital abnormalities and trauma.
“Of the 60 patients, we have at a time, 80 per cent of these are usually boda boda accidents,” Dr Muhumuza says.
The overwhelming numbers, he says, has prevented most doctors from specialising in their respective fields.
“Most of the victims are brought here when they are almost dying and any available medical practitioner has to leave whatever they are doing and rush to attend to the patient to save his or her life,” he says.
The average age of boda boda victims they receive is between 18 and 35 years and the majority are admitted with facial and oral injuries, raptured ears a broken neck, chest injuries and fractures.
Dr Muhumuza says the extent of injuries normally depends on how long the victim will stay at the hospital.
“In case it is a very serious one, the patient can stay here for between two weeks to two months. We have even those who stay for six months.”
The patients’ long stay in the hospital affects the quality of life they eventually live because some of their injuries are so bad that they live with some incapacitation.
The boda boda patients do not need to pay for the medical expenses as the hospital takes care of them.
“Payment may only come in if the patient is at the private wing or needs to buy a drug that the facility may not have,” Dr Muhumuza says.
In 2013, Mr Hamza Muteesa, a boda boda rider in Kibuli, a Kampala suburb, got an accident on Jinja Road after colliding with a pick-up truck. “My face hit the tarmac and I ended up getting bruises and wounds,” the 21-year-old says. He stayed at home for one month nursing his injuries. “I lost about Shs600,000 during that time. Clients would often call me to drop them off to respective destinations but I could not,” he says. Once he had recovered, Muteesa dashed off to town and bought a helmet at Shs35,000. He vowed never to ride without one again.
Shs1.2m: Amount of money Mulago hospital spends on each accident victim, including boda boda ones.
80%: Percentage of boda boda accident patients admitted to the accident and emergency ward at Mulago.
3,043: Number of motorcyclists injured in accidents in 2012, a significant increase from 1,795 cyclists injured in 2008, according to a five-year (2008-2012) injury and fatality trends report.
300,000 : Estimated number of boda bodas in Kampala.
KCCA yet to restrict boda boda stages in the city centre
Last year, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) announced plans of abolishing boda boda stages in the city centre to streamline public transport and reduce congestion.
The boda bodas would be prohibited from stages in Wandegeya, Mulago round-about via Yusuf Lule Road to Jinja Road, Warid Tower junctions and Entebbe Road to Clock Tower. They would also be banned from Parliament Avenue, ministries of Justice and Trade as well as headquarters of the Inspectorate of Government.
The riders would access the central business district only to drop off clients. On when KCCA will eventually effect the plan, Mr Peter Kaujju, the KCCA spokesperson, says soon. “We are in the final stages with this plan. Once we are set, we shall start the implementation exercise,” he said in a phone interview.
Mr Kaujju added that one of the things they are looking at is establishing organised routes such as a green zone which motorcyclists would be allowed to access, and a red one which would be strictly out of bounds for the riders.
He says KCCA would also senstise motorcyclists to ride carefully to reduce accidents.
The number of registered boda bodas so far is up to 53,000 although the actual number is estimated to exceed 100,000.
Lesson from Rwanda
In an article titled Rwanda: Educating motorbike Entrepreneurs posted on the Globalpost website on August 24, 2010, Rwandan motorists are required to join one of 30 local taxi-moto cooperatives- each part of the national federation and wear vests with numbers that make them easily identifiable.
The law also requires that both the rider and passenger wear helmets inscribed with a number to call in case of careless riding. As much as Uganda may not be as highly organised in the motorcycle policy like Rwanda, Mr Norman Musinga, the Kampala Metropolitan Traffic Commander, is optimistic that the discipline of Ugandan motorcyclists will improve over time.
“With the continuous sensitisation and implementation that we are doing about safe riding, the situation will get better,” Mr Musinga says. He says police will continue to remind cyclists to wear helmets, carry one passenger and follow traffic regulations.
Mr Norman Musinga, the Kampala Metropolitan Traffic Commander gives the following tips:
•Motorcyclists should desist from overloading of passengers and luggage as it causes discomfort during movement.
•Always check if the motorcycle is in good mechanical condition.
•Follow the traffic light rules.
•Riders should wear reflector jackets at night to easily be identified by other road users.
•Ensure cyclists are experienced since some accidents occur because one lacks adequate riding skills.
The politics: Mr Steven Kasiima, the Commissioner of Police in charge of traffic and road safety traffic, says: “It is difficult to manage the boda boda cyclists operating in the city because they are many in number. The majority are ignorant about the road safety rules and regulations. There are times when I have stopped some of the cyclists riding without helmets. When I ask them why they are not wearing the head safety device, they respond that they find no use for it.”
Third-party insurance: Mr Kasiima says some cyclists do not pay third party insurance. “Those without keep dodging traffic officers while others print forged ones,” he says.
Push for insurance
Last year, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) announced that cyclists under their umbrella body, Boda Boda 2010 and Mulago Orthopaedics Department are pushing for an insurance cover to help in treating and caring for accident victims.
Mr Everest Mutabazi, 27, currently receiving treatment for a fractured leg at the orthopaedics ward, says he has failed to raise money to buy a fracture metal which will help in joining his bones again. The metal costs about Shs150,000.
“Our main dream is to get an insurance cover for boda boda riders and users. They should be treated and cared for at any hospital, l not necessarily Mulago once the insurance is in place,” Dr Waiswa Gonzaga, an orthopaedic surgeon at Mulago, said last week.
Under the proposed insurance, cyclists will be required to pay premiums of Shs70,000 per year to receive treatment amounting to a tune of Shs10m. “We shall not sit back when our customers (riders) are suffering,” Mr Joseph Mubiru, the managing director of energy firm, Mogas, said while handing over a Shs5m cheque to the hospital to help the accident victims.
He said for every litre of Mogas 4T oil sold, part of the money will be channeled to support the boda boda welfare club established to save lives.