Highway helpers give account of agonizing accident rescue

Highway helpers give account of agonizing accident rescue

By Lilian Kaivilu

@liliankaivilu

From a distance, he looks like an ordinary highway vendor. He strategically positions himself to sell fruits and other snacks to truck drivers and other travelers along the Nakuru-Eldoret highway. But at this very place, Kimutai Koech quickly turns into a first aider when accidents occur.

Kimutai Koech, a vendor at the Salgaa accident blackspot
Kimutai Koech, a vendor at the Salgaa accident blackspot

With no training on first aid, Koech and his fellow vendors at the Sachang’wan area quickly swing into action to save victims of road accidents at the blackspot that is said to record some of the highest road accident statistics in the country.

On Sunday, Kenyans woke up to news of a grisly road accident that claimed the lives of all the 11 passengers aboard a Nairobi-bound public service shuttle. While the photos of the mangled vehicle shocked many Kenyans, Koech says such incidences have become a common occurrence to them.

Koech is a vendor at the busy highway at the Salgaa accident black spot. This is among the 79 blackspots recorded by the Kenya Police Service.

It is a chilly Wednesday morning and Koech goes on with his business of selling sugarcane to truck drivers and other travellers along the highway. He has set up his business stand by the road, next to the Sachang’wan accident victims’ monument. “This is the same spot where my brother died in 2009 when he, among others, were caught in the fire after a tanker burst into flames,” he remembers.

The Molo fire victims mass grave located at Salgaa area along the Nakuru-Eldoret highway. PHOTO: Lilian Kaivilu
The Molo fire victims mass grave located at Salgaa area along the Nakuru-Eldoret highway. PHOTO: Lilian Kaivilu

This is just one of the most memorable accidents that has stuck in the mind of Koech. For the last 10 years that he has witnessed numerous accidents at the spot.

According to the National Transport and Safety Authority Road Safety Status Report 2015, Kenya records about 3,000 deaths every year as a result of road crashes. This translates into an economic loss of Sh300 billion annually. This is more than five times the Sh54.9 billion allocated to the Health docket in the 2017/2018 financial budget.

Koech ceases to be just a vendor when road accidents happen. “Once an accident has occurs, we help the victims by transferring them to any passing vehicles, whether personal or private. For the private vehicles, we beg the owners to rush the victims to the nearest hospital in Molo hospital or Nakuru. For the public service vehicles, we usually ask the passengers to vacate then we use the vehicle to rush the patients to the hospital,” he says.

Eye witness account of highway helpers
Eye witness account of highway helpers

Koech, however, explains that he and his colleagues at the blackspot handle the bodies as they come, oblivious of the dangers that they may expose themselves to. “We handle them with our bare hands then wash later. We don’t have gloves,” he explains.

According to him, the emergency contacts he once had on his mobile phone are no longer useful. “Whenever we call these numbers, the emergency team neither picks nor shows up. It is so frustrating,” laments Koech.

Road design as well as signage has also been blamed for the accidents along most roads in Kenya. Chief Inspector Walter Kiptala, the Salgaa Traffic Base Commandant calls for diversity in the language used in road signs, not only on accident blackspots but on all road signs.

Chief Inspector Walter Kiptala, the Salgaa Traffic Base Commandant
Chief Inspector Walter Kiptala, the Salgaa Traffic Base Commandant

All the road signs along the Salgaa stretch are in English.  And with some of the road users coming from other nations, Kiptala says, there is need to have Kiswahili and French versions of the road signs. “The road serves people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzana, South Sudan and Rwanda. It will, therefore, be prudent to have the road signs in other languages that the drivers from these countries can easily understand,” he advises.

Winnie Chelimo another vendor at the same area shares in Koech’s frustrations. Severally, Chelimo has watched helpless drivers and passengers trapped in road crashes at this spot. “We are urging humanitarian organisations and the government to set up rescue centres here with adequate facilities.” Chelimo decries the dangers that she and colleagues expose themselves to as a result of not wearing gloves when rescuing victims of road crashes.

Winnie Chelimo, a vendor at the Salgaa accident blackspot
Winnie Chelimo, a vendor at the Salgaa accident blackspot

According to her, there ought to be a hospital along the highway, with trained rescue teams, especially near the accident blackspots. She says: “At times, the ambulances delay for more than one hour after an accident occurs. And I think that’s why some victims bleed to death. When we take the patients to some hospitals, there are bills to be paid hence posing a dilemma to us.”

But Dr Joseph Lelo, the chief medical

Dr Joseph Lelo, the chief medical officer at Amref Flying Doctors
Dr Joseph Lelo, the chief medical officer at Amref Flying Doctors . PHOTO: Ann Ngina

officer at Amref Flying Doctors says that as a country, we do not have an efficient emergency medical service as most of it is based on well-wishers who do that critical one-hour rescue after the accident. Chelimo is one such saviour. This is the golden hour of survival and such helpers are expected to do all they can in order to save the accident victims. “At that point most people have not seen a doctor. They are still most probably trapped in a car within that one hour. Consequently, we lose a lot of patients and there is a lot of suffering as a result of poor preparations to respond to emergencies,” says Lelo

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