Medical Files

Traffic a public health menace

/ 12:40 AM October 31, 2015

On Wednesday this week, it took us almost two hours to get to the airport just coming from Makati. We missed our flight to Davao where I was to give a talk that evening. Good thing that we were accommodated in the next flight, but the two hours stuck in the traffic and the extra hour at the airport while my staff and I were trying to rebook our flight seemed like eternity and my adrenaline level must have shot through the roof, creating some havoc in my body.

Getting caught in the kind of traffic jams we have in Manila these days can really pose a serious threat to people at risk for heart attack or stroke. It can “kill” people literally (by causing heart attack), and figuratively by causing so much exasperation at why our national and local governments can’t seem to come up with effective solutions to address it, or at least, alleviate it to tolerable levels.


The heart attack risk is not an exaggeration. Authorities should place heart defibrillators in strategic locations in traffic prone areas like Edsa and Villamor Air Base. If someone has a heart attack in a traffic jam, the victim neither can be brought to a hospital soon enough nor can expect an ambulance to squeeze its way through the traffic.



At least, if the victim’s heart should suddenly stop or develop a potentially fatal arrhythmia like ventricular fibrillation, the companion can either initiate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or get the emergency defibrillator nearby and restore normal beating of the heart. Of course, everyone must have the proper knowledge and basic skills for effective CPR.

The Philippine Heart Association, composed of practising heart specialists (cardiologists) in the country, has been offering free workshops on CPR. Should you have the chance, I strongly recommend you take a CPR workshop. You’ll never know when your basic knowledge and skills on CPR could save a loved one. Even if the saving is done for a stranger, it can be a life-moving experience for the saver, and a life-extending experience for the one saved.

Aside from the stress caused by heavy traffic, there are other health risks our worsening traffic problem poses. That’s why the poor policemen at the street intersection conducting the traffic and the throng of commuters queuing up for their ride are sources of serious worry for health advocates.

Air pollution

If they’re exposed to all the environmental air and noise pollution every day, their health is adversely affected in the long run.

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Environmental Management Bureau, air pollution in the National Capital Region appears to be getting worse, instead of improving. In the first half of the year, the air pollutant concentration in terms of total suspended particulates has reached 130 micrograms per normal cubic meter (µg/Ncm), significantly higher than the 106 µg/Ncm recorded at end of 2014. The maximum safe level of air pollutant concentration is below 90 µg/Ncm.

Needless to say, the main source of these particulate pollutants in the thoroughfares of Metro Manila are the hundreds of thousands of motor vehicles, which—with all the road constructions going on, aggravated by rains and floods—can create what has now been called as a “carmageddon.” During such instances, the pollutant readings can reach up to 1,000 µg/Ncm, similar to New Year’s Eve.


With all the motor vehicles idling in traffic, one can just imagine the severity of the air pollution our traffic enforcers and commuters are exposed to. Indeed, the warning that traffic could “kill” is not a remote hyperbole. It may not kill swiftly—like in the case of a heart attack—but for most, it kills softly but surely.

According to the World Health Organization, the very fine pollutants can find their way deep into the lungs, causing various lung, heart and other ailments; they are to blame for the 3.2 million preventable deaths worldwide every year.

Noise pollution

Road traffic noise can also be hazardous to health. A London study published by Dr. Jaana I. Halonen et al. found that long-term exposure to traffic noise was linked with modest, but nonetheless significant risk of death and cardiovascular diseases among the general population. It was also particularly linked to risk of stroke among the elderly.

Previous studies linked road traffic noise to hypertension, but the effect appears to extend beyond simply increasing blood pressure. Road traffic noise, almost inseparable from air pollution, poses a significant environmental burden of disease which is estimated to be the second largest, topped only by airborne particulate matter.

It’s really high time for our government to seriously address air and noise pollution caused by road traffic. Draconian measures may have to be employed like regulating motor vehicle registration. We now have close to 7.5 million registered cars, buses and jeepneys; and 75 percent of the road pollution is coming from them.

Instead of more streets to accommodate the increasing number of vehicles, we should not only seriously improve our public transportation system but also encourage car pooling and other motor-vehicle-optimization schemes so we will have less cars on the road.

Air and road traffic noise pollution have already reached the level of a public health menace. We just can’t turn a blind eye on them, pretending they’re simply a cause of inconvenience, but not a health hazard.

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TAGS: column, health and science, public health menace, Rafael Castillo, traffic
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