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Motorcycle Head Count: The Global Helmet Vaccine Initiative

The Problem

Across much of the developing world motorcycles are commonly used for transportation and are a leading cause of disability and death, especially from head injury. Survivors of head injuries often suffer brain damage, which cause pain and suffering, and put already impoverished families in greater jeopardy. These injuries may decrease a person’s ability to earn a living or may require a lifetime of personal care. Research shows that consistent use of protective helmets by motorcycle drivers and passengers cuts the rate of severe injury by 70 percent and reduces fatalities by 40 percent. Still, in many countries helmet use remains sporadic. Similar to an immunization to protect against infection, the helmet can act as a “vaccine” to prevent head injury.

Where We Work

  • Uganda
  • Cambodia

Key Partners

  • Asia Injury Prevention Foundation
  • Handicap International, Belgium
  • Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit
  • FIA Foundation
  • Injury Control Center, Uganda
  • International Union for Health Promotion and Education
  • Uganda National Roads Authority
  • Automobile Association, Uganda
  • Road Safety Campaigns Committee, Uganda

The CDC Response

The Global Helmet Vaccine Initiative (GHVI) is based on the successful national cycle helmet campaign in Vietnam, which increased motorcycle helmet use to 90 percent. GHVI will be introduced in countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The goal is to encourage policy changes and greater investment to support increased and sustainable motorcycle helmet use. In the current phase, the project focuses on Cambodia and Uganda. CDC’s role is to support surveillance and evaluation of program activities.


The CDC has measured motorcycle helmet use by drivers and passengers in Cambodia and Uganda. In Cambodia, 60 percent of drivers and 7 percent of passengers wear helmets, while in Uganda only 22 percent for drivers and less than one percent of passengers use helmets. Completed surveys describe knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about helmet use by motorcycle operators and passengers. Typical reasons for not using helmets include high cost, discomfort, and tousled hairdos. Injury and death information is being collected from hospitals and police reports in both countries. This information will be used to determine the effect of program activities on motorcycle injury and death rates.

Vision for Growth

In Vietnam mandatory helmet use legislation led to 90 percent compliance and, in its first year, dramatic reductions in injury and death rates among motorcycle riders. This experience serves as an encouraging model for substantial safety improvements elsewhere. CDC’s role in collecting effectiveness data will help influence policy and resource allocation decisions to expand and maintain motorcycle safety law development and enforcement across the developing world.

  • Page last reviewed: September 16, 2011
  • Page last updated: September 16, 2011
  • Content source: Global Health
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