April 23, 2013

Traffic Police Officers At Risk Of Mental Break Down – Mulago Doctor

Police officers who spend long hours on the road directing traffic are at a risk of suffering a mental break down due to prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide emitted by vehicles.

A traffic officer stops a car.
A traffic officer stops a car.

Dr. Umar Authman Kasule, a senior officer at Mulago Hospital’s Ear Nose and Throat Unit, says when directing traffic, police officers and traffic wardens inhale dust and fumes.

However, he says it’s the carbon monoxide fumes that are the most dangerous because they could lead to memory loss, hallucinations and the victims may get psychiatric problems.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas produced when burning any fuel such as gasoline, propane, natural gas, oil, wood and coal. Carbon monoxide can kill in minutes or hours depending on the level of carbon in the air.

According to Dr. Kasule, the red blood cells pick up carbon monoxide faster than oxygen, which is vital for human survival. He says this may result into carbon monoxide poisoning. When this happens, according to Dr Kasule, red blood cells will not have enough oxygen to break down energy and will eventually result into body weakness, depression and memory loss.

Dr. Kasule’s claims that prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide for between 10 – 15 years could leave traffic officers mentally unstable could not be independently verified by a psychiatric doctor in Butabika hospital.

However, according to the Centre for Disease Control- CDC, common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, body weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness and death.

The CDC says that all people and animals are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Unborn babies, infants, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems are more susceptible to its effects.

In the USA, each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Fatality is highest among Americans 65 and older.

When Uganda Radio Network talked to traffic officers on the road, they were concerned about the dust they inhale.

A re-known traffic officer now stationed along the dusty Nsambya – Kabalagala section, Assistant Inspector of Police Sadia Ali, who has served the Uganda Police Force for 36 years, was not bothered about the dust. Sadia Ali, who spends up to 14 hours a day directing traffic, says she at times catches cough, flu and malaria. She says the force used to provide them with water but not anymore.

When asked whether the traffic unit had registered any cases of psychiatric problems, the Kampala Metropolitan Traffic boss, Lawrence Niwabine, says such an assertion can only be proven medically. However, he notes that the department receives many complaints of flu, cough, sinuses and pneumonia.

The Director Police Medical Services, Dr. Moses Byaruhanga said he had never received such complaints when URN talked to him recently.

Dr. Byaruhanga says traffic police personnel are not dangerously exposed but they inhale carbon monoxide just like any human being. Dr Byaruhanga denies having received reports of pneumonia or even flu from traffic officers.

Dr Kasule advises police management of the need to protect traffic officers from metal break down. He says the force needs to reduce the number of traffic men on the road and use more traffic lights in their place.

He says traffic officers need to be given masks to ensure they do not inhale carbon monoxide.

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