Every day in Monrovia, and all around Liberia, thousands of young, well-toned Liberian men rise early and mount a motor bike to ferry commuters from one place to another. These men provide an important economic service, and should be celebrated. I have observed that most of them actually take pride in their work. There is a detectible spirit of comradery among motorcyclists, or “Pen-pen” as we call them.
In spite of their invaluable economic service and strong comradery, pen-pens represent a rising public health challenge. They ride without helmets, and they are generally reckless – weaving in and out of traffic on Monrovia’s skinny roads, or bumpy dirt roads in the country side. Absence of helmets and reckless riding present immediate threats, both to pen-pens and pedestrians.
However, a big, quieter threat lurks just beneath the surface. Consider that the average pen-pen rides 10 hours a day, six days a week. That’s 60 hours week, 3,120 hours per year. Meanwhile, the lack of helmets mean their eyes are exposed to the elements, especially the wind. In addition, they inhale all the fumes in the air. You and I know how polluted the air is in Liberia. So, a pen-pen who rides for 5 years accumulates 15,600 hours of exposure to the elements – too many hours of exposure that can lead to serious health consequences.
After speaking with several pen-pens during recent visits to Liberia, it is becoming clear to me that a wave is gathering that requires urgent attention. I have spoken to pen-pens who complain of pain in their eyes and chest. It comes as no surprise. Our brothers will have significant visual impaired or be blind coupled compromised respiratory functions. The combination of impaired vision and compromised lung function presents a serious public health challenge. It won’t be very long belong these men can’t see and can’t breathe well. It won’t be too long before they can’t work; we can be sure that they will turn to the government and their families for assistance.
Even more alarming is the fact that as you read this post, these our brothers are having multiple children by multiple women. It is easy to understand why: they have economic power because they can ride daily and earn some income. I am concerned about what will become of these children when their fathers are unable to work and provide food and school fees. Imagine the implications for the rest of society.
Instead of just requiring helmets, we have to develop educational modules that present the health consequences awaiting our dear brothers. Our posture cannot be confrontational; it must be one of a loving, caring community deeply concerned about our collective future.
For optimum health,