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New publications show injuries kill more than five million people a year

Road crashes account for 1 of 5 injury-related deaths

Two new WHO publications highlight that injuries kill more than five million people worldwide each year, accounting for nearly 1 of every 10 deaths globally. In addition, tens of millions of people visit emergency departments annually due to injury. Whether they are unintentional - resulting from incidents such as road traffic collisions, drowning or falls - or intentional - following an assault, suicide or war-related violence - injuries affect people of all ages and economic groups.

The Injury Chartbook and Injury: A Leading Cause of the Global Burden of Disease - both reveal some striking findings on the nature and extent of death and illness as a result of injury. These publications compare the different types of injuries people suffer globally, and compare injuries to other leading causes of death.

Of the five million people killed due to injuries in 2000, approximately 1.2 million people died of road traffic incidents, 815 000 from suicide and 520 000 from homicides. In addition to the considerable number of deaths, millions more are wounded or suffer other non-fatal health consequences due to injuries. The magnitude of the problem varies considerably by age, sex, region and income group.

Type of Injury   Deaths due to Injuries, 2000  
Road traffic Incidents   1 260 000  
Suicide   815 000  
Interpersonal violence   520 000  
Drowning   450 000  
Poisoning   315 000  
War and conflict   310 000  
Falls   283 000  
Burns   238 000  

Injuries can have serious economic impact. Many injury victims are primary breadwinners. Globally young people, between the ages of 15 and 44 years, account for almost 50% of the world's injury-related deaths. In fact 7 of the 15 leading causes of deaths for people aged 5-29 years are injury-related; these are road traffic injuries, suicide, homicide, war, drowning, poisoning and burns.

"Their death or disability has serious implications for victims, their families and other dependants: reduction in quality of life, suffering and poverty. In strict economic terms, the costs associated with surgery, prolonged hospitalisation and long-term rehabilitation for victims of injuries and violence, in addition to their lost productivity costs, represent tens of billions of dollars each year," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO. "We must now multiply our efforts to prevent deaths from injuries- including from road traffic collisions, interpersonal violence, war and conflict, or harm people may inflict upon themselves. "

Gender and regional differences
Worldwide, injury mortality is two times higher for males than for females. Three times as many men die as a result of road traffic collisions than women. Figures also suggest that three times as many men are murdered than women. However, in the Western Pacific and Asia regions, rates of suicide and burns are higher amongst females.

The patterns of injury deaths differ by region. While death rates from road traffic, burns and drowning are particularly high in Africa and Asia, death rates due to falls are highest in Western Europe. Homicide rates are three times higher than suicide rates in Africa and the Americas. The converse is true for Europe and South East Asia where suicide rates are more than double homicide rates.

WHO estimates that nearly 90% of deaths due to injuries take place in poorer countries. The Newly Independent States in Europe have the highest overall injury mortality rates while North America, Western Europe, and Australia/New Zealand have the lowest overall injury mortality rates.

Important lessons have been learned about injuries during the past decades. Among them is that injuries are not inevitable, but are preventable. Many strategies have already been shown to be effective. Using seat belts in cars and helmets when riding motor cycles, traffic calming to protect pedestrians, enforcing policies against drunk driving or speeding, parent training and home visitation to stop abuse, wearing protective equipment at work or when playing sports, storing firearms and ammunition in separate and locked places, using flame resistant clothing and special packaging to prevent poisoning are among the measures that have contributed to decreasing the burden of injuries.

WHO has increased efforts to respond to injuries and violence by providing comprehensive evidence on the magnitude and impact of these major public health problems, and what is currently known about the strategies in place globally to prevent them. WHO cooperates with Member States and NGOs to develop detailed guidance in the areas of research, prevention and services to victims.

For more information contact:

Ms Laura Sminkey
Telephone: +41 22 791 4547
Mobile phone: +41 79 249 3520