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Preventing death and disability due to injuries is both an economic imperative and a health priority

Montreal, Canada - Effective prevention action is required across the globe to reduce injuries, said international delegates at the opening of the 6th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Control.

Injuries are one of the leading causes of death and disability in the world. Every year more than 5 million people around the world die from injuries. Of these, 25% are due to road traffic injuries, 16% to suicides and 10% to homicides. The 5 million figure is dwarfed by the number of people who survive injuries, many of whom suffer life-long disabilities.

In addition to death and disability, injuries and violence contribute to a variety of other health consequences. These include depression, alcohol and substance abuse, smoking, eating and sleeping disorders, unwanted pregnancies, and HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

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. The human, social and economic burden of injuries and violence is staggering. It seriously compromises prospects for development, said the World Health Organization (WHO), co-sponsor of the conference currently being held in Montreal, Canada.

"We must multiply our efforts to prevent people from falling victim to road traffic collisions, interpersonal violence, the savagery of war and conflict, or harm they may inflict upon themselves, " said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director General of WHO. "Over the past few years, national and world leaders have become aware of what health professionals long have argued: that stable and prosperous societies cannot be achieved without investing in health. As such, investments in injury and violence prevention are ultimately investments in health and development," she added.

The magnitude of the problem varies considerably by age, sex, region and income group. Worldwide, injury mortality is two times higher for males than for females. Almost 50 % of injury-related mortality occurs among young people between the ages of 15 and 44 years, thereby often depriving families from their breadwinner. Among 15-29 year olds worldwide, 7 of the 10 leading causes of death are injury-related, with road traffic injury being the second leading cause of death for this age group, suicide the 4th and homicide the fifth.

While injuries affect people in all societies, regardless of their level of development, poorer societies are at higher risk and are disproportionately affected by the consequences of injuries due to their inability to afford or access appropriate health care. 91% of all injury-related deaths occur in these low and middle income societies.

Prevention Possible

Injuries and violence, however, are preventable and the public health sector has a key role to play in implementing prevention initiatives – that is WHO’s message. Many prevention strategies have proven effective and must be put into practice on a global scale. For prevention of traffic injuries these include compulsory wearing of seat belts, use of special car seats for children, helmet wear for motorcyclists, speed restrictions, traffic calming measures and efforts to curb drunk driving.

Examples of effective violence prevention strategies include youth mentoring programmes, home visitation, training to improve parenting skills and comprehensive social development initiatives at community, state and national levels. Other effective injury prevention strategies include smoke detectors to prevent burns and swimming pool fences to prevent drowning. The public health sector can be instrumental in providing essential data collection and analysis on these issues and in steering policy change to facilitate more effective public and private services to victims and perpetrators.

As part of its scaled-up efforts in injuries and violence prevention, WHO will release the World Report on Violence and Health later this year, the first report of its kind to describe the magnitude and impact of violence on the world. The report will identify key risk factors of violence perpetration, summarize the kind of responses employed to date and what is known of their effectiveness, and recommend specific actions at local, national and international levels. It will include a focus on specific types of violence – Child Abuse and Neglect, Youth Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, Elderly Abuse, Self-directed Violence and Collective Violence.

Consult WHO’s Department of Violence and Injuries Prevention at: www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention. For more on the conference visit: www.trauma2002.com.

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For more information contact:

Reshma Prakash
Telephone: (+41 22) 791 3443
Fax: (+41 22) 791 4832
E-mail: prakashr@who.int