WHO report reveals countries lose billions of dollars annually to violence which occurs in the homes and streets of their communities
9 JUNE 2004 -- Violence devastates lives, but it also has important economic consequences for societies around the world, some of which spend more than 4% of their GDP on health expenditures to treat its consequences. This and other findings are revealed in a new report released by WHO in the context of the 7th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion hosted from 6-9 June in Vienna, Austria. The economic dimensions of interpersonal violence, a spin-off to WHO's 2002 watershed World report on violence and health, compiles currently available information on the costs of violence against children, women and the elderly and among young people, including information on the cost-effectiveness of preventing violence.
1.6 million people die from violence around the world every year, and millions more are injured and suffer from physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health problems as a result. Violence is among the leading causes of death for people aged 15-44 years, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females. While most male victims of homicide are killed by strangers, almost half the women who die due to homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or boyfriends, while in some countries it can be as high as 70%. With regard to child abuse, studies from selected countries suggest that about 20% of women and 5-10% of men suffered sexual abuse as children.
The new report on The economic dimensions of interpersonal violence complements these shocking statistics by focusing specifically on the costs of violence to societies. Its findings include the following:
- The cost of health expenditures related to violence as a percentage of GDP was 1.9% in Brazil; 4.3% in Colombia; 4.3% in El Salvador; 1.3% in Mexico; 1.5% in Peru; and 0.3% in Venezuela.
- In England and Wales, the total annual costs of crime are an estimated $63.8 billion, of which over 60% is lost to murder, sexual assault and other violence-related injuries.
- In Australia, workplace violence results in costs to employers of $5 582 per victim and $837 million annually in damage to the Australian economy.
- Homicides alone are estimated to cost Australia $194 million per year, New Zealand $67 million per year, and South Africa's Western Cape Province $30 million a year.
- In Jamaica 90% of the costs of treating victims of violence at the Kingston Public Hospital – including materials, drugs and doctors’ fees – were paid by the government.
- Child abuse alone costs the economy of the United States $94 billion annually – 1% of the nation's GDP. Of the total the largest single component is adult criminality related to child abuse, calculated at an annual figure of $55.4 billion. Child welfare costs account for $14.4 billion, hospitalization $3 billion and mental health treatment $425 million.
- With regard to juvenile crime in the United States, it is estimated that a typical crime committed by a juvenile results in $16 600 to $17 700 in costs to the victim, plus $44 000 in costs to the criminal justice system.
- Studies also indicate that from 56% to 80% of the costs of care of acute gun injuries in the United States were either directly paid by public financing or were not paid at all – in which case they were absorbed by the government and society in the form of uncompensated care financing and overall higher payment rates.
Yet according to the few cost-benefit studies that have been conducted, violence prevention is cost-effective. In fact a number of studies from the United States estimate that providing graduation incentives for high-risk youth and parent training for new parents are, respectively, between seven- and five-times more cost-effective in preventing violence than investing in increased legal enforcement and incarceration. While it would still need to be established if the same results will be obtained in developing countries, these findings suggest that violence prevention is not only good for health and safety, but also sound economics.
WHO is actively involved in ongoing efforts to prevent interpersonal violence in all its forms, including child maltreatment, youth violence, intimate partner violence, sexual violence and elder abuse. WHO's Global Campaign for Violence Prevention, building on the momentum achieved through national events in nearly 50 countries and all world regions, will use the new findings on the economic dimensions of interpersonal violence to leverage increased country- and regional-level political commitment to supporting research into the root causes and consequences of interpersonal violence as a basis for establishing evidence-based violence prevention programmes and improved services for victims.