Violence and Injury Prevention

Preventing injuries and violence: a guide for ministries of health

Injuries and violence are a threat to health in every country of the world. Between them, they account for 9% of global mortality - more than five million deaths every year. Eight of the 15 leading causes of death for people between the ages of 15 and 29 years are injury-related. These are road traffic injuries, suicides, homicides, drowning, burns, war injuries, poisonings and falls.

The extent of non-fatal injuries varies from country to country. For every death, though, it is estimated that there are dozens of hospitalizations, hundreds of emergency department visits and thousands of doctors’ appointments. A large proportion of people surviving their injuries incurs temporary or permanent disabilities.

In the light of this public health calamity, awareness of injuries and violence and knowledge of prevention policies and programmes are increasing in some countries. In these places considerable progress is being made. Governmental and nongovernmental agencies are strengthening data collection systems, improving services for victims and survivors and stepping up prevention efforts.

Yet for much of the world, the idea that violence and injuries can be systematically prevented is still a novel one. Though the main causes of mortality and morbidity are as old as the human species, it is only recently that the public health sector has begun to regard violence and injuries as preventable.

With the public health approach to violence and injury prevention becoming more accepted around the world, those in the field are seeking guidance for their work. A wide array of governmental and nongovernmental organizations is involved in violence and injury prevention. This document, though, will focus on the main governmental body responsible for carrying forward the public health response: the ministry of health. The document was developed to help ministries of health understand their precise role in violence and injury prevention at the national and local levels, and set up durable and effective programmes.

This document should be used by ministries of health and their focal points as both a guide and a reference book. It leads the user through the stages of setting up, developing and evaluating violence and injury prevention efforts, always stressing collaboration with other sectors. The various tasks of organization, policy development, data collection, advocacy work and capacity-building are described in detail. Both new and established units of violence and injury prevention should find inspiration for their programmes in this document.

Around the world, morgues fill with victims of injuries and violence and hospital beds and doctors’ waiting rooms overflow with survivors. The huge amount of suffering, time and expense our societies bear as a result could be spared. While violence and injury prevention is not a minor or easy undertaking, with good collaboration and systematic effort, even this oldest of human afflictions can be prevented.