Road injuries, depression top adolescent health challenges - UN agency

Photo: WHO

14 May 2014 – Road traffic injuries, HIV/AIDS and suicide are the top killers of adolescents globally, while depression is the predominant cause of illness and disability, the United Nations reported today, urging a stronger focus on the health of boys and girls in their pre- and teen years.

“We hope this report will focus high-level attention on the health needs of 10 to 19-year-olds and serve as a springboard for accelerated action on adolescent health,” said Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women and Children’s Health at the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

An estimated 1.3 million adolescents died in 2012, largely from preventable causes, according to the UN agency’s Health for the world’s adolescents online report released today.

Of those young people, the highest number were killed by road traffic injuries which is also one of the top causes of illness and disability for the age group, behind depression.

Boys are disproportionately affected, with more than three times the rate of deaths than that of girls, according to the findings.

The report brings together all WHO guidance concerning adolescents across the full spectrum of health issues.

It offers a state-of-the-art overview of four core areas for health sector action: providing health services; collecting and using the data needed to plan and monitor health sector interventions; developing and implementing health-promoting and health-protecting policies; and mobilizing and supporting other sectors.

The website will be the springboard for consultation with a wide range of stakeholders leading to a concerted action plan for adolescents.

The authors noted that increasing access to reliable and safe public transport could reduce road traffic injuries among adolescents, as could establishing safe pedestrian areas around schools, and creating programmes gradually giving new drivers increased freedom behind the wheel.

Depression was found to the be the greatest cause of illness and disability in this age group, with suicide raking third as the cause of death among young people.

Among other alarming trends, the authors suggest that estimates of adolescents dying from HIV and HIV-related illnesses are on the rise, particularly in the African region.

Increased vaccination has brought infections from other diseases, such as measles, down 90 percent in the African region between 2000 and 2012, but common infections persist.

For example, diarrhoea and lower respiratory tract infections combined with meningitis account for 18 per cent of all deaths in the 10 to 14 year old group, little changed from 19 per cent in 2000.

Maternal mortality still ranks as second among causes of deaths in girls between the ages of 15 and 19, exceeded only by suicide. However, deaths due to complications from pregnancies and childbirth among adolescents have fallen, particularly in South-East Asia, Eastern Mediterranean and African regions.


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