Published: Wed, May 17, 2017
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

1 million adolescents a year die from preventable causes

1 million adolescents a year die from preventable causes

The leading causes appear to be suicide, traffic injuries, and lower respiratory infections.

More than 1.2 million adolescents across the world die annually of mainly preventable causes including road traffic injuries, lower respiratory infections and suicide, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported on Tuesday.

"Adolescents have been entirely absent from national health plans for decades", says Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General, WHO. The findings of the report stated that at least two-thirds of deaths among adolescents occurred in Southeast Asia and Africa.

For younger teen girls aged 10 to 14, lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia - often a result of indoor air pollution from cooking with dirty fuels - accounted for the most deaths in 2015.

Many of these deaths could have been avoided with better health services, seat belts, sex education and social support.

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The third cause of adolescent mortality, suicide, and accidental death from self-harm resulted in the death of 67,149 (34,650 boys and 32,499 girls) in the year 2015.

In 2015, road injuries were the leading cause of adolescent death among 10 to 19-year-olds, resulting in approximately 115 000 adolescent deaths. Teenagers are more likely to cause self-harm than other populations, and most of the cases are seen in Europe and South-East Asia. Looking only at low- and middle-income countries in Africa, communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, lower respiratory infections, meningitis and diarrhoeal diseases are bigger causes of death among adolescents than road injuries. Interventions ranging from seat-belt laws to comprehensive sexuality education that countries can take for improving the health and well being of the adolescents that will cut the unnecessary deaths significantly, are included in the report.

For girls in the 15 to 19 years age group, it is pregnancy complications, such as haemorrhage, sepsis, obstructed labour and complications from unsafe abortions that cause the deaths, the report said.

While numerous changes need to happen fundamentally across sectors in education and government policies, parents also have a huge influence on 10- to 19-year-olds.

Adolescent health needs intensify in humanitarian and fragile settings. Consequently, they suffer poor nutrition, unintentional injuries, early pregnancies, diarrheal diseases, sexual violence, diseases that are transmitted through sexual activities, and issues of mental health.

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Globally, adolescent deaths as a whole have been reducing. The report also explains in detail how countries can deliver these interventions with health programs for adolescents.

Further disaggregated data for adolescents aged 10-14 years and 15-19 years are available in the AA-HA!

The report itself recommends a range of strategies, including more comprehensive sex education in schools, mandatory seatbelts and helmets, cleaner cooking fuels indoors and increased drinking age limits.

A medical officer at the WHO who co-authored the report, Dr. David Ross said, "The importance of adolescent health has been increasing". They suggest that, although responsibility lies in the public health care system, parents, families, and communities are just as important, as they tend to be the primary factors behind a positive behavior in young boys and girls.

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