Accidents kill 2,000 children a day

Every day, 2,000 children across the globe die in accidents that could have been largely prevented, according to a report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on 10 December in Hanoi.

"Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of childhood death after the age of nine," said Jesper Morch, UNICEF country representative for Vietnam, in a ceremony to mark the report's global release. Road deaths are the leading cause of fatal injuries, he said, but drowning, falls, burns and accidental poisoning are also leading killers.

"Child injuries are an important public health and development issue," Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, told the audience by video link. "In addition to the 830,000 deaths every year, millions of children suffer non-fatal injuries that often require long-term hospitalisation and rehabilitation. The costs of such treatment can throw an entire family into poverty."

The World Report on Child Injury Prevention 2008 is the first survey to collect statistics on fatal accidents worldwide. It was issued to draw attention to childhood injuries, which are often overlooked as a major cause of death and suffering, while HIV/AIDS and malaria get much of the attention.

The attitude that accidents are inevitable is unacceptable, said Etienne Krug, the director of WHO's department of violence and injury prevention and disability. "It is like wiping out every year the whole population of children in Chicago or a city like Marseilles," he said via videophone. "It is a very big public health issue, which unfortunately has been ignored for too long."

Children living in low- and middle-income countries account for 95 percent of all accidental deaths, the report found. A child in Africa is 10 times more likely to die from an accident than one living in Europe. But speakers at the conference cautioned that while accidental deaths had fallen 50 percent in the past 30 years, unintentional injuries still accounted for 40 percent of deaths in rich countries.

Improvements could be made everywhere. The report cited proven prevention measures, such as seat belts, child-proof bottle caps on kerosene cans and covering wells, would save thousands of lives.

"These injuries are preventable," said Ala Din Alwan, assistant director-general of WHO. "Prevention … can be implemented in even low-income countries. And it's cost effective. Implementing prior intervention could save more than 1,000 children's lives every day."

UNICEF’s Morch congratulated Vietnam for being the first country to introduce child injury prevention programmes in the region. He also lauded lawmakers for enacting compulsory helmet laws. He noted that Vietnam, where drowning is the leading cause of accidental death, had also undertaken programmes to teach children to swim.

"Efforts should be made to integrate child injury prevention into all child health programmes," said Morch. "It should be an integral part of any health initiative targeting children."

As part of its prevention campaign, UNICEF and WHO released a booklet for children, entitled Have Fun, Be Safe. Available in several languages, it is designed to help children aged seven to 11 avoid the most common accidents.