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1.2 million adolescents die needlessly each year: World Health Organization report

17 May 2017

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.

- For adolescent girls, and especially those ages 10 to 14 in low- and middle-income countries, lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia are the leading cause of death.

Many of these deaths could have been avoided with better health services, seat belts, sex education and social support. But in many cases, adolescents who suffer from mental health disorders, substance use or poor nutrition can not obtain critical prevention and care services - either because the services do not exist, or because they do not know about them.

Additionally, many behaviors that affect health later in life, including poor diet, lack of exercise, and risky sexual behavior tend to start in adolescence.

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"Adolescents have been entirely absent from national health plans for decades", noted Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant director-general.

Interventions such as seat-belt laws to comprehensive sexuality education can help countries to improve the health and well-being of their adolescents and dramatically cut unnecessary deaths, the report recommended.

In the United States alone, a 2016 study by the Population Reference Bureau found traffic accidents continue to be the No.1 cause of death for teens, followed by suicide and homicide. Older teen boys aged 15 to 19 were disproportionately affected.

Yet the differences between the regions are striking.

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Chest infections and self-harm were the biggest global killers of girls and young women, however.

While fatal road accidents are "far fewer in number" in high-income countries, the broadcaster adds, they are "still the leading cause of adolescent death".

The picture for girls differs significantly from the boys.

Around 1.2 billion people, or one in every six persons, are adolescents aged between 10 to 19 years. About 11 percent of all births worldwide are from girls this age, and although adolescent birth rates are decreasing, many are still dying from sepsis, obstructed labor, hemorrhage and unsafe abortions.

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- Suicide, often from depression rooted in violence, poverty or humiliation, is the third leading cause of death in older adolescents. It is the leading or second cause of adolescent death in Europe and South-East Asia. "Young people need support, but adolescent health across the world has been largely neglected", the BBC quoted the author as saying. The younger population often bears the responsibilities of adults such as working or caring for siblings, compelling them to drop out of school, early marriages (28,886 girls in the age group 10-19 died in the year 2015 due to maternal conditions), or engaging in transactional sex for meeting the basic survival needs.

1.2 million adolescents die needlessly each year: World Health Organization report