More than 3000 adolescents die every day, totalling 1.2 million deaths a year, from largely preventable causes, according to the latest report from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In 2015, more than two-thirds of these deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries in Africa and South-East Asia. Road traffic injuries, lower respiratory infections, and suicide are the biggest causes of death among adolescents, the report said.
According to WHO, most of these deaths can be prevented with good health services, education and social support.
Most often, adolescents who suffer from mental health disorders, substance use, or poor nutrition cannot obtain critical prevention and care services – either because the services do not exist, or because they do not know about them, it pointed out.
It adds that many behaviours that impact health later in life, such as physical inactivity, poor diet, and risky sexual health behaviours, begin in adolescence.
“Adolescents have been entirely absent from national health plans for decades. Relatively small investments focused on adolescents now will not only result in healthy and empowered adults who thrive and contribute positively to their communities, but it will also result in healthier future generations, yielding enormous returns, Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General, WHO was cited as saying in the report.
The report, Global Accelerated Action for the Health of Adolescents (AA-HA!): Guidance to support country implementation, reveal stark differences in causes of death when separating the adolescent group by age (younger adolescents aged 10–14 years and older ones aged 15–19 years) and by sex.
The report also includes the range of interventions – from seat-belt laws to comprehensive sexuality education – that countries can take to improve their health and well-being and dramatically cut unnecessary deaths.
In 2015, road injuries were the leading cause of adolescent death among 10–19-year-olds, resulting in approximately 115000 adolescent deaths. Older adolescent boys aged 15–19 years experienced the greatest burden, it further said.
Most young people killed in road crashes are vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, it added.
Additionally, communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, lower respiratory infections, meningitis, and diarrheal diseases are bigger causes of death among adolescents than road injuries in low- and middle-income countries in Africa.
By Pamela Ofori-Boateng