Who? The young.
1 in 6 people is an adolescent. More than 3000 adolescents die every day from largely preventable causes, according to a new report from WHO and partners. That amounts to 1.2 million deaths per year. Many key risk factors for future adult disease start or are consolidated in adolescence. Adolescent mental health and well-being are often overlooked.
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.
Most of these deaths can be prevented with good health services, education and social support. But in many cases, 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.
“Adolescents have been entirely absent from national health plans for decades,” says Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General, WHO. “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.”
Suicide and accidental death from self-harm were the third cause of adolescent mortality in 2015, resulting in an estimated 67 000 deaths. Self-harm largely occurs among older adolescents, and globally it is the second leading cause of death for older adolescent girls. It is the leading or second cause of adolescent death in Europe and South-East Asia.
“Improving the way health systems serve adolescents is just one part of improving their health,” says Dr Anthony Costello, Director, Child and Adolescent Health, WHO. “Parents, families, and communities are extremely important, as they have the greatest potential to positively influence adolescent behaviour and health.”
At long last, the world is waking up and so is the World Health Organisation.
In conversation with Meera S and Dr George at Business FM, Malaysia:
Doctor in the house: Adolescent Health