The World Health Organization has called for action across the globe to improve adolescent health following the publication of data which show that more than 3,000 adolescents die every day — totalling 1.2 million deaths a year — from preventable causes.
The report, ‘Global Accelerated Action for the Health of Adolescents’ (AA-HA!), reveals that road traffic injuries (115,000 deaths), lower respiratory infections (72,655 deaths) and suicide (67,000 deaths) are among the biggest causes of deaths among young people aged 10–19 years. For girls, aged 15–19 years, the top causes of death were pregnancy complications, such as haemorrhage and obstructed labour, and complications from unsafe abortions. Road traffic injuries were the biggest cause of death in boys.
The WHO claims that these deaths could be prevented by giving adolescents access to better health and social care services and education.
Currently, because many adolescents have conditions such as mental health disorders, substance abuse and poor nutrition, they do not access these services even if they are available. Consequently, detrimental behaviours such as poor diet, lack of exercise and risky sexual activity are carried on into adulthood.
The AA-HA! guidance recommends interventions across sectors, including comprehensive sex education in schools, higher age limits for alcohol consumption, mandating seat-belts and helmets and increasing access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. It also gives advice on how countries can deliver these interventions through adolescent health programmes.
“Adolescents have been entirely absent from national health plans for decades,” says Flavia Bustreo, assistant director-general at the 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.”