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Most Child Deaths Preventable, WHO Reports

The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that most of the estimated 1.2 million deaths involving teens and adolescents worldwide in 2015 did not have to happen, indicating that additional efforts are needed to protect children. 

More than 3,000 teens die every day around the word from preventable and treatable causes, according to a WHO fact sheet published on May 16, which calls the promotion of healthy behaviors during adolescence and additional steps that may prevent teen health problems that can translate to serious concerns during adulthood.

WHO found that road traffic injuries were the leading cause of death for youths between the ages of 10 and 19 in 2015, with more than 115,000 deaths attributed to accidents. Researchers said these deaths could have been mostly prevented with safe driving advice, enforcement of existing laws which prohibit driving under the influence, and setting lower blood alcohol limits for teens.

A number of recent studies have highlighted teen driving risks, especially in the United States. A February report concluded that adolescents have a greater chance of being in an auto accident on the weekends, while another study indicated one-third of all fatal auto accidents involving teen drivers occur at night. Other factors of fatal teen auto accidents include distracted driving, as well as texting while driving and speeding.

Other leading causes of adolescent deaths globally include diarrhea and lower respiratory tract infections, which could be prevented through access to clean drinking water and antimicrobial medications, according to the WHO findings.

Drowning was also a leading cause of death among teens, especially involving boys, with an estimated 57,000 teen drownings in 2015. Simply teaching teens how to swim can save many lives, WHO indicates.

Older teens also had their own specific set of risks, with suicide as the third leading cause of death among 15 to 19 year olds overall, and complications from pregnancy and childbirth as the leading cause of death for 15 to 19 year old girls.

The report found that 11 percent of all births worldwide are among girls in that age group, especially in low- and middle-income areas. WHO is pushing for universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services by 2030. Those services include family planning, information and education of reproductive health into national strategies and programs.

The organization highlights the need for better access to quality prenatal care, better access to contraception, to reduce the number of girls becoming pregnant and giving birth too young, and access to safe abortion for teens who opt to terminate their pregnancies.

Not all of the threats faced by adolescents were fatal, but a number of them could affect them for their entire lives.

Depression was the third leading cause of illness and disability among teens in 2015, and likely contributed to the high suicide numbers, according to the report.

“Violence, poverty, humiliation and feeling devalued can increase the risk of developing mental health problems,” wrote WHO officials.

The report indicated that half of all mental health disorders in adulthood start by age 14, with most going undetected. Many healthcare professionals focus on prescribing antidepressants to teens, but recent studies indicate antidepressants may not be effective for teens experiencing depression. Focusing on the importance of building life skills and providing support in schools and the community is key.

Similarly, more than 2 million teens live with HIV around the world, the report found. However, WHO indicated the number of HIV related deaths is down 30 percent since 2006; yet estimates indicate HIV deaths among teens are increasing.

Teens need to be able to protect themselves from sexually transmitted disease, primarily with access to condoms to prevent transmission, WHO warned. The organization also indicated that offering clean needles and syringes for teens who use injected drugs can also help.

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