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Injury a leading killer of children in Asia and the Pacific region

BANGKOK, 20 April – Injury is a leading cause of death and disability among children in many Asian countries, according to new research by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC).

The research, to be presented at a two-day conference in Bangkok from 21-22 April, includes studies from six countries (Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam) and indicates that child injuries account for as many as half of the roughly 1.4 million child deaths recorded each year in East Asia and the Pacific.

Drowning is either the leading cause of death or one of the leading causes of death in children under five in most countries in the region. As children get older, road traffic accidents become a leading cause of death, along with intentional injury from physical assaults or suicides.  Other significant dangers in the countries studied are burns and scalding, which kill more children than dengue fever, as well as falls, which are responsible for more child deaths than tuberculosis.

“Twenty-five years ago, a small number of infectious diseases were causing the majority of deaths among children,” said Mehr Khan, UNICEF Regional Director of East Asia and the Pacific. “Once the international community realised this, there was a revolution in our approach to primary healthcare. We focused on vaccinations and basic treatment, and millions of lives have been saved as a consequence. Now that our efforts to eliminate infectious diseases have been largely successful in the East Asia and the Pacific region, we are finding that injuries are killing an ever-larger proportion of our children. This Conference will enable us to assess the extent of the problem and accelerate action to protect children,” she added.

In Viet Nam, for example, drowning killed nearly six times as many children as communicable diseases. If injury were prevented among Vietnamese infants and children, the under-five mortality rate would fall by almost 40 per cent.

Non-fatal injury is also a major problem. Permanent disability, of which injuries are the primary cause, has devastating emotional and financial impacts. When children are permanently disabled and families lose their breadwinners, injury becomes a constraint on the social and economic development of many countries in this region. A significant number of children are also orphaned because of injury-related deaths.

Ninety-eight per cent of all child injuries occur in the developing world. The environment in these countries is full of hazards for children, including unfenced ponds and ditches, uncovered wells, open fires, exposed kerosene heaters, unprotected stairways and heights, flimsy construction, unsafe storage of chemicals and poisons, piles of debris, heavy traffic and a scarcity of safe play areas.
However, injury-related deaths and permanent disabilities are just as preventable as those caused by measles and other infectious diseases. In the industrialised world, the number of children who die from injuries has fallen by more than 50 per cent over the past 50 years.

This success has been won through a combination of:

1 - changes in knowledge and attitudes (e.g. seatbelt wearing and the stigmatisation of drunk driving);

2 - changes in the environment (e.g. fences around swimming pools and high places, traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps, child-proof caps, smoke detectors and fuses); and

3 - improvements in legislation and law enforcement (e.g. safety standards for toys, speed traps and the requirement for lifeguards at swimming pools).

Such measures can be adapted for the developing world. Under-five child mortality in the East Asia and Pacific region has fallen from 207 to 43 children per 1,000 live births since 1960. But if the Millennium Development Goal of reducing under-five child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 is to be achieved, policies and programmes must begin to address child injury.

UNICEF/TASC Conference on Child Injury Prevention

The UNICEF/TASC Conference on Child Injury Prevention will be held from 21-22 April 2004 at the Landmark Hotel in Bangkok.

The aim of the conference is to present recent research pointing to the significant role of injury in child mortality and morbidity, and to consider implications for policy and programming to reduce child injury and death in line with the Millennium Development Goal on child mortality.

A press conference will be held on the final day (22 April) at 10.30 am in the Pranakorn Nua Room (7th floor).

Panelists at the press conference will include:

Mr. Kul Gautam, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director
Ms. Mehr Khan, UNICEF Regional Director, East Asia and the Pacific
Ambassador Pete Peterson, President, TASC
Dr. Michael Linnan, Technical Director, TASC

For more information and interviews, please contact

  • Patrick McCormick, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific: 662 356 9407, Mobile:  661 906 0813
  • Robert Few, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific: 662 356 9499 ext. 9518, Mobile: 661 746 3048



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