Road injuries top cause of death of adolescents, disproportionately affecting boys:
In 2015, road injuries were the leading cause of adolescent death among 10 to 19-year-olds, resulting in approximately 115 000 adolescent deaths. Older adolescent boys aged 15 to 19 years experienced the greatest burden. Most young people killed in road crashes are vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
However, differences between regions are stark. Looking only at low- and middle-income countries in Africa, communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, lower respiratory infections, meningitis and diarrhoeal diseases are bigger causes of death among adolescents than road injuries.
Lower respiratory infections and pregnancy complications take toll on girls' health:
The picture for girls differs greatly. The leading cause of death for younger adolescent girls aged 10-14 years are lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia--often a result of indoor air pollution from cooking with dirty fuels. Pregnancy complications, such as haemorrhage, sepsis, obstructed labour and complications from unsafe abortions, are the top cause of death among 15 to 19-year-old girls.
Adolescents are at very high risk of self-harm and suicide:
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.
A vulnerable population in humanitarian and fragile settings:
Adolescent health needs intensify in humanitarian and fragile settings. Young people often take on adult responsibilities, including caring for siblings or working, and may be compelled to drop out of school, marry early or engage in transactional sex to meet their basic survival needs. As a result, they suffer malnutrition, unintentional injuries, pregnancies, diarrhoeal diseases, sexual violence, sexually-transmitted diseases and mental health issues.
Interventions to improve adolescent health:
"Improving the way health systems serve adolescents is just one part of improving their health," says Dr Anthony Costello, Director, Maternal, Newborn, 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."
The AA-HA! Guidance recommends interventions across sectors, including comprehensive sexuality education in schools; higher age limits for alcohol consumption; mandating seat-belts and helmets through laws; reducing access to and misuse of firearms; reducing indoor air pollution through cleaner cooking fuels; and increasing access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. It also provides detailed explanations of how countries can deliver these interventions with adolescent health programmes.
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