Half a million lives lost annually in Europe to preventable injuries

EMBARGO: 00:01H (London time) Monday June 26, 2006. In North America the embargo lifts at 18:30 ET Sunday June 25, 2006.

Half a million lives could be saved annually in the World Health Organization (WHO) European Region* if existing knowledge was used to prevent injuries, state the authors of a Public Health paper published online today (Monday June 26, 2006) by The Lancet.

Injuries are the third leading cause of death in Europe after cardiovascular disease and cancer, causing 9% of deaths and 14% of ill health. Injuries, whether unintentional (road traffic injuries, poisoning, drowning, falls, burns) or intentional (self-harm, interpersonal violence, war), are a neglected problem that has devastating effects on individuals and health budgets. In their article, Dinesh Sethi (WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, Rome, Italy) and colleagues highlight the vast socioeconomic inequalities that exist in death rates from injuries. People living in low-and-middle income countries are 3.6 times more likely to die from an injury than those living in high-income countries, state the authors. They note that this difference exists for all injuries, regardless of their cause.

To address these inequalities and the burden of injuries in Europe, the authors call for investment in safety as a societal responsibility.

Dr Sethi states "Countries with low rates of injury have invested in safety as a societal responsibility, rather than delegating this duty to the individual. Legislation and enforcement to ensure safer environments (eg, road and housing design, use of safety equipment) and reduce risk behaviours (eg, driving under the influence of alcohol) are key to changes at the population level. Media and educational campaigns have a synergistic effect when coupled with these effective measures."

Sethi and colleagues also highlight the burden of alcohol on the rates of injuries. Experts estimate that alcohol consumption is responsible for up to 40-60% of injuries in Europe. Cost-effective strategies to control alcohol consumption at the population level include legislation, taxation, and restrictions on advertising, state the authors.

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Contact: Cristiana Salvi, Press office, WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, Rome, Italy. T) +39 348 0192305 csa@ecr.euro.who.int

Notes to editors
*The WHO European Region includes 52 Member States and over 800 million people.


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