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WHO report reveals economic costs of interpersonal violence

Violence devastates lives and also imposes major economic costs on societies around the world, some of which spend more than 4% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on dealing with violence-related injuries. This and other findings are contained in a new report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO) at the 7th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion from 6-9 June in Vienna, Austria.

The economic dimensions of interpersonal violence, a spin-off to WHO's 2002 World report on violence and health, compiles currently available information on the costs of violence against children, women and the elderly and among young people, including information on the cost-effectiveness of preventing violence.

1.6 million people die from violence around the world every year, and millions more are injured and suffer from physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health problems as a result. Violence is among the leading causes of death for people aged 15-44 years, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females. While most male victims of homicide are killed by strangers, almost half the women victims are killed by their current or former husbands or partners, while in some countries the figure is as high as 70%. With regard to child abuse, studies from selected countries suggest that about 20% of women and 5-10% of men suffered sexual abuse as children.

The new report on The economic dimensions of interpersonal violence focuses specifically on the costs of violence to societies. Its findings include the following: The cost of health expenditures related to violence as a percentage of GDP in a study of Central and South American countries was 1.9% in Brazil; 4.3% in Colombia; 4.3% in El Salvador;1.3% in Mexico; 1.5% in Peru; and 0.3% in Venezuela.

In England and Wales in the United Kingdom, the total annual costs of crime are estimated at US$ 63.8 billion, of which more than 60% is lost to murder, sexual assault and other violence-related injuries. Homicides alone are estimated to cost Australia US$ 194 million per year, New Zealand US$ 67 million per year, and South Africa's Western Cape Province US$ 30 million a year.

In Australia, workplace violence results in costs to employers of US$ 5582 per victim and US$ 837 million annually in losses to the Australian economy.

Dr Catherine Le Galès-Camus, Assistant Director-General in charge of WHO's Cluster on Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health, highlighted one of the key messages of The economic dimensions of interpersonal violence. "Beyond the very personal human tragedies associated with each and every case of violence, its consequences are extremely costly to society in economic terms. Responding to violence diverts billions of dollars away from education, social security, housing and recreation, into the essential but seemingly never-ending tasks of providing care for victims and criminal justice interventions for perpetrators."

For many parts of the world, particularly in developing countries, there is a lack of information about the direct costs of violence. "A major challenge in the years ahead will be to strengthen and support developing country research into the costs of interpersonal violence, and to feed the findings into policy-making and advocacy where it can reinforce arguments for prevention," added Dr Le Galès-Camus.

Estimates for the costs of violence in the United States range up to more than US$ 300 billion per year. According to one study, child abuse alone costs the economy of the United States US$ 94 billion annually – amounting to 1% of the nation's GDP. This includes direct medical costs and the related costs of legal services, policing and incarceration, as well as the value of indirect productivity losses, psychological costs and future criminality.

Of the total, the largest single component is adult criminality related to child abuse, calculated at an annual figure of US$ 55.4 billion. With regard to juvenile crime, it is estimated that a typical crime committed by a juvenile results in US$ 16 600 to US$ 17 700 in costs to the victim, plus US$ 44 000 in costs to the criminal justice system. Studies also indicate that between 56% and 80% of the costs of care of acute gun injuries were either directly paid by public financing or were not paid at all – in which case they were absorbed by the government and society in the form of uncompensated care financing and overall higher payment rates.

"The good news from this report on the economic dimensions of violence is that, according to the few cost-benefit studies that have been conducted, violence prevention is cost-effective", noted Dr Alexander Butchart, WHO Coordinator for Violence Prevention. In fact a number of studies from the United States estimate that providing graduation incentives for high-risk youth and parent training for new parents are, respectively, between seven- and five-times more cost-effective in preventing violence than investing in increased legal enforcement and incarceration. "While it would still need to be established if the same results will be obtained in developing countries, these findings suggest that violence prevention is not only good for health and safety, but also sound economics," added Dr Butchart.

WHO is actively involved in ongoing efforts to prevent interpersonal violence in all its forms, including child maltreatment, youth violence, intimate partner violence, sexual violence and elder abuse. Since the launch of WHO's World report on violence and health, its recommendations on violence prevention have been endorsed by the World Health Assembly, the Human Rights Commission, the African Union and the World Medical Association. Amongst others these recommendations call upon governments and stakeholders at all levels of decision-making to define priorities for, and support research on, the causes, consequences, costs and prevention of violence.

WHO's Global Campaign for Violence Prevention, building on the momentum achieved through national events in nearly 50 countries, will use the new report to increase political commitment to supporting more research of the root causes and consequences of interpersonal violence and to establish evidence-based violence prevention programmes and improved services for victims.

Technical note

Throughout the report on The economic dimensions of interpersonal violence monetary values have been converted to 2001 United States dollars to enable comparisons and to adjust for inflation and varying exchange rates. This was done by converting other currency amounts to United States dollars using the exchange rate at the mid-point of the year of the estimate, then converting the resulting United States dollar estimate to 2001 United States dollars using the official US consumer price index. The exchange rates used are those from international markets, and are not adjusted for purchasing power parity.

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For more information contact:

Ms Laura Sminkey
Telephone: +41 22 791 4547
Mobile phone: +41 79 249 3520
E-mail: sminkeyl@who.int