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African and international health experts step-up efforts to curb violence and injuries

For the first time, a major international conference on the prevention of violence and injury will be held in Africa. The 8th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion will convene Africa's leading public health experts and others from around the world in Durban, South Africa to share the latest scientific knowledge on preventing violence and injury-related death and disability.

In the World Health Organization (WHO) African region, rates of violence and injury are among the world's highest. Based on the most recent estimates from 2002, six of the top 15 causes of death for Africans aged 15-44 years result from injuries: homicides, road traffic injuries, war-related injuries, drownings, suicides and poisonings. Studies show that for South Africans, homicide and road traffic injuries are, respectively, the third and seventh leading causes of death. Across Africa, poverty, income and gender inequality, and a lack of prevention measures at home, work and on the street are key factors that contribute to these high rates. Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan, WHO patron for violence prevention, and the 8th World Conference's keynote speaker, comments, “If we summon the will, if we work together, we can build a global commitment to violence and injury prevention and create a peaceful, safe and healthy future."

As the major scientific platform for furthering the global violence and injury prevention field, the 8th World Conference will draw more than 1000 of the world’s leading researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and advocates from nearly 130 countries. They will share information and experiences, discuss current approaches and plan next steps in data collection, policy development, services for victims and prevention.

WHO Director-General Dr LEE Jong-wook said, “There must be a fundamental change in perception about the preventable nature of violence and injuries. Violence and injuries do not result from random events. The acts which provoke them have identifiable causes and in most cases could be prevented.” For violence-related injuries, examples of proven and promising prevention strategies include home visitation by professional nurses and social workers; parent training on child development, non-violent discipline and parenting skills; pre-school enrichment programmes to give young children an educational head start; life skills training; reducing alcohol availability through taxation, pricing and the enforcement of liquor licensing laws; restricting access to firearms; and multi-media campaigns to promote non-violent social norms.

Strategies to prevent so-called "accidental" injuries include the use of motor cycle helmets, seat-belts and child restraints; separating pedestrians from vehicles; controls on speeding and on drink driving; use of safer stoves for cooking; child resistant containers for poison; and barriers separating children from hazards such as water. For all types of injuries, measures to improve the efficiency of emergency care will assist in reducing the risk of death, the time for recovery and the level of long-term impairment.

Globally, violence and injuries killed more than five million people in 2002. Of the total number of those who died, an estimated 875,000 were children and adolescents under the age of 18 years. More than 90% of the total deaths from violence and injuries occurred in low-income and middle-income countries, as did the vast majority of cases requiring medical attention.

In economic terms, the costs associated with surgery, prolonged hospitalization and long-term rehabilitation for victims, in addition to their lost productivity costs, represent tens of billions of US dollars each year. For road traffic injuries alone, the average annual costs exceed 1% of GNP for most countries, and are as high as 3% of GNP for many. Violence and injuries pose a serious drain on national economies, and can compromise prospects for development.

Dr Etienne Krug, Chair of the International Organizing Committee and WHO Director of the Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention concludes, “In Africa and around the world, hospital beds and doctors’ waiting rooms are filled with patients who have been injured. The enormous amount of suffering, time and expense our societies bear as a result could be spared. This 8th World Conference is a milestone for increasing action in Africa and around the world.”

Note for the media:

The 8th World Conference runs from 2-5 April 2006. Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan will give the keynote address to the conference in her role as WHO patron for violence prevention. She will speak on 2 April 2006 at 14:00.

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For more information contact:

Ms Laura Sminkey
Technical Officer: Advocacy and Communications WHO Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention WHO/Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 4547
Mobile phone: +41 79 249 3520

Ms Greer van Zyl
Communications Officer, WHO South Africa
Telephone: +27 12 354 8560
Mobile phone: +27 83 647 7045