Head of World Health Organization tells global injury prevention conference poor people still at greatest risk of death, injury

Public Health Association of Australia

Opening this week’s Global Injury Prevention Showcase, the World Health Organization Director-General said injuries and violence take the lives of 4.4 million people worldwide each year.

‘That’s nearly eight per cent of all deaths globally,’ Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the conference, ‘and road traffic injuries, homicide and suicide are among the top causes of death’.

He said injuries and violence greatly impacted young people and those living in low-income countries.

‘Poor people suffer more because they live, work, play and travel in more precarious conditions and have less access to prevention programs and emergency trauma care’ Dr Ghebreyesus said.

‘Behind every death is the grief of families, friends, colleagues and classmates, as well as the incalculable cost of a life unfulfilled.’

‘But there are proven steps we can take to reduce these preventable tragedies. These include violence prevention programs to strengthen parenting, providing training to older people to prevent falls, teaching swimming and water safety, detecting and treating mental disorders, especially depression and alcohol abuse, and enforcing road safety laws as highlighted in the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030’ Dr Ghebreyesus said.

UN Decade of Action for Road Safety

The conference’s opening day received a detailed evaluation of the first UN Decade of Action for Road Safety which commenced in 2011 and concluded last year. The UN has subsequently agreed to commence a second decade of action, starting this year.

Dr Margaret Peden, the Head of the Global Injury Programme at the George Institute for Global Health, said the initiative, endorsed by the UN’s General Assembly, aimed to stabilise and then reduce the forecasted increase in road trauma and deaths in the hope millions of lives would be saved.

Dr Peden said the qualitative and quantitative analysis involved 161 countries (including Australia) which participated in the decade of road safety action, including in-depth interviews with 10 participating nations.

Was the Decade a success?

Overall, there were mixed results from the research. Experts interviewed gave the Decade of Action for Road Safety initiative a 5/10 rating.

While those working internationally thought the road safety project was a resounding success…

‘if you take the lives saved compared with the projection…it’s quite significant’

…those at a country level were less enthusiastic.

‘so much energy went into the launch of the decade…but there wasn’t a steady drumbeat.’

According to the data collected there was some success in high and middle-income countries but there was a worrying increase in death rates on roads in low-income countries.

Between 2010 and 2016, per 100,000 population there was a 38% increase in road traffic deaths in low-income countries, which represents a rate more than three times higher than high-income countries, and one-and-a-half times higher than middle-income nations.

Five of the countries with the highest death rates were in Africa and five of the countries with the lowest death rates were in Europe.

Overall, 74 countries reduced the number of road traffic deaths per 100,000 population, while 82 countries increased the rate. Four countries experienced no change during the survey period.


In summary, the evaluation found globally there was no advancement in the reduction of mortality rates in road traffic deaths during the Decade of Action for Road Safety.

Feedback received was critical of the level of funding being invested in road safety in many countries, some blamed a lack of human capacity to make a real difference, while others said a lack of political will impacted the results in some countries.

Others were more positive, saying overwhelmingly that the global plan provided a useful framework and a new way of thinking about the problem with some countries using it to develop their own action plans.

More than three quarters of participants (78%) said ‘yes’ to a second Decade of Action but with a greater focus on global funding, sensible targets and stronger regional efforts.

At present, a new global plan is well advanced by the World Health Organization, and the second UN Road Safety Plan of Action is scheduled for release at the 6th UN Global Road Safety Week (17-23 May 2021).

The Global Injury Prevention Showcase is hosted by the Public Health Association of Australia and supported by the Australasian Injury Prevention Network and the World Health Organization. The event is being held in the lead-up to the 14th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion in 2022.

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