Every day, some 3,000 adolescents globally die from causes that are, lamentably, preventable, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported.

Many of the deaths are attributed to road traffic injuries, lower respiratory infections and suicide, the WHO said in a May 2017 statement.

In 2015, a major fraction of deaths occurred in parts of Africa and South East Asia.

“Most of these deaths can be prevented with good health services, education and social support,” the UN health agency said, referring to the report.

In total, 1.2 million adolescent deaths could have been averted, but the organization also indicated that in many cases, adolescents needing support services either did not know they existed, or that services did not exist at all.

Assistant Director General Dr Flavia Bustreo noted that adolescents are often absent from inclusion in national health plans.

“Relatively small investments focused on adolescents now will not only result in healthy and empowered adults who thrive and contribute positively to their communities, but it will also result in healthier future generations, yielding enormous returns,” she said.

Causes differ when adolescents are separated between the “younger – 10 to 14 age group” and the “older – 15 – 19 age group” and by sex, according to the Global accelerated action for the health of adolescents (AA-HA!).

Road accidents

While road injuries are a major cause of death for those aged 10 to 19, the age group 15-19 takes the brunt of the fall, especially boys.

In Africa, however, more die of HIV/AIDS, meningitis, lower respiratory infections, and diarrhoeal diseases.

Locally, a Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) study indicated that road accidents are also a main cause of deaths among Filipino youths aged 15 to 19.

Asked to comment why teenage boys are more prone to thrill-seeking behaviours, Dr Reynaldo Lesaca, psychiatrist and consultant of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI), told MIMS, “adolescents are quite adventurous, want to be different, are trying something exciting, and are strongly influenced by peer pressure to be “with the crowd.”

He added that they are also at an age that is exposed to an environment with a lot of thrill-seeking behaviour.

Boys often end up as victims in road accidents because they are prone to thrill-seeking behaviours.

Boys often end up as victims in road accidents because they are prone to thrill-seeking behaviours.

Teenage pregnancies, respiratory infections

For girls, however, the major causes of death among the 10-14 age group are respiratory infections, particularly pneumonia.

The 15 -19 age group, meanwhile, recorded pregnancy complications, sepsis, obstructed labor, and abortion complications.

The United Nations Population Fund says 4 out of 10 teenagers are mothers in the Philippines, with a Php 33 billion annual loss as a result of teenage pregnancy, also pinpointed as the main cause of maternal death.

A 2013 study noted that 57 in 1,000 girls aged between 15 and 19 are mothers.

“The Philippines is the only country in Asia and the Pacific where we have not seen a decrease in teenage pregnancy in the last two decades. In fact, we are seeing an increase,” UNFPA country representative Klaus Beck said.


In Europe and South-East Asia, on the other hand, self harm is the leading and second cause of death, respectively. Suicide and accidental death from self-harm were the third cause of adolescent deaths in 2015, accounting for 67,000 deaths.

In the Philippines, the data is just as worrisome. There have reports of 10-year-olds committing suicide in the country, said Senator Joel Villanueva, citing a report from the National Poison Management and Control Center (NPMCC) presented during a Senate hearing in November 2016.

Incidence of self-harm is highest among young adults with ages 15 to 24 for both sexes, according to the Philippine Psychiatric Association.

“Some people are afraid to report or consult their suicidal ideation because they do not want to be judged as someone with mental disorder. This stigma must be addressed and support system especially in schools must be readily available,” Senator Villanueva was quoted as saying.

Adult responsibilities

WHO likewise assessed that adolescents are specifically vulnerable in humanitarian and fragile settings. Adolescents taking adult responsibilities (working, taking care of siblings) are prone to dropping out of schools, marrying early, and even entering into transactional sex to earn.

“As a result, they suffer malnutrition, unintentional injuries, pregnancies, diarrhoeal diseases, sexual violence, sexually-transmitted diseases, and mental health issues,” said WHO in a statement.

Dr Anthony Costello, from WHO Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health, said improving the way health systems serve adolescents is just one part of improving their health. “Parents, families, and communities are extremely important, as they have the greatest potential to positively influence adolescent behaviour and health.”

The AA-HA! lists interventions such as comprehensive sexuality education, higher age limits, mandating seat-belts, reducing access to and misuse of firearms, reducing pollution, and increasing access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene to help reduce adolescent deaths. MIMS

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