York prof, co-author of a WHO report on child injuries, stresses prevention

York University Professor Alison Macpherson, one of the authors of a joint report on child injuries released by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, says the report is a wake-up call to both developed countries such as Canada and to developing nations.

The WHO/UNICEF World report on Child Injury Prevention identifies five of the most important causes of unintentional injury to children and pinpoints actions that must be taken to address the problem.

Macpherson, a professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in York’s Faculty of Health, is one of several authors of the report’s chapter on burns, and reviewed the entire report for the WHO.

Right: Alison Macpherson

The WHO estimates that about 830,000 children under 18 die as a result of an unintentional injury every year, in addition to the millions who require long-term hospitalization and rehabilitation due to injuries. The burden is uneven: children in poorer countries and children from poor families in better-off countries are the most vulnerable.

The five most important causes of unintentional injury to children under 18 are road traffic injuries, drowning, burns, falls and poisoning. Many wealthy countries such as Canada have been able to reduce child injury deaths by almost 50 per cent in the past three decades but accidental injuries still account for up to 40 per cent of all child deaths.

“On average, 390 children die from accidents every year in Canada, and 25,000 are hospitalized,” says Macpherson. “There is no one quick fix, but ensuring that all kids are appropriately restrained in car seats, booster seats and with seatbelts, and that pools have four-sided fencing would help to prevent many of these deaths and injuries.”

One of 180 experts from around the world who worked on the report, Macpherson reviewed mortality rates due to fire-related burns. She found that, worldwide, nearly 96,000 children under the age of 20 died as a result of a fire-related burn in 2004. The death rate from these types of burns was 11 times higher in low- and middle-income countries than in countries such as Canada. Burns are the only type of unintentional injury in which females have a higher rate than males, especially in Southeast Asia and parts of the Eastern Mediterranean. Many of these are the result of girls working in family kitchens.

For more information, visit the World Health Organization Web site.