“It is important to look at disaggregated data among specific populations to find that there are other risk factors confronting them.”
Lauren Gelfand, African Population and Health Research Center
According to the researchers, adolescents and young adults worldwide are experiencing social, economic and cultural challenges, thus requiring interventions to keep pace with these issues.
The global study on most common causes of death and ill-health for 10-24 year olds, led by the US-based University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and the Lancet Commission, was published in The Lancet last week (9 May).
Country-specific data that SciDev.Net has obtained from the IHME for Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia show HIV/AIDS as the leading cause of deaths for adolescents in most of the six countries.
Top killers in 2013 for six African countries for different age groups, based on IHME data
In Kenya HIV/AIDS remains the number one cause of death among those aged 10-24. Diarrheal diseases caused premature death among youth aged 10-14 while interpersonal violence was responsible for 136 deaths in those aged 15-19.
Self-harm ranked high in the causes of death among these two age groups (10-14 and 15-19) with depression also featuring as a significant factor in the health of the country’s adolescents.
For Tanzania, TB was the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-19 and 20-24 years old while leishmaniasis — a parasitic disease that is transmitted by the bite of sandflies —ranked as third highest for death among children aged 10-14 years old.
In South Africa, drug and alcohol use disorders feature in the top ten causes of deaths among 15-19 and 20-24 age groups.
Ali Mokdad, a co-author of the report and a professor of global health at the IHME, says the findings highlight issues and gaps across countries, challenges faced by adolescents today that need to be addressed and the relationship between the health of today’s youth and global efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.
“The [Lancet] Commission’s findings should be a wake-up call for major new investment in the largest generation of adolescents in the world’s history (1.8 billion) that will yield a triple dividend of benefits today, into adulthood and for the next generation of children,” he tells SciDev.Net.
The authors used data from the global burden of diseases, injuries and risk factors to quantify levels, patterns, and trends in ill-health, disability and death in young people in 188 countries between 1990 and 2013.
Credit:Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Click here to enlarge
Tom Achoki, a Botswana-based director of Africa Initiatives at IHME, tells SciDev.Net that also important is the protective effect of quality and free education.
The study, he says, centred on “highlighting the role and importance of today’s adolescents in relation to country or global progress and sustainability, assessing what factors impact on their health and with what effect, how [their] health needs [to] be better addressed and what gains for the future”.
According to Lauren Gelfand, director, policy engagement and communication at the Kenya-based Africa Population and Health Research Center, communicable diseases such as AIDS, TB and malaria remain major causes of death across Sub-Saharan Africa. “However, it is important to look at disaggregated data among specific populations to find that there are other risk factors confronting them,” she says, citing the rise of diabetes and other non-communicable diseases, which require individual behavioural changes.
These individual changes need to be supported by smart and sound policy-making and strategic government investments in a multi-sectoral approach to reduce the risks to populations as a whole, she adds.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.