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Adolescents in the Ukraine face growing risks

Researchers have just released the findings of a study which looks at mortality data across 50 countries over the last half-century up to 2004.

The results revealed that while infant and child mortality rates have declined drastically - by over 80 per cent (largely through immunisation programmes) - death rates among older children have reduced much less dramatically, by only around a half. A significant rise in injury-related deaths among 15-24 year olds was identified as the main reason for a much less marked improvement in the mortality rates of adolescents.

A 2009 study commissioned by the World Health Organisation concluded that 40 per cent of adolescent deaths are caused by injuries, relating either to gang and street violence or to traffic accidents. From the research in this area, it is now becoming clear that young people face increasing threats in growing urban environments, threats which are having a huge impact on their health and wellbeing.

Ukraine is just one country which evinces this trend. The under-five mortality rate in the country has continued to decline; in 2009 there were 15 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 21 in 1990. However, as one of the poorest countries in Eastern Europe, older children are increasingly at risk, particularly since a large number live on the streets, as orphans or in correctional facilities. These children are especially vulnerable to the most worrying growing risk faced by adolescents in the Ukraine – HIV/AIDS. In 2009, 0.3 per cent of young women (15-24) and 0.2 per cent of young men (15-24) in the Ukraine had contracted HIV/AIDS.

A recent study showed that young people account for a significant number of new HIV infections among drug users. The government has made huge efforts over the last few years to protect drug users from infection and the epidemic is now stabilizing in the drug-taking community. However, even with improvements in this area, HIV/AIDS remains a high risk for adolescents as it increasingly spreads through sexual contact. Baseline research conducted by the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) showed that almost three quarters of young people were already sexually active (many prior to the age of 15) with a low use of condoms.

With more young people set to grow up in urban settings, experts in the Ukraine and elsewhere are calling on governments to introduce more programmes which address the threats faced by adolescents. Only if similar efforts are made in this area to those which have been made in reducing infant and child mortality, will the trends in adolescent deaths be reversed.

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