This week, some much-needed good news is published in Injury Prevention. According to their data mining exercise, the world is getting safer.

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A recent study shows that accidents have dropped by 31% since 1990.

Injury always has been (and probably always will be) a significant cause of ill health and death.

However, new research shows that the global toll of injuries has dropped by 31% in the last quarter century.

According to an in-depth analysis of data from the Global Burden of Diseases and Injuries (GBD) database, the world is now “a safer place to live in.”

The scrutinous work was conducted by a team of analysts headed up by Dr. Juanita Haagsma, of the Institute for Healthcare Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

The team collated the impact of 26 causes of injury and 47 types of injury across 188 countries. Injuries and deaths caused by injury were also collated.

A measure known as disability adjusted life years (DALYs) was also used. DALYs are calculated by adding together years of life lost to injury and the number of years lived with a disability.

According to the GBD, in 2013, 973 million people sustained injuries that necessitated some type of health care intervention. That equates to roughly 10% of the global toll of disease.

An estimated 4.8 million people died from their injuries. Although this sounds like an incredible amount, it actually represents a 31% drop from 1990, when the data was first collected.

In 2013, the largest cause of injury was, unsurprisingly perhaps, road injury, at 29.1%. Transport injuries as a whole caused around 1.5 million deaths. More surprising, the next largest section of injuries came from self-harm (including suicide) at 17.6% – in total around 842,000 deaths. Next in line were falls at 11.6%, followed by interpersonal violence (8.5%).

Overall, men were more likely to be injured than women. This gender difference virtually disappeared in the over-80s age group.

Of the people who needed health care, 6% needed inpatient care; over a third of these were treated for fractures.

Changes in injury rates from 1990 to 2013 were not uniform across all regions. As one would imagine, the numbers within separate injury types varied from region to region.

DALY rates in boys and girls under 15 were lowest in Western Europe and highest in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Road traffic injuries most severely affected the 15-49 age group. This cohort also showed some interesting regional differences. For instance, there was an eightfold difference in road traffic injuries between high-income Asia Pacific and Western Sub-Saharan Africa. Also, injuries caused by road traffic accidents in North America were 70% higher than Australasia, Western Europe and Asia Pacific.

The overall global homicide rate is steadily declining, but not all regions are equal. In general, Europe and Asia are declining at the greatest pace; homicides in some regions of the Americas, and Eastern and Southern Africa either remain at a high level or are slightly increasing.

These higher levels of homicide correlate with high levels of DALY rates from interpersonal violence in Latin America and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

It is worth glancing at these elevated rates of violence in reference to a longer period of time. Despite interpersonal violence being higher in Sub-Saharan Africa than in Europe, for instance, over hundreds of years, Sub-Saharan violence is still gradually declining.

The research team found that more than half of all self-harm DALYs occurred in East and South Asia. However, the trends in these two regions are polar opposites. In East Asia, the numbers are declining significantly, whereas numbers in South Asia are rising but at a slow rate.

The authors are quick to point out that cultural differences in the stigma attached to self-harm might skew results on this most sensitive of topics.

Although there were large differences dependent on regions, age groups and gender, overall, things are looking up. The authors of the report conclude:

Globally, since 1990, there is a remarkable declining trend in the rates of DALYs due to injury. The rate of decline was significant for 22 of our 26 cause-of-injury categories, including all the major ones.”

A general reduction in injuries can only be taken as positive news, but 4.8 million deaths in 2013 is no small number, and efforts to reduce death and disability from injury must continue to forge ahead.

Medical News Today recently covered research showing that sleep apnea is tied to a higher risk of road traffic accidents.