More than 800,000 children die each year from burns, drowning, car crashes, falls, poisoning and other accidents, with the vast majority of those deaths occurring in developing countries, according to experts and a report released Wednesday by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
Tens of millions more suffer injuries that often leave them disabled for life, said the report which was launched at a meeting of global health experts in Hanoi. The World Report on Child Injury Prevention 2008 does not include injuries caused by domestic violence.
The problem is most acute in Africa and Southeast Asia, but no country is immune, conference participants said, issuing an urgent call for action.
"The price of failure is high," said Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization, speaking in a videotape shown at the conference. "On current estimates, unintentional injuries claim the lives of around 830,000 children worldwide every year."
Many parents in developing countries share the double burden of childcare and work, making it difficult for them to watch their children all the time.
In Vietnam, about 10 kids drown a day, and drowning is the leading cause of injury-related deaths for children over one year of age.
Basket weaver Nguyen Thi Chung's 2-year-old daughter fell into a river near the family's house in the Mekong delta two years ago and nearly drowned - prompting the family to put up bamboo fences around the house.
"We should have done that before. We were too busy with making baskets. We need to work hard if we are to earn enough to feed our children," Chung was quoted as saying in a UNICEF statement. "Our thoughtlessness almost cost the life of my daughter."
The world's poorer countries and communities often lack basic safety education programs and quality healthcare, said Chan of the WHO. When its available, life-saving health services can be economically devastating.
"The costs of such treatment can throw an entire family into poverty," Chan said.
The report calls on countries around the world to issue prevention measures such as seatbelt and helmet laws, child-safe medicine bottles, water heater controls and safer designs for nursery furniture and toys. It also recommends various traffic safety improvements and putting fences around pools and ponds to prevent drowning. A child-friendly version with safety tips was issued at the conference and online.
Such steps have been taken in many high-income countries and have reduced child injury deaths by up to 50 percent over the last 30 years, the report says.
Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF's executive director, said unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for children between 9 and 18 years old and 95 percent of these injuries occur in developing countries.
"More must be done to prevent such harm to children," she said, also speaking via video.