Injuries are the leading cause of death for Illinoisans 1-44 years of age. When a public health approach is applied to the problems of injury and violence, these events can be predicted and, in most cases, prevented with adequate resources and effective collaborative partnerships, state injury and violence prevention programs can significantly lower the burden of injury.
While most of us have an intuitive understanding of what injury is, scientists define injury in a very specific way -- as any unintentional or intentional damage to the body resulting from acute exposure to thermal, mechanical, electrical, or chemical energy or from the absence of such essentials as heat or oxygen.
There are two types of injury intent – unintentional and intentional. Unintentional injuries include motor vehicle crashes, burns, falls, poisonings, sports related injuries, and occupational injuries. Intentional injuries include homicides, assaults, suicides, suicide attempts, child abuse, and elder abuse.
Injury is a Preventable “Disease”
The recognition that “injuries are not accidents,” that is injuries are not the result of fate or bad luck, has increased since the mid 1900’s. As a result, the epidemiology of injuries has become a recognized field of study. Injuries are the first cause of death to children and young adults and are a major cause of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and permanent disabilities. Injuries are not random and thus can be predicted, controlled, and in some cases, prevented. In order to initiate effective injury prevention efforts, sufficient data must be collected and analyzed. Infrastructure to then utilize these data effectively must be in place.
The Public Health Model
One of the reasons for the relatively slow progress in injury prevention is such efforts must be cross-disciplinary, involve both public and private interests, and within the public arena, cross state, local and agency jurisdictions. The various engineers who designed a safe roadway, a safe car, and a child safety seat that enabled the child to make use of the adult seat belts; the clinicians who ensured parents understood the need for a safety seat; the social workers who made it possible for the parents to obtain the seat if it was beyond their means; the child safety seat technicians who enabled the parents to correctly use the seat, and the traffic safety officers who consistently enforced the traffic laws and regulations; and all worked to prevent injury to the child happily riding in the car. Behind all of these “injury prevention professionals” working in their own spheres, often with no direct knowledge of each other, is the public health professional. Such a professional must first be recognized and enabled to assess who, how, when, and where children are injured in car crashes, and then have the responsibility to assure that the policies and programs are in place to address the factors most often associated with such injuries.