On Tuesday morning citizens woke up to the news that a 14-year-old boy had been shot dead the day before; mowed down by a stray bullet, reportedly fired indiscriminately by some trigger-happy moron reportedly shooting at the unseen for the pleasure of it. The police are still investigating, but Ryan Persaud died not because he was bad or in gangs or any such thing. No, he died because he lived in a country where life is cheap, and where some people are determined to do whatever they like, whenever they like just because they can.

On Wednesday, the news broke that well-known Eccles biker Kirk Davis had been gunned down the night before just outside his home. According to reports, Davis, who was in his 30s, had been involved in an argument with someone when he was shot multiple times. The perpetrator has not yet been arrested.

At 14 and 30-something-years-old Persaud and Davis were not statistically members of the most at risk demographic in Latin America and the Caribbean. Nevertheless, born to die like the rest of us are, they were unceremoniously hustled out of life by, literally, a man with a gun even though this is not a war zone.

According to a new report released by the World Bank on Wednesday, September 4, although the mortality rate in this part of the world has dropped significantly—by at least 80 per cent for children aged 4 and younger and 50% for women between the ages of 20 and 44—it has increased for males between the ages of 15 and 19-years-old. Violence and road accidents are the leading causes of death of these youths.

The report, based on the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors study, which was done using statistics from 2010, notes that potentially preventable risk factors including poor diet, high blood pressure and alcohol use are fuelling the changing disease burden in the region. Non-communicable and chronic diseases remain significant risk factors, but the threat to life from interpersonal violence and self-harm has grown exponentially since the last study was done in 1990.

According to the report, the study, led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) was a collaborative effort among 488 researchers from 303 institutions in 50 countries. Top among these institutions were Harvard University, Imperial College London, Johns Hopkins University, University of Queensland, University of Tokyo and the World Health Organisation. Significantly, the study found that when comparing rates of diseases and injuries across countries and taking into account differences in population growth and ages, Costa Rica, Cuba, and Chile performed the best while Guatemala, Guyana, and Haiti performed the worst.

Lead author on the study Dr Rafael Lozano, who is also the director of Latin American and Caribbean Initiatives at IHME, posited that the upward swing in premature mortality and disability in the region was as a result of a “lack of economic opportunities coupled with easy access to guns.” He cited Venezuela, Honduras and El Salvador where violence is the number one cause of health loss. Dr Lozano also pointed out that great progress had been made in fighting infectious diseases in the region over the 20 years between 1990 and 2010. But he noted that while these initiatives had saved children’s lives, too many of them, particularly males, were succumbing by way of violence in adulthood.

While Dr Lozano tended to focus more on the countries in Latin America with which he seemed familiar, given the profound similarities he could just as easily have been speaking about Guyana. It is well known that alcohol use/abuse is currently a major trigger of road accidents which result in death and disability. In addition, there is a proliferation of mostly illegal guns in this country and the indiscriminate use of these weapons is rampant.

Local police continue to trot out statistics on these dangers, but as regards DUI infractions, these are more often than not addressed after the fact and even the police have been known to fall afoul of this law.

Meanwhile, it appears that for every weapon seized ten more slip through our borders landing in the hands of the criminal-minded, the inexperienced or that lethal combination of stupid and drunk.

The World Bank commissions the ‘Global Burden’ studies because it recognises the link between human resources and development. One hopes that the reality of the cold hard facts revealed in the study will engender a proactive approach to preserving lives, particularly those most at risk.

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