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LONDON (Reuters) - Car crashes, drownings and other accidents kill 830,000 children worldwide each year, a surprisingly large figure that marks a growing but often ignored problem, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.
The report, compiled using information from 200 experts around the world, is the first to assess the global scale of the problem and seeks to spur public health and development groups into action, officials said.
"We were surprised at how big the problem was at a global level," Etienne Krug, the WHO official who put together the report, told a news conference. "There is ignorance about the magnitude and the potential for prevention."
Africa has the highest rate overall for accidental deaths. The incidence there is 10 times higher than in high-income countries such as Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and Britain, which have the lowest rates of child injury, according to the report.
Around 95 percent of the deaths occurred in the developing world, mostly in Africa, but the problem is acute in richer nations as well where deaths from accidents disproportionately affect the poor.
In the United States, accidents involving motor vehicles killed the most children -- about 8,000 deaths each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a separate report.
It found that drowning was the leading cause of accidental death for children aged one to four.
The global report listed road crashes as the leading cause of accidental death, killing 260,000 children each year and injuring 10 million. Drowning, burns, falls and unintended poisoning round out the top five list.
About half of these deaths could be prevented by expanding the use of car seats, covering wells and pools of water in areas where children play, erecting barriers to keep young people from road construction and other proven measures, the joint report from the WHO and the United Nation's Children's Fund found.
"Poorer children have not shared in all the gains of children of wealthier nations," said Elizabeth Towner, a child health expert at the University of the West of England in Bristol, who contributed to the report. "Childhood injury is a cause of social injustice that needs to be addressed."
The WHO's Krug called on governments and health officials to tackle the problem as they would any other development issue, saying that death and disability from accidents plunge poor families further into debt and deepen a cycle of poverty.
"Every child lost to injury or severely disabled will cost the future economy of that country," the report said.
"(Reducing child injury) will reduce costs in the healthcare system, improve the capacity to make further reductions in injury rates and will most importantly protect children."
Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Maggie Fox