The accidental death of Hardo Aasmäe, the former mayor of Tallinn, who fell down a staircase on Monday in the building in which the encyclopedia he edited has its offices, illustrated a larger societal problem in Estonia – the frequency of which falls cause injury and death compared to other non-natural causes.
Although most accidental falls don't end fatally, as in Aasmäe's case, they are still the most frequent injury suffered by Estonians requiring medical attention, and are still the third-leading cause of premature death in the country, causing 107 fatalities in 2013. Falls also account for the highest plurality of the burden of costs due to injury for Estonia's Health Insurance Fund, accounting for around half of the 30 million euros in expenditures the fund made in 2013.
Maris Jesse, the director of the National Institute of Health Development, told ERR News that falls are generally categorized by slipping on the same surface you are walking on. But it also includes falls from stairs and balconies, or over railings.
“The highest burden of costs are due to injury,” she said. “Those are the most frequent injuries that require medical attention, but most don't end fatally. We've been paying a lot of attention to deaths and injury, but we don't really understand the context [of injuries] as of yet. How many fatal outcomes could have been prevented? Unfortunately, the reasons haven't been looked at closely in Estonia.”
Overall, accidental poisoning, by alcohol or other sources, was the leading cause of death in Estonia in 2013, with 219 deaths. Suicide was second, at 209 fatalities. Traffic accidents, which used to be the leading cause of premature death in the country, accounted for only 90 deaths in 2013. In contrast, 491 died in road accidents in 1991.
“Fatalities from road accidents have fallen, and that's a good result, based on work done by the road administration, the police, and the people themselves,” Jesse said. “People have started to behave more safely.”
Jesse, who is also head of Estonia's Injury Prevention Task Force, said her group will be giving a report to the government next week, and one of the highlighted items will be to address the frequency of accidents caused by falls.
“It's a clear target for preventative work,” she said. “It's been pretty obvious that the situation will not improve by itself.”
Editor: S. Abel