The traditional view of injuries as "accidents", or random events, has resulted in the historical neglect of this area of public health. However, the most recent estimates show that injuries are among the leading causes of death and disability in the world. They affect all populations, regardless of age, sex, income, or geographic region. In 1998, about 5.8 million people (97.9 per 100,000 population) died of injuries worldwide, and injuries caused 16% of the global burden of disease. Road traffic injuries are the 10th leading cause of death and the 9th leading cause of the burden of disease; self-inflicted injuries, falls, and interpersonal violence follow closely. Injuries affect mostly young people, often causing long-term disability. Decreasing the burden of injuries is among the main challenges for public health in the next century--injuries are preventable, and many effective strategies are available. Public health officials must gain a better understanding of the magnitude and characteristics of the problem, contribute to the development and evaluation of injury prevention programs, and develop the best possible prehospital and hospital care and rehabilitation for injured persons.