By Gift Briton
Drowning is one of the leading causes of death among children and adults between one and 24 years globally, resulting in at least 40 deaths every hour. As such, taking proven preventive actions is critical in saving lives, the World Health Organization(WHO) says.
Some of these actions include strategic use of barriers to control access to water, provision of safe places such as daycare centres for pre-school children and teaching school-age children basic swimming skills.
Additionally, the organization has called for progress in other areas such as better and more integrated flood risk management, improved boating, shipping and ferry regulations and development of national water safety policies.
According to the organization, placing barriers strategically such that access to water hazards is tightly controlled by covering wells and water tanks, using doorway barriers and playpens and fencing swimming pools, can reduce exposure and drowning risk.
Moreover, countries and communities should also provide safe playing places away from water for pre-school children with closes supervision alongside teaching school-based children on swimming, water safety and rescue skills through a structured, safety-tested curriculum in a safe training environment.
Because survival from drowning depends heavily on how quickly the person is removed from the water and properly resuscitated, WHO advises that bystanders should be trained in safe rescue and resuscitation skills to ensure that the skills to perform rescue and resuscitation of drowning victims are present in as much of the population as possible.
As a result, governments are asked to set and enforce safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations by carrying out regular maintenance checks, ensuring that the captain has the necessary skills and competence to command the vessel, avoiding overloading with passengers or goods, ensuring boats carry appropriate safety equipment and restricting travel in poor weather.
Lastly, the organization notes that drowning during flooding can be prevented by building resilience to flooding and managing flood risks through better disaster preparedness planning, land use planning and early warning systems.
According to the organization, children aged under 5 years are more at risk of drowning with men twice as likely to drown as females due to their increased exposure to water and other riskier behaviors such as swimming alone, drinking alcohol before swimming and boating.
Moreover, drowning prevention strategies have much in common with other public health agendas including safe water supply, rural development, disaster risk management and child health. Therefore, the organization notes that more actions must be done to maximize these synergies.
For instance, village-based day care for pre-school children not only provides the early child development benefits associated with day care, it also prevents drowning and provides employment. Given this multi-sectoral nature of drowning therefore, donors and governments must prioritize drowning prevention, and its integration with other public health agendas.
“While there is much to learn about drowning and drowning prevention, we must take proven, preventive action while research continues. This means urgently targeting vulnerable populations in exposed communities with strategies most likely to save lives,” WHO report reads.