Drowning -- the leading cause of child death after infancy
Drowning is a leading cause of death for children worldwide – in high income countries as well as in the developing world. However, in the low and middle income countries that make up the developing world, children drown at extreme rates. This drowning epidemic is now being revealed by surveys specially designed to identify child drowning undertaken in several low and middle income countries in Asia. Current research shows that 95% of all childhood drowning deaths occur in Asia, home to two-thirds of the world’s children.
In rich countries, generations of public education campaigns have created a culture of water safety. This culture, together with good governance, has led to the development of laws and regulations that help protect children from possible drowning hazards. Communities mobilize to create safer places for children to live and play. As a result, while drowning remains a leading cause of child death, the numbers are relatively low. For example, in 2008 there were 50 child drowning deaths in all of Australia.
In contrast, in Bangladesh in 2008 on average that same number – 50 children—drowned each and every day of the entire year. This extraordinary difference is not just due to the difference in population size between the two countries; the child drowning rate in Bangladesh was over 21 times higher than in Australia when comparisons were based on the size of child populations.
In developing countries such as Bangladesh, birth rates are high, family sizes are large and very often children are responsible for supervising other children. As a result, most child drowning occurs in early childhood, before the age of five.
Helping families develop more effective means to supervise young children, educating families about water hazards in and around their homes and providing safe places such as community creches where mothers can drop children during their busiest hours are effective ways to reducing the child drowning toll in very young children. We know this can be done in ways that are affordable and acceptable to rural communities as evidence from these programs in Bangladesh is now emerging and show significant reductions in early child drowning.
For children over five, teaching basic survival swimming and water safety skills is the single most successful way to prevent these older children from drowning. We know this through working with partners on the ground in Bangladesh, where an independently evaluated three-year study has provided proof that children who learn survival swimming are protected from drowning.
And that is where SwimSafe comes in. SwimSafe is built on a solid base of research and the evidence has shown that a child who masters the skills taught in the SwimSafe program has a significant reduction in risk of drowning over the rest of his or her childhood.
Working with our local partners, TASC and RLSSA have designed and adapted SwimSafe for communities based on their individual cultural and environmental characteristics. We create projects that are effective in reducing child drowning, use appropriate technology and are sustainable and embedded in local communities.
For more information, please visit us at www.swimsafe.org