Premature Death by Drowning should be Prevented

Hiren Pandit

No one wants to die prematurely by drowning. According to the World Health Organization, 3 lakh 59 thousand 400 people die from drowning every year. 20 percent of whom are under five years of age. This is why drowning is referred to as the ‘silent epidemic’ across the world. Drowning also accounts for 67 percent of all deaths among children between the ages of one and four in Bangladesh. One in 10 percent of drowning deaths occurs in boating accidents. Also, according to UNICEF, an average of 17,000 children drown in Bangladesh every year. This death toll is the highest in the world.

The United Nations has declared July 25 as the World Day to Prevent Death by Drowning’. Bangladesh and Ireland have jointly taken the initiative to announce the day. Also supported by 79 member states of the United Nations. Drowning has been recognized as a ‘silent epidemic’. If we do not reduce drowning mortality to zero, our progress in primary health care, i.e., achieving SDG-3, will remain incomplete. Drowning is not just an accident, it is discrimination.

Asia has the highest rate of drowning deaths and 90 percent of the total deaths occur in middle and low-income countries like Bangladesh. An average of 50 people drown in Bangladesh every day, including 40 children. According to the latest World Health Organization survey, drowning is one of the leading causes of death among children under the age of five. But these deaths are preventable at a low cost with local management, as evidenced by research.

Research shows that child day care centers for ages one to five can prevent child drowning deaths by 82 percent. On the other hand, 96 percent can be prevented by teaching children aged 6-10 to swim. The World Health Organization has recognized these two initiatives to prevent child drowning. By observing Drowning Prevention Day every year on July 25, people from all walks of life around the world will be more aware of this issue and will be encouraged to take appropriate preventive measures. Through this, it is expected that it will be possible to reduce the death rate due to drowning worldwide.

Every year when the monsoon comes, the drowning death rate increases. As the reason for this, experts say, the prolonged floods and inundation in the region have led to so many drowning deaths. There are many reservoirs, ponds, rivers, and canals around us. According to research data, the death rate of child drowning is higher in villages than in cities, most children die by falling into a pond or water body within 20 meters and even 10 meters away from the house. The lack of proper supervision of the youngest members of the family leads to such tragic consequences. In terms of numbers, 60 percent of child drownings occur between nine in the morning and one in the afternoon. Because at this time mothers are busy with household work, fathers are out for work and if there are siblings, they may be in school or other work.

To prevent this problem, some projects are running across the country in collaboration with UNICEF and some organizations. A woman trained in these projects also looks after the children. Also, the government has recently undertaken a project by the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs to prevent child drowning.Globally, despite SDGs, drowning deaths are not decreasing as expected. Although the infant mortality rate due to illness has been reduced, the overall infant mortality rate is likely to remain high. A study found that 47 percent of drowning deaths are reported in the media. But media can play an important role in preventing these deaths. Some necessary measures are needed to avoid such untoward incidents.

This may include fencing around ponds, monitoring children at daycare centers, teaching them to swim, and helping children recover immediately after being rescued from the water. Children’s textbooks can also include chapters on ‘Importance of learning to swim’. Besides, various international and local organizations have emphasized creating awareness at the family level and taking programs nationally to prevent child drowning.

It must be remembered that the current government has taken various measures to prevent drowning, but it is not possible to prevent death by drowning only through government initiatives; Moreover, apart from awareness at family, social and individual levels, it is not possible to prevent this death if there is no awareness at the individual level. In this regard, everyone should create public awareness so that children can grow up safely. Bangladesh ranks 22nd in drowning deaths in the world. First African Guyana. Apart from Bangladesh, 19 of the first 22 are African countries.According to the Ministry of Health, 14,500 children die of drowning every year in the country. Their age is between 1 to 18 years. Drowning is now one of the leading causes of death for children of this age.

Pediatricians say ‘We are number one in the world in preventing and managing deaths from diarrhea. There is no diphtheria due to mass vaccination. Tetanus is in complete control. But we are not able to prevent child death due to water drowning. This has been discussed for a century and a half. But there is a lack of foresight at the policy-making level.

Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) ‘Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics 2020’ shows the death due to various diseases in the country. It shows that pneumonia is the cause of death in 44 percent of children under 5 years of age. After that, the place of death by drowning. It is about 9 percent. Then there are respiratory complications, malnutrition, different types of fever, jaundice and complicated diarrhea. 80 percent of drowning deaths occur in ponds. 80% of drownings occur within 20 yards of the home. 60 percent of deaths occur between nine in the morning and one in the afternoon. According to the Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey conducted in 2016, 37 percent of child deaths (injury) in the country between the ages of 1 and 18 are due to drowning. According to that, 14,500 children drown every year.

The child’s age is not specified in the BBS vital statistics for drowning deaths. As a result, there is a difference between the data of BBS and the data of the Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey under the Ministry of Health. According to data on drowning deaths, it rarely occurs in children between the ages of 1 month and 12 months. It is more common in children aged 12 months to 5 years. According to the Health and Injury Survey, 71.7 out of every 100,000 children in this age group die from drowning. In the case of children aged 6 to 9 years, it is 28.1 per lakh.Although there is a large investment by public and private institutions in the areas of child mortality prevention, nutrition etc., there is very little activity to prevent drowning. However, some are pilot programs. For example, the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs has two programs. Both teach children to swim.

But the highest number of drowning deaths in the country is in the Barishal division. At the national level where 11 children die per lakh, the number is 34 in the Barishal division. The 10-point target has been outlined in the ‘Multi-Sector Action Plan 2018-25 for Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases’ of the Department of Health. It has been said to work on setting various targets to prevent drowning.

Experts say that there is little awareness about the fact that the pond around the house is a death trap for the child. Again, there is a lack of trained lifeguards to teach swimming. As a result, death is not decreasing. The World Health Organization has mentioned 10 essential measures to prevent drowning in their guidelines. These include fencing ponds and teaching school children to swim. Experts suggest adding institutional drowning.

The government has taken the initiative to create eight thousand child care centers in 45 Upazilas of 16 districts across the country. 25 children will be admitted to each center. At the same time, swimming will be taught to children aged six to 10 years. The government has undertaken a project of Tk 271 crore 82 lakh 57 thousand to promote early development, education, safety, and security of children and reduce the risk of death.According to the research report of the private organization Center for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB), the number of these deaths is increasing day by day. Private initiatives have been successful in reducing child drowning deaths in some areas by focusing on daycare.

In this situation, the government through the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs has taken up the project to create child care centers. Bangladesh Shishu Academy under the Ministry is implementing the project. The three-year project is expected to be fully implemented by June 30, 2024. The name of the project is ‘Integrated Community-Based Center for Child Care, Protection and Swim-Safe Facilities’. Through this, parents will be made aware of setting up community-based child care centers and teaching children to swim. “If the project is implemented, child development, education and care will be ensured. The project officials think that the children of the village and union level will benefit from this. ‘

Hiren Pandit is a researcher and columnist

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