Despite the fact that drowning is as preventable as infectious and non-communicable diseases there are only a few drowning prevention programs in developing countries. In some parts of Asia, drowning alone kills more children than infectious and non-communicable diseases. In these areas, drowning is considered a public health emergency. In the other parts of Asia surveyed, it is an epidemic.
The Special Series titled ‘Child Injury Working Papers’ released in 2008, identified that drowning is a leading killer of children in the Asia region. The aim of this working paper was to determine the trends of risk related to child drownings in the Asia region by country, (specifically, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Jiangxi [China]) and by region.
A silent epidemic
Drowning is largely a silent epidemic because drowning deaths are rarely reported to hospitals, the source of data for most national health statistics.
Drowning has become the single leading cause of death for children older than one in the five countries where The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) and partners’ household surveys have been extensive: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand, Viet Nam and in China, the capital Beijing and the province of Jiangxi. In these areas alone, more than 100 children die from drowning everyday. Yet, drowning is rarely included, let alone at the forefront, of child health programs.
Not new, but hidden
Drowning is not a new phenomenon, just newly recognized. Child drowning is a significant burden to developing countries in the Asia region, and to date, it has not been well understood. As a result, the ability to manage and effectively reduce the overarching burden on communities both socially and economically has been diminished.
Until recently the true burden of child injury and drowning in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and China was essentially unknown. This was as a result of poor; or no national injury and death recording process, and the overshadowing burden of infectious disease and nutritional concerns. Further to this, visibility of the true burden of child drowning has been clouded by the sudden nature of a drowning event and the lack of follow up hospital care required in relation to other types of injury.
Drowning is preventable
Drowning rates in developing countries are 10 to 20 times as high as those in more developed countries. This difference sets the minimum benchmark for the number of lives that should be saved each year through drowning prevention activities.
The magnitude of drowning is such that prevention initiatives must be implemented as soon as possible. The social costs for the families and the communities that suddenly lose children are enormous. The financial costs of inaction are also substantial: nine out of 10 children who drowned in Bangladesh were fully vaccinated. From a purely financial view, money for vaccines, school and other health investments are wasted every time a child drowns.
Child health programs are not complete unless they address the leading cause of child death: injury as a whole but, more specifically, drowning.