New UN report urges greater efforts to prevent drowning deaths among children

23 May 2012

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and a partner organization are urging greater use of effective and cost-efficient measures to prevent drowning, which new research shows is a major killer across parts of Asia.

Drowning is a leading cause of death for children after infancy, between 1-17 years of age, in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand, Viet Nam and the provinces Beijing and Jiangxi in China, according to a new report released today by UNICEF and The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC).

In these countries, about one out of four children who die after infancy die due to drowning – more than the number who die from measles, polio, whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria and tuberculosis combined, UNICEF stated in a news release.

The report, entitled Child Drowning: Evidence for a newly recognized cause of child mortality in low and middle income countries in Asia, states that the cost of drowning prevention among children is no more expensive than interventions for these diseases.

“For too long drowning has been a hidden killer,” said the Director of UNICEF’s Office of Research, Gordon Alexander.

“Over the past three decades countries have made strong, continuous progress on infectious disease reduction,” he added. “However, no impact has been made on drowning deaths. As a result, drowning is emerging as a leading cause of death for children after infancy in the countries surveyed for this report. And yet drowning is off the political radar.”

The reports finds that the vast majority of the drowning deaths are preventable, as they occur within 20 metres of the home and are the result of unsupervised children wandering off and falling into local water hazards.

Most children who drown are never taken to a health facility because their deaths are immediate, because facilities may be located far away from the community, or because those who may report the drowning fear financial repercussions, the report adds.

Mr. Alexander said the research suggests governments and development agencies can do more to support drowning prevention interventions through scaling up early childhood education/crèche programmes, and with improved integration with ongoing public health, education and disaster risk programmes, together with better mapping of the true prevalence of drowning.

“This report makes clear that there is a serious – and until now, hidden – problem in the countries surveyed,” he said. “It also provides evidence of affordable interventions that can save hundreds of thousands of children’s lives. We must now act where we have the evidence, and investigate whether similar underreporting and preventable deaths are happening elsewhere.”


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