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More than 40 people drown every hour, with young children most at risk

Men are twice as likely to drown as women.

SOME 372,000 PEOPLE drown globally each year – that’s more than 40 people every hour.

Today the World Health Organisation (WHO) has released its first global report on drowning, which found that drowning is among the ten leading causes of death for children and young people in every region.

Others findings from the report include:

  • Over half of all drowning deaths are among those aged under 25 years;
  • The highest rates for drowning are among children under five years of age;
  • Men are twice as likely to drown as women;
  • More than 90% of drowning occurs in low- and middle-income countries, with the highest rates in the African, South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions.

The report calls for a substantial scaling-up of efforts and resources to prevent drowning and outlines several actions to be taken by both national policy-makers and local communities.

Strategies for local communities include: installing barriers to control access to water; providing safe places such as day care centres for children; teaching children basic swimming skills and training bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation.

At national level, interventions include: adoption of improved boating, shipping and ferry regulations; better flood risk management and comprehensive water safety policies.

‘Needless loss of life’

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said that children and young people drowning is “a needless loss of life”.

According to a number of studies from high-income countries, deaths due to drowning may be considerably underestimated. Official data does not include drowning from suicide, homicide, flood disasters or incidents such as ferry capsizes.

Dr Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, said that losing hundreds of thousands of lives to drowning is “unacceptable, given what we know about prevention”.

“Drowning occurs in bathtubs, buckets, ponds, rivers, ditches and pools, as people go about their daily lives,” Krug stated.

The report draws attention to the need to make drowning prevention an integral part of a number of current debates, such as climate change which leads to increased flooding; mass migrations, including of asylum seekers travelling by boat; and issues such as rural development and water and sanitation.

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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