Globally, drowning today has a similar burden as diseases such as diarrhea and measles has in the 1970s and 1980s. It is referred to as the silent epidemic. Many people would be surprised to learn that drowning kills at least 372,000 people globally – that’s at least 40 people every hour. Around 90% of this intolerably high number of deaths fall within low and middle income countries. Unsurprisingly, it is children and adolescents who are most likely to drown. Globally, the death toll is nearly two-thirds as high as malnutrition and in excess of half of that of malaria – yet to date drowning has not attracted the same level of prevention efforts.
In Vietnam, drowning is a huge issue. The Vietnamese government estimates the number of drowning at approximately 9 per day, while studies from international organisations suggest that the figures may be as high as 35 per day. Gaining accurate, up to date statistics on drowning in Vietnam is a challenge, but even at the most conservative estimates drowning is a leading cause of death among children in Vietnam. Relative to its impact, drowning is a vastly neglected area of public health – both globally and within Vietnam.
So how can this huge burden be reduced? The World Health Organisation’s Global Report on Drowning (2014), suggests ten key measures:
- Install barriers controlling access to water
- Provide safe places (for example, a crèche) away from water for pre-school children, with capable child care.
- Teach school-age children basic swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills.
- Train bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation.
- Strengthen public awareness and highlight the vulnerability of children.
- Set up and enforce safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations.
- Build resilience and manage flood risks and other hazards locally and nationally.
- Coordinate drowning prevention efforts with those of other sectors and agendas.
- Develop a national water safety plan.
- Address priority research questions with well-designed studies.
Sources: WHO – Global Report on Drowning – Preventing a Leading Killer. The Alliance of Safe Children.