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Global Action to Prevent Drowning Through Education

Drowning is a serious and neglected public health threat 

Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths. (World Health Organization, 2016). Every hour, every day, more than 40 people lose their lives to drowning. 372,000 people drown each year, with those under 5 years old at greatest risk. Globally, over half of all drowning deaths are under 25 years old. 

The global burden and death from drowning is found in all economies and regions

Key facts:

  • low- and middle-income countries account for over 90% of unintentional drowning deaths;
  • over half of the world's drowning occurs in the WHO Western Pacific Region and WHO South-East Asia Region;
  • drowning death rates are highest in the WHO African Region, and are 15-20 times higher than those seen in Germany or the United Kingdom, respectively.

Despite limited data, several studies reveal information on the cost impact of drowning. In the United States of America, 45% of drowning deaths are among the most economically active segment of the population. Coastal drowning in the United States alone accounts for US$ 273 million each year in direct and indirect costs. In Australia and Canada, the total annual cost of drowning injury is US$ 85.5 million and US$ 173 million respectively. 
There is a wide range of uncertainty around the estimate of global drowning deaths. Official data categorization methods for drowning exclude intentional drowning deaths (suicide or homicide) and drowning deaths caused by flood disasters and water transport incidents. 
Data from high-income countries suggest these categorization methods result in significant under-representation of the full drowning toll by up to 50% in some high-income countries. Non-fatal drowning statistics in many countries are not readily available or are unreliable.

WHO response

WHO released the Global report on drowning in November 2014. This was the first time WHO had developed a report dedicated exclusively to drowning. The report pointed out that drowning has been highly overlooked to date, and that a great deal more should be done by governments and the research and policy communities to prioritize drowning prevention and its integration with other public health agendas.
he Global report on drowning provides recommendations to governments to tailor and implement effective drowning prevention programs to their settings, improve data about drowning, and develop national water safety plans. The report also points out the multisectoral nature of drowning and calls for greater coordination and collaboration among UN agencies, governments, key NGOs and academic institutions to prevent drowning. 
In May 2017, WHO released Preventing drowning: an implementation guide - Preventing drowning: an implementation guide. This publication builds on the Global report on drowning and provides concrete guidance for drowning prevention practitioners on how to implement drowning prevention interventions. 
At country level, WHO has worked with Ministries of Health in some low- and middle-income countries to prevent drowning through the use of barriers controlling access to water and the establishment of day care centers for pre-school children. In addition, WHO has also funded research in low-income countries exploring priority questions related to drowning prevention. At a regional level, WHO organizes training programs and convenes workshops to draw together representatives of governments, NGOs and UN agencies working on drowning prevention.

Global Action to Prevent Drowning Through Education
There are no broad prevention efforts that target drowning, which is a a highly preventable public health challenge. The vast majority of drownings are preventable and that starts with education. A growing body of research provides evidence of a strong link between water safety education and a reduction in drowning deaths. It is imperative that we empower our students and communities to prevent drowning through education.  All school stakeholders need to know that that education empowers us to take an active role in drowning prevention. Global Action to Prevent Drowning Through Education (GAPDTE) will collaborate with local and international organizations in our shared mission to promote drowning prevention through education, mobilizing public and political will to prevent drowning around the world. We will particularly address teaching school-age children basic swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills as one of the most effective community-based actions.This blog will serve as a platform for exchanging, debating and developing the ways and strategies to reduce drownings and injuries in all aquatic environments worldwide.

Thank you, in advance, for your consideration to join this important initiative!

Srecko Mavrek
Professional KDP Representative to the UN DPI