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Prevent drowning

Torika Chandra
Monday, March 30, 2015

DROWNING can happen to anyone, at any given time, in most cases

because of negligence.

Last year, Fiji recorded 47 deaths because of drowning, and the

alarming fact about this figure is that most of these were during the cyclone season.

IMAGINE this, you're swimming in a flooded river with friends and suddenly you find yourself under water.

Every effort you try to resurface is hopeless as you find yourself forced back down underwater. You panic.

No matter how desperate you are, you don't inhale until you're on the verge of losing consciousness.

This is called the break point, which comes after 87 seconds or if the person hyperventilates first, comes as late as 140 seconds.

This is the frightening detail of drowning by Sebastian Junger in his book, The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea.

Junger writes that until the break point, a drowning person is said to be undergoing voluntary apnea — choosing not to breathe.

Lack of oxygen to the brain causes a sensation of darkness closing in from all sides.

He adds that at this point, the person goes from voluntary to involuntary apnea, and the drowning begins in earnest.

"A spasmodic breath drags water into the mouth and windpipe, and then one of two things happens.

"In about 10 per cent of people, water-anything-touching the vocal cords triggers an immediate contraction in the muscles around the larynx.

"In effect, the central nervous system judges something in the voice box to be more of a threat than low oxygen levels in the blood, and acts accordingly."

This, Junger writes, is called laryngospasm.

It's so powerful that it overcomes the breathing reflex and eventually suffocates the person.

A person with laryngospasm drowns without any water in his lungs.

"In the other 90 per cent of people, water floods the lungs and ends any waning transfer of oxygen to the blood.

"The clock is running down now; half-conscious and enfeebled by oxygen depletion, the person is in no position to fight his way back up to the surface."

In the recently launched Water Safety Council Drowning Report, it stated that 47 lives were lost because of drowning in Fiji last year.

Children aged one to five years accounted for 23 per cent and males 72 per cent.

The key findings found that the majority of the drownings occurred within the cyclone months.

Drowning can happen to anyone regardless of whether the person can swim, or is the strongest swimmer in his family.

And, it takes just enough water that covers the mouth and nose for drowning to occur.

The report, it revealed that of the 47 people who died to drowning last year, 13 per cent were men who were diving, fishing, snorkelling in the sea, 21 per cent unsupervised toddlers, and of those aged between five to 19 years, 80 per cent drowned in rivers.

Kathryn Murray, a representative of the WSCF in a recent article said the key messages following the statistics revealed in the report were to install barriers to control access to water, leave children in capable hands well away from water and water access, teach school-aged children swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills and train bystanders in first aid and CPR.

Keith Andrews, the acting operations manager at the Fiji Red Cross Society, said drowning was a preventable cause of death.

"The duration and severity of hypoxia sustained as a result of drowning is the single most important determinant of outcome.

"Immediate CPR can double or triple the victim's chance of survival."

* 47 lives lost to drowning in 2014;

* Over 50 per cent of victims under 25 years;

* Economical value lost equated to $14milliom;

* 77 per cent of total drownings occurred within cyclone months;

* Men accounted for 2.5 times the number of drownings over women;

* 66 per cent of victims found in either village/rural settings;

* Eight victims had CPR administrated; and

* Six victims were people with epilepsy.

Source: Water Safety Council of Fiji Drowning Report 2014

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