Drowning a concern

Hard to believe, but even good swimmers drown. Picture: https://swimmerpro.com

The Global report on drowning states it is among the ten leading causes of death of children and young people in every region of the world with over half the casualties under the age of 25 years.

Children under five years are disproportionately at a greater risk with males twice as likely to drown than females.

In 2011, 43 out of 55 drowning cases were males (78 per cent).

Furthermore, the report highlights that worldwide, 372,000 people drown each year and every hour of every day, 40 people lose their lives to drowning.

Fiji Islands is surrounded by sea and each year at an average 40 people die through drowning.

In a paper by Katheryn Murray, drowning is one of the five leading causes of death for Fijians aged one to 29 years in Fiji.

Studies have proven that male youths and school children mostly drown during months of heavy rain and in school holidays but drowning has also taken place in tubs and pools.

There is no argument that after each rain, children are seen playing on flooded rivers, swimming in flooded rivers and creeks.

It is fun but deadly. School holidays leave many children unsupervised but drowning has also taken place during family or group picnic trips.

Risk factors of drowning; m Lack of closely monitored supervision;

  • Lack of knowledge on water safety and swimming skills;
  • Poor knowledge of locations and water dangers;
  • Alcohol consumption while engaging in water activity; and
  • Flood disasters.

These are the leading risk factors of drowning in Fiji.

Some drowning cases are a combination of these risk factors.

Children and even adults sometimes take it for granted that they can maneuver through deep waters which turn out to be tricky and not as easy as it seems.

In most swimming places such as rivers and pools, children try to show off their swimming and diving abilities which is unnecessary.

Nobody really cares how high a person can jump or dive from.

Swimming is not about showing off that you know swimming; it is a form of exercise and relaxation.

The iTaukei children learn swimming at a much earlier age compare with those of other ethnic background and in many customary settings, it is a requirement that they must learn swimming.

Today, only a few hands of children will rise if asked if they know how to swim.

A quick survey among tertiary students found 40 percent know how to swim.

Four out of 10 students who know how to swim, is not a convincing figure given the fact that we cross rivers, creeks linked by bridges almost daily.

More so, we are not a landlocked country but rather oceanic in nature.

It therefore becomes more vital to learn how to swim at an early age.

Preventing drowning The Global report on drowning suggests some community based actions that can prevent drowning.

These are;

  • m Install barriers. Controlling access to water especially steep slopes leading into rivers /creeks. Dangerous places with excessively deep water. Notices on depth of water can be helpful as well;
  • Teach school aged children the following: (i) basic swimming. (ii) water safety. (iii) rescue skills. In 2011, the owner of Gurbachan Singh swimming pool in Labasa had invited schools to allow their children to have swimming classes. Recently, he has once again allowed for swimming classes to be conducted at the pool. These initiatives must be commended. Swimming lessons must be incorporated in the school curriculum. In April 2012, I had suggested in a newspaper article that swimming be made an integral component of the national curriculum as a high priority. Parental and community support can further strengthen this initiative;
  •  Train bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation; and
  • Strengthen public awareness of drowning and highlight the vulnerability of children.

Furthermore, some effective policies and legislations

  •  Set and enforce safe boating;
  • Build resilience and manage flood risks;
  • Co-ordinate prevention efforts; and
  • Develop national water safety plan.

WHO and Global health estimates 2014 released fi gures claim that 91 per cent of global drowning deaths occur in low and middle income earning countries.

The drowning cases in Fiji are alarming. Nine victims drowned in September 2020.

Drowning is a multi-sectoral issue (health, disaster risk management, education and school, local community, NGO’s, international assistance etc.) and requires a multi sectoral approach to combat it.

It has been a neglected public health issue globally.

All effort must be made to develop drowning prevention strategies that will help reduce drowning risks.
Getting more people trained in water safety and rescue operations and a structured water safety education in schools followed by voluntary swimming lessons are the first few steps to start off with.

  • Pardeep Lal works for Fiji National University, Labasa campus. The views expressed are his and are not necessarily shared by this newspaper.

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