Africa: Governments Commit to Accelerated Action to Prevent Drowning

press release

Today, governments adopted a new resolution committing to greater efforts to prevent drowning, a leading cause of injury-related death and disability. An estimated 235,600 people drown every year, although this figure excludes drownings attributable to flood-related climatic events and water transport incidents, so is considered an under-representation. Drowning is among the ten leading causes of death for children aged 5-14 years.

More than 90% of drowning deaths occur in rivers, lakes, wells, domestic water storage vessels and swimming pools in low- and middle-income countries. In addition, water-related disasters increasingly affect millions of people globally due in part to the escalating adverse impacts of climate change, with drowning being the main cause of deaths during floods.

Half of all drowning deaths are in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions. Rates of drowning deaths per 100 000 population are highest, however, in the African Region, where they are 15-20 times higher than those in Germany or the United Kingdom, respectively.

"Through this new UN General Assembly resolution, Member States are giving drowning its due recognition, commensurate with the impact it has on families and communities around the world," notes Dr Etienne Krug, Director of the Department of Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organization (WHO). "Given that children and adolescents in rural areas are disproportionately affected by drowning, preventing this public health scourge is one step towards building a fairer, healthier world."

As noted in the WHO Global report on drowning, the evidence-based measures to prevent drowning include:

installing barriers controlling access to water

providing safe places away from water such as crèches for pre-school children with capable childcare

teaching swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills

train bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation

set and enforce safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations

improve flood risk management

"Drowning is an underrecognized public health issue, claiming over 235,000 lives every year," said Kelly Henning, Director of Public Health at Bloomberg Philanthropies. "Since 2012, Bloomberg Philanthropies has funded efforts to prevent drowning deaths IN Bangladesh, Ghana, Philippines, Uganda and Viet Nam. With today's adoption of the United Nations global drowning prevention resolution, we are encouraged that governments will increase their commitment to support urgently needed drowning prevention strategies."

Among other actions UN General Assembly resolution A/75/L.76 Member States to appoint a national focal point for drowning prevention; develop a national plan with measurable targets; develop drowning prevention programming in line with WHO's recommended interventions; include drowning within civil registration and vital statistics registers; and promote drowning prevention public awareness and behaviour change campaigns. WHO is invited to assist Member States in their drowning prevention efforts and to coordinate actions within the UN system.

The resolution also proclaims 25 July as World Drowning Prevention Day, and invites all Member States and their partners to observe the Day annually in accordance with national priorities, through education, knowledge sharing and other activities, in order to raise awareness of the importance of drowning prevention and the need for urgent coordinated multi-sectoral action to improve water safety, with the aim of reducing preventable deaths.

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