What do you think it is? Malaria? Malnutrition? Traffic accidents? Conflict? Surprisingly, it is none of those, but rather drowning. Yes, you read that correctly – drowning! I find it rather shocking as I have never heard about it being such an issue before, but after reading the paper entitled “Child Injury Working Papers” I have begun to understand why. Most of the information I hear about comes from UNICEF, WHO, Ministry of Health, etc. statistics, which are compiled using official data collected at hospitals, health clinics, etc. who record the cause of injury and death of all people. However, in many communities where children drown, the child is either never found or the death or injury is not reported to the hospital or clinic and thus does not appear in the official statistics.
The above mentioned study compared the difference between the statistics reported at the hospital and clinics, to the statistics discovered through discussions with the local communities. It has always been known that the data from hospitals etc. would be slightly biased and would not be a completely accurate reflection of reality, but it was assumed to be quite reliable and the best data existing to work with. The study found that the differences between what is reported and what is not to be astonishing. For as the report states:
“In Bangladesh, drownings were virtually never reported to a hospital or alternative institution for inclusion in the health information system. This single cause of death from injury accounts for about half of all child deaths from injury in the 1–17 year age group, and the lack of reporting is the fundamental reason for the relative invisibility of drowning within the national health systems in the countries surveyed. For the countries surveyed, injury surveillance systems relying on hospital reporting or other health service delivery points for the health information systems greatly underestimate drownings, and consequently the total of all child deaths from injuries.” (emphasis added)
Wow drowning accounts for over 50% of all child deaths! Shocking. Reading stats like this make me begin to wondering how many of our development or humanitarian programmes even consider drowning as an issue to address. How simple it would be to establish swimming lessons for children in various communities and quite frankly what a big impact it could have. As the Swimsafe website says,
“The magnitude of drowning is such that prevention initiatives must be implemented as soon as possible. The social costs for the families and the communities that suddenly lose children are enormous. The financial costs of inaction are also substantial: nine out of 10 children who drowned in Bangladesh were fully vaccinated. From a purely financial view, money for vaccines, school and other health investments are wasted every time a child drowns.
Child health programs are not complete unless they address the leading cause of child death: injury as a whole but, more specifically, drowning.”
More and more I think it is the little things that we overlook, which can have the biggest impact. Teaching children to swim is not rocket science, but can enable life to continue – such a simple but wonderful thought.