The World Health Organization (WHO) published one of the first tabulated drowning death reports for the entire globe. What many thought was a tragedy has turned into a top 10 killer for people under the age of 25. More than 372,000 drowning deaths are recorded each year, and heavily impact low and middle-income countries.

In 2012, drowning surpassed measles and tuberculosis as a childhood killer among children under 15. In children under the age of 15, 140,219 drowning deaths were recorded in 2012, compared to 69,648 from tuberculosis.

What the report shows is that more needs to be done for at risk areas. Areas with the highest concentration of drowning deaths include Southeast Asia, the Western Pacific and African regions.

While the greatest impacts were found in those regions, experts have cautioned their figures for high-income countries may be off. Officials were not able to classify drowning deaths related to floods and suicides.

Michael Bloomberg’s Bloomberg Philanthropies provided funding for the study. “I believe that you can’t manage what you don’t measure and there’s never been a comprehensive effort to measure drowning around the world until now.The more evidence we can gather, the better we’ll be able to tailor our prevention efforts.”

Drowning Prevention

With the shocking number came a series of recommendations to prevent drownings:

Teaching school-age children basic swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills
Training bystanders in rescue and resuscitation
Setting boating, shipping and ferry regulations

Using the latest data from countries, the WHO was able to piece together drowning deaths per 100,000 people. Guyana came in at the top with 11.8 deaths per 100k. Belize and Thailand were second and third, with 10 and 7.3 deaths per 100,000.

In the United States, the figure stands at 1.5 deaths per 100,000, the highest among Western economies.

Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general commented on the report. “Efforts to reduce child mortality have brought remarkable gains in recent decades but they have also revealed otherwise hidden childhood killers. Drowning is one. This is a needless loss of life. Action must be taken by national and local governments to put in place the simple preventative measures articulated by the WHO.”

WHO released an executive summary here. (PDF)


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