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WHO: Drowning Is Leading Killer of Children, Young People

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

FILE - The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The World Health Organization reported Monday that drowning is among the 10 leading causes of death for children and young people.

The WHO report found that roughly 372,000 people die from drowning each year, and 90 percent of those deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. The highest rates of drowning deaths are in the African, South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions.

The data show more than half of all drowning deaths happen to people under age 25, with the highest rates among children under five years of age.

The report also found men are twice as likely to drown as women.

Authors of the report called drowning the biggest epidemic of which no has heard. And this appears to be borne out by the steady stream of unnerving statistics presented in the study.

Dr. Etienne Krug, WHO Director for the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, said 40 people drown every hour, in circumstances both mundane and catastrophic.

“These are often children in bathtubs or in watering holes or rivers; fishermen doing their daily work that are carried out at sea; migrants looking for a better life, but losing it in perilous crossings; and capsized ferries, which result also in the drowning of scores of passengers in one time," Krug said.

Different relationships with water

David Meddings, WHO scientist and lead author of the report, noted that people in poorer countries often encounter water in more dangerous circumstances.

“In most high-income settings, when we talk about interacting with water, it is almost always on a recreational basis. We go to bodies of water to swim at a lake. We jump in a pool to cool off on a hot summer day," Meddings said.

"The reality for many populations, particularly those in rural parts of low- and middle-income countries, is a very, very different relationship with water. They need water for household chores, for cooking, for washing, for bathing. They need water frequently to make their employment in the act of small-scale fisheries," he said.

Meddings said that long-term trends show drowning rates have dropped dramatically in rich countries over the past 70 to 80 years, due in part to such things as better emergency care and people having water piped into their homes instead of having to use a lake or river.

The WHO report also urged communities and governments to put in place a number of simple, low-cost measures that would help prevent many drowning deaths.

These measures include installing barriers to control access to water, providing safe places such as day care centers for children, teaching children basic swimming skills, and training bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation.

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