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A most neglected issue

  • Published at 12:02 am November 2nd, 2019
Representational photo Bigstock

How we can stop drowning

According to WHO, drowning claims the lives of 3,72,000 individuals every year, and has also been termed the most neglected public health issue. WHO termed drowning as a highly preventable public health challenge that has never been targeted by a global strategic prevention effort.

Bangladesh Health Injury Survey (BHIS) 2016 shows that drowning is one of three leading causes of death among children in Bangladesh -- 53 children die every day, amounting to 19,247 deaths per year.  

The Barishal division has been found to be the worst victims of drowning, leading to 9 deaths a day, three times higher than the national average. Under such circumstances, Center for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB), with support from Royal National Lifeboats Institutions (RNLI), has been implementing Project BHASA, aimed at reducing the rate of drowning in the division through integrated and evidence-based approaches.

CIPRB has been developing a community owned, multi-sector, and evidence-led strategy to target the most vulnerable people with appropriate and sustainable water safety measures under Project BHASA. Evidence shows that a range of interventions is effective to in the prevention of drowning. 

This includes the provision of safe places such as day care centres for pre-school children, and teaching school-age children basic swimming skills, among others. 

The multi-sectoral nature of drowning prevention demands improved coordination among government, non-government, and international development partners. 

In a recent move, the government has drafted a Daycare Act aimed at widening the scope of services and encouraging private sector engagement in this sector. Bangladesh Early Child Care and Development Network has provided a reform proposal of the draft act and expects increased government investments. It also seeks to set up a coordination mechanism among concerned government agencies, led by the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MoWCA).

CIPRB has set up “Anchal,” an alternate form of childcare, which provides appropriate supervision for young children in a safe environment outside their normal homes in different parts of Bangladesh where children are mostly exposed to the risk of drowning. The organization has set up around 2000 “Anchal” in different parts of the country, where children can be dropped off at the start of a work day and retrieved later when parents are done with their work schedule. 

In a recent dialogue with multi-stakeholder agencies organized by CIPRB, the participants unanimously underscored developing a coordination mechanism to reduce the rate of drowning, where some of these issues were discussed:

  1. Integrate swimming techniques and drowning response elaborately in the existing training module for Integrated Management of Child Illness;
  2. Incorporate drowning prevention and rescue module in the Primary Teachers Training Institute curriculum and establish a follow-up mechanism to track the progress of the drowning and rescue session at school level;
  3. Incorporate drowning indicators with the existing Health Management Information System (HMIS), which would enable the updated status of drowning;
  4. Engage the front line Community Health Workers/Family Welfare Assistant/Health Assistant/NGO workers to promote drowning prevention interventions across communities;
  5. Engage community-based cadres of Directorate of Agriculture Extension, MoLGRDC and MoWCA with the drowning prevention interventions;
  6. Engage representatives of all media, both print and electronic, who are working in Barishal, to build social awareness on drowning prevention;
  7. Extend technical support so that the children of “Shishu Paribar” can learn swimming in partnership with Directorate of Social Services;
  8. Enhance awareness among parents about all possible sources of water where children could drown;
  9. Set up swimming training facilities in secondary schools and reintroduce swimming competitions among students. 

Sadrul Hasan Mazumder is a Policy Activist and can be reached at [email protected]