World Drowning Prevention Day: Drowning remains dominant reason of child deaths
Contrary to popular belief, the most dominant cause children's deaths in Bangladesh is not malnutrition or diarrhoea.
It is drowning.
There is hardly a day when the media does not have report of child drowning to death, while the actual number of fatalities is far greater than what is reported.
A recent report by Society for Media and Suitable Human-communication Techniques (SoMaSHTe), a media development and communication focused organisation, paints a grim picture.
At least 1,402 people died by drowning in 875 incidents from January 2020 to June 2021, said the report.
Of them, 83 percent were children, said the report that was prepared by analysing news published in different national and local media.
SoMaSHTe's report showed nearly 514 of them were children aged below four, while 448 were aged between 5-9 years.
Most of the incidents occurred between morning and afternoon in water-bodies near their homes. Some 1,222 drowning victims were unattended, it added.
According to the WHO, 43 percent of the total number of children's deaths in Bangladesh occurred due to drowning. Every day, at least 30 under-five children die from drowning.
Despite such a huge number of fatalities, there is no plan or interventions on the government's part to prevent this dominant cause of death.
A report of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, released last month, suggested that drowning is highly prevalent in rural areas, where 10 percent of all deaths by drowning occur.
"The major reason behind deaths due to drowning is the wide exposure to water-bodies as 80 percent of drowning occurred in ponds, ditches and buckets, and within 20 meters of the victims' houses," said Dr Aminur Rahman, deputy executive director of Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB) and director of it's International Drowning Research Centre-Bangladesh.
He said there is a lack of awareness about how to supervise children.
Around 60 percent of the drownings occur from 9:00am to 1:00pm, and children of big families are twice as vulnerable to drowning, said Aminur.
On July 11, three under-five children drowned in two unions of Netrakona's Kalmakanda upazila. Each of them died when their family members were busy with household chores, and the children were exposed to the nearby ditches and ponds.
Aminur said, "We lack many sets of skills, such as swimming for children under five, rescue skills, and first aid management. The hospitals also lack structured protocol to handle patients of drowning."
Apart from building awareness, he said proven interventions by CIPRB, such as community day-care centres, can help prevent such deaths by providing institutional supervision to vulnerable age groups (under-five) at vulnerable times (9:00am – 1:00pm) through trained caregivers.
Besides, providing training for swimming and rescuing to children and supervisors can also help prevent such deaths, Aminur said, adding that an inter-sectoral coordination between several relevant ministries, swimming trainers and the community is necessary in this regard.
SoMaSHTe director Mir Masrur Zaman said the government should develop a nationwide strategy and make long-term investments based on learnings from proven interventions such community-based childcare centres to prevent children from drowning.
"The government should also promote the best practices for childcare centres with special focus on creative incentives for maintaining quality and effective care," he added.
Contacted, Fazilatun Nessa Indira, state minister for the women and children affairs ministry, said her ministry has already identified the child-drowning deaths as a serious concern and has submitted a detailed project pro-forma to the Planning Commission prioritising prevention.
It will be approved shortly, she said.
"But the ministry cannot implement drowning prevention activities alone. We need to collaborate with other ministries like those of education, health, local government and social welfare," she said.
According the her ministry, the Tk 309 crore project for this will cover two lakh children from 16 districts through 8,000 childcare centres and will provide education and training by both national and international NGOs.
Health directorate officials said they are trying to revive a previous action plan that they submitted to the health ministry in 2019 in this regard.
The plan included the development of day-care facilities to improve child supervision so that their exposure to waterbodies could be reduced, said Prof Robed Amin, line director of Non-Communicable Disease Control of the Directorate General of Health Services.
Mustaqim Billah Farooqui, additional secretary of the Local Government Division, said since drowning is a dominant cause of children's deaths in rural areas, representatives of local bodies can play an effective role in creating awareness to limit their exposure to nearby water-bodies.