Ignorance, inaction and apathy drowns 500 children every year ― Amar Singh HSS and Krishnan Rajam

JULY 1 ― It is often amazing as to our lack of appreciation of the real problems facing our children. If you were to ask Malaysians what are the major health threats to our children, what kills children, the majority would respond: infections or dengue or cancer. Even the majority of doctors may say the same.

The reality is very different. If you put aside premature babies and those born with congenital defects (like a hole in heart) who usually die in the first month or year of life, the major cause of death in children aged 1-18 years is injuries.

900-1,000 children die on our roads and 300-350 die from drowning every year. This letter is to focus our attention on childhood drowning deaths and push for prevention.

Every year more than 500 children in Malaysia drown. Of these 300-350 die and the remainder get brain damage or escape unharmed. No disease kills our children like drowning does. Every year less than 30 children die of dengue (27 deaths in 2014) but more than 300 die of drowning. For every 1 child that dies of dengue more than 10 will die of drowning. Yet when we think of our child’s health, we are more worried about dengue than drowning. Why?, perhaps it is because we perceive drowning as an accident and hence unpreventable. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To take action it is important that we understand how, where and which children drown. A recent national study on childhood drowning in Malaysia, conducted at the Clinical Research Centre Perak and supported by the World Health Organisation, showed that:

·         More boys than girls drown (3.5 to 1), except for young children in the home.

·         Children aged 1-14 years are more likely to drown.

·         As expected a higher rate in east coast regions (Terengganu and Kelantan) during the monsoon months (but underreported from Sabah).

·         At recreational areas (river, sea, pond) for older children.

·         At home in pails, drains, bathrooms for younger children.

(Ref: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17457300.2013.792284?journalCode=nics20)

What can we do to protect our children from drowning?

1.    We have proposed that a National Drowning Registry be established. This is vital to help us understand the mechanism of drowning and assist in monitoring the effect of any interventions.

2.    We need to teach our children that they should not to attempt to save other children who are drowning but call for help. This is because the data shows that many children die while trying to save siblings or friends.

3.    Parents must supervise children continually at all water-based recreational areas.

4.    Parents and child minders must audit their homes for water hazards (wells, buckets, bathtubs, water collection devices, etc). These need to be removed, covered or barriers installed. More than 200 drownings occur at home.

5.    Finally “vaccinate” your child against drowning by teaching them how to swim. The evidence has clearly shown that children who can swim are less likely to drown.

This year Malaysia hosts the “World Conference on Drowning Prevention“ in Penang on November 4-6, 2015. We invite you to come and join us to learn more on how to keep our children safe.

While we focus on many legitimate health needs like infections, it is vital that as a nation we take concerted action to reduce this huge killer of our children.

*Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, Head Paediatric Department, Hospital Ipoh & Head Clinical Research Center Perak and Professor Dr Krishnan Rajam, Head, Department of Family Medicine, Penang Medical College.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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