The second World Conference on Drowning Prevention was held in Danang, Vietnam a week ago. The Governor General and the Chief Justice of Australia were among the dignitaries, and there were 400 delegates from 50 countries including representatives from WHO, UNICEF, Safe Kids, etc.
Consultant surgeon Dr. Wijaya Godakumbura, who is well known for his burn prevention activities, made a presentation entitled ‘Drowning in a developing country in Asia: Its nature and the support that such countries need’. He concluded his talk with the following words:
“Those of us in Sri Lanka who are trying to prevent drowning would be grateful for any assistance that could be given to us.”
Drowning is a major global health hazard; it is referred to as the ‘silent killer’ because quite often the death occurs swiftly and silently. Over 90% of the deaths occur in developing countries where natural bodies of water like wells, rivers, lakes and the sea account for the majority of the deaths, whereas in developed countries it is children drowning in swimming pools.
What is tragic in these catastrophes is the fact that children and young adults are often the victims. Another feature is that, as in road accidents, alcohol plays a significant role in drowning among the youths in streams, lakes and the sea. Some die while trying to save a friend from drowning.
People jump into the water on impulse without any knowledge of rescue techniques and one death then becomes two or three!
In Sri Lanka, children drowning in unprotected wells and pits is not uncommon. According to media reports, four children had fallen into unprotected wells in February 2010 and three of them had died. Over 35,000 people died in the tsunami of 2004 and 30 in the floods of last January and February.
It is now universally accepted that ‘swimming training’ prevents many of the drowning deaths. Similarly, if people have a basic knowledge on resuscitation techniques – this could be done through TV programmes – it could be very handy because the ‘kiss of life’ administered by bystanders prior to the arrival of trained staff has saved many lives.
The above is done on a large scale even in some countries in our region like Bangladesh and Vietnam. Swimming training is being done in Sri Lanka, but this activity needs to be promoted along with demonstration of the ‘kiss of life’ on TV if we are too reduce the number drowning in Sri Lanka appreciably, which now stands at around 1,100 per year or three every day.