Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury death among children in Bangladesh, but the country is yet to have a national drowning prevention strategy.
The rate of deaths from drowning is much higher in rural areas compared to that in the cities. However, the incidents of child mortality by drowning in Dhaka city are not less.According to Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey (BHIS-2016), drowning is the leading cause of death among children aged 1-17 in Bangladesh, with approximately 14,438 children dying each year.
Every day, as many as 40 children drown, according to BHIS-2016, a comprehensive survey conducted by Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB) in association with Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
In 2003, according to the BHIS-2003 report, a total of 16,892 children aged 1-17 years drowned, 46 per day on average.
Child mortality rates by drowning have remained largely unchanged from 2003 to 2016.
Drowning rates are high among infants, peak when they are 1-4 years old, fall rapidly in their childhood and adolescent period and then remain relatively low throughout the rest of life.
Researchers found that most of the drowning incidents in Bangladesh occur at between 9:00am to 2:00pm when mothers usually remain busy with their household chores.Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB), is the only organisation working on to address drowning since its inception in 2005.
Considering the high mortality rate in water, CIPRB had taken up a research project, called ‘BHASA’ in 2017. Project BHASA is bringing about dramatic result in reducing such immature deaths in the areas of Barisal.
The project includes day care centres or community crèche, swimming training, awareness development programme for students studying in schools and training people about Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) to a drowned patient as first aid.
CIPRB, with the financial support of Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) of United Kingdom, has taken up the pilot project ‘BHASA’ to prevent drowning.
CIPRB also involved the administration, Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense (FSCD) and Bangladesh Ansar and VDP in the project.
While visiting Kalapara and Taltali upazilas of Patuakhali and Betagi upazila in Barguna, it was seen that the remote villages have a good number of day care centres called ‘Anchal’ where 1 to 5 year children are kept under the care of two women - an instructor (called Anchal Mother) and her assistant.
They give these most vulnerable age groups drowning lessons on alphabet, nursery rhymes, etc, from 9:00am to 1:00pm, the time when incidents of drowning of children under five occur most.
Alongside the day care centres for children who cannot be taught swimming, drowning prevention programme – SwimSafe – for children aged between 5 and 12 is undertaken, plus a 21-step swimming training programme.
Swimming pools are hardly available even in city, in small town or village, but there are ponds in every village that can be turned into places for swimming training.
CIPRB developed a bamboo-made structure with two segments: the inner one with a platform (also bamboo-made) where the children can stand up to their naval-deep water safely and can learn the 21 steps in swimming lessons by two paid female instructors. The outer one has deeper water with fences covering 12.5 meters.
The children who can swim at a stretch two times this distance—25 meters are the standard length—are taken to be graduated in swimming.
Besides Anchal and SwimSafe, another section of this research is school awareness programme.
Trained by the CIPRB trainers, members of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence give extra classes in schools to raise awareness.
During a visit to Betagi Government Pilot High School, it was found that both boys and girls students of class VII were listening the speech of Civil Defence member about the do’s and don’ts to avoid a tragic drowning incident.
The Ansar and VDP members are also taking training from the CIPRB experts on methodical Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) of a drowned patient through an agreement signed between CIPRB and Bangladesh Ansar and VDP.
Dr Aminur Rahman, director of International Drowning Research Centre-Bangladesh (IDRC-B) at CIPRB, said: “Drowning prevention projects ‘BHASA’, already piloted by the CIPRB, have yielded good results.”
“A community creche takes after children while their mothers do their household chores. This has reduced the drowning risk of children by 82 percent while another project teaching older children how to swim has reduced the chance of drowning by 90 percent,” he added.
Dr Aminur Rahman said once the period is over in 2022, it will be the government that would have to take up these preventive programmes.
Dr Abdur Rahim, director of health, Barisal division, said CIPRB project is a good initiative, and acknowledged that had the organisation not been there with their research, it would not have been possible to know that drowning is causing so many deaths in Bangladesh.
Dr Abdur Rahim, also chairman of the divisional steering committee of Project BHASA, added that Bangladesh’s health department does not have the required health personnel to address drowning at the grass-roots level.
Dr Abdur Rahim called for multi-sectoral involvement if and when the government takes up this project from CIPRB.
Sadrul Hasan Mazumder, policy advocacy activist of CIPRB, told daily sun: “We have done social autopsy of every drowning incident. It is usually found that the mother or the guardian of the dead child puts the blame on themselves and this might be one reason why the media ignore drowning.”
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), Drowning is a serious and neglected public health threat, claiming the lives of 372 000 people a year worldwide.