ASIA: Child Drowning - Evidence for a newly recognised cause of child mortality in low and middle income countries in Asia

A report released by The Alliance for Safe Children and UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre reinforces the notion that child drowning is a hidden epidemic across many countries in Asia.

The report titled Child Drowning – Evidence for a newly recognised cause of child mortality in low and middle income countries in Asia (attached) is the second in a series which first pointed to the magnitude of child injury deaths across five countries; Vietnam, Bangladesh, China, the Philippines and Thailand.

This new report focuses specifically on drowning, outlining evidence that it is a bigger problem than official records show, that there are now interventions proven in the LMIC context, and outlining the challenges of raising national, regional and global action.

The report highlights that drowning is a leading killer of children after infancy, and must be considered by policymakers in this public health context. Ambassador Pete Peterson, President of The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) states “there is no difference whether a child dies from measles, diarrhea, pneumonia or drowning; it is equally tragic. Like these other causes, child drowning is a leading cause of death in children and now that we know it is equally preventable, it is time to act.”

The report’s author, Dr Mike Linnan, TASC Technical Director states that “The significance of this TASC/UNICEF report on child drowning, comes not only in evidence that shows the extent of the issue but that finally there is solid evidence to show that child drowning can be prevented in LMICs.”

Much of the report is based on research conducted with partners – the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research – Bangladesh. Child drowning in Bangladesh, especially in rural areas, is up to 40 -50 times higher than rates evidenced in high income countries such as Australia. When first recognised, child injury experts knew that carefully planned, monitored and researched interventions were urgently needed.

The report outlines interventions including SwimSafe – a survival swimming programme that is being delivered by TASC, Royal Life Saving and partners in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Thailand, as well as the provision of crèche programmes to protect children aged 0-5 years prior to school entry.

Australian drowning prevention organisation, Royal Life Saving Society – Australia has been a partner in this ground breaking research since its inception in 2005. “Initially the focus was on building a swimming and water safety program that could be delivered in an environment without pools, instructors, community awareness or lifesaving organisations. We are pleased that the programme is now almost entirely self-sufficient. There are now Bangladesh and Viet Nam SwimSafe Instructors that would do very well in an Australian Swim School” said Justin Scarr, Co-author and Chief Operating Officer, Royal Life Saving Society – Australia.

Whilst the programme in Bangladesh has been supported by UNICEF Bangladesh, it was the Australian Government who recognised the importance of continuing this child drowning research in recent years.  “The Australian Government has shown true leadership in the prevention of drowning in developing countries. Through AusAID, it has supported an International Drowning Research Centre in Bangladesh, is funding drowning prevention programmes in Bangladesh and Viet Nam and sponsored the 2011 World Conference on Drowning Prevention in Danang, Viet Nam,” said Mr Scarr.

Components of the TASC/UNICEF report were presented at the World Conference on Drowning Prevention 2011 held in Danang, Vietnam. Delegates to this conference, hosted by RLSSA and TASC debated the need for increased collaboration in order to elevate the drowning issue at national, regional and global levels.

Key recommendations from the report for drowning prevention and child health organisations include:

  1. Raise the issue of drowning in Asian LMICs, given that the number of child fatalities is significant and may affect achievement of the MDGs on child mortality
  2. Emphasise the linkages between drowning and injury prevention with early childhood development.
  3. Support drowning-prevention programme integration (survival swimming, for instance) with on-going public health programmes across sectors such as maternal and child health, education, disaster risk reduction, rural development, water and sanitation. All these sectors have existing infrastructure and capacity.
  4. Develop and initiate public awareness campaigns targeting children, caregivers and communities. Campaigns should take into account the two separate epidemics of child drowning: that which affects children under age four, which requires a focus on parents and other caregivers; and drowning among older children, which happens further from home in the community and require a focus on children themselves.
  5. Deaths only count when they are counted:
    - Use community-based methods in order to get an accurate count of drowning deaths.
    - Include drowning as an indicator in mortality and health surveys. There is a need for the inclusion of drowning indicators in programme management systems at national, regional and global levels.


Further Information:

Owner: The Alliance for Safe Children and UNICEF Innocenti Research Centrepdf:



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