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Drowning in Numbers

Dhaka, 23 May 2012 – A new report states that although drowning is a leading killer of children across parts of Asia, highly effective and cost-efficient programmes to reduce such drowning deaths are not being sufficiently embraced.

“Child Drowning - Evidence for a newly recognized epidemic and its prevention” surveyed four countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand), together with two provinces in China (Beijing and Jiangxi).

The research, conducted by The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) in collaboration with UNICEF’s Office of Research, finds that in these countries one of every four child deaths (1-4years) are due to drowning - more than the number who die from measles, polio, whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria and tuberculosis combined. It also states that the cost of drowning prevention among children is no more expensive than interventions for these diseases.

“For too long drowning has been a hidden epidemic,” said Gordon Alexander, the Director of UNICEF’s Office of Research. “Over the past three decades countries have made strong, continuous progress on infectious disease reduction. However no impact has been made on drowning deaths. As a result, drowning is emerging as a leading cause of death for children after infancy (1year) in the countries surveyed for this report. And yet drowning is off the political radar.”

The report finds that the vast majority of the drowning deaths are preventable. They tend to occur within 20metres of the home and are the result of unsupervised children wandering off and falling into local water hazards. 

The report includes new evidence into prevention interventions in an operational research programme in Bangladesh, showing:
• Drowning death rates among children attending village crèches were reduced by more than 80 percent as a direct result of having adequate supervision.
• Drowning death rates in children 4 years and older who participated in SwimSafe (swimming and safe rescue training) were reduced by more than 90 percent.

“There is now solid evidence that interventions are cost effective, sustainable and can be scaled up,” said the report’s author Mike Linnan.

Child Drowning - Evidence for a newly recognized epidemic and its prevention states that drowning is not a new killer, but has remained undetected as a significant health issue due to counting methods. Previous figures resulted from a heavy reliance on reporting from hospitals and other health facilities. However, most children who drown are never taken to a health facility because their deaths are immediate, because facilities may be located far away from the community, or because those who may report the drowning fear financial repercussions.  Thus, the Report argues that numbers have been markedly underreported. (For instance, in Bangladesh there was a more than 300% difference between estimates from the Global Burden of Diseases (2004) report and this study, which interviewed parents in their homes, thereby counting child deaths directly at households within communities.)

“To further improve child survival, it is imperative that we take action to address drowning which is easily preventable,” said Pascal Villeneuve, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh. “We know that by investing more in awareness campaigns and equipping children and their parents with knowledge and skills - we can prevent the majority of these deaths.”

UNICEF’s Gordon Alexander said the research suggests governments and development agencies can do more to support drowning prevention interventions through scaling up early childhood education/crèche programmes, and with improved integration with ongoing public health, education and disaster risk programmes, together with better mapping of the true prevalence of drowning.

“This report makes clear that there is a serious – and until now, hidden – problem in the countries surveyed. It also provides evidence of affordable interventions that can save hundreds of thousands of children’s lives. We must now act where we have the evidence, and investigate whether similar underreporting and preventable deaths are happening elsewhere.” 


Read the full report - download from the UNICEF Office of Research website

B-roll footage (Raw Video footage), Raw Audio files with Bengali and English Sound-bite and Hi-res pictures from Bangladesh for free download are available here:
Download Video at
Download Audio file at
Download Hi-res pictures at

For more information, please contact:
• AM Sakil Faizullah, Communication Specialist, Communication, Advocacy & Partnership Section  Tel: (+88) 02 885 2266 Ext 7024, Mobile: (+88) 01713 049900, Email:
• Shima Islam, Chief, Communication, Advocacy & Partnership Section; Tel: (+88) 02 885 2266 Ext 7020, Email:

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.
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