Drowning: leading cause of child death in Bangladesh, proactive public policies needed to save lives

Drowning is one of the leading causes of child death in Bangladesh, if properly addressed thousands of lives will be saved each year. Therefore, the government needs to be more proactive in adopting and enforcing policies that ensure protection of children.

This came up in an orientation for journalists held today in Dhaka. Society for Media and Suitable Human-communication Techniques (SoMaSHTe), with support from Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI), organised the event titled “Media Campaign to Prevent Child Drowning” at The Daily Star building, where 20 journalists from different media outlets participated.

Dr. Aminur Rahman delivers his speech in the orientation.

Dr. Aminur Rahman delivers his speech in the orientation.

“Bangladesh has a commitment to reduce the under-5 mortality rate to 25 by 2030 to achieve the target related to child morality of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Apart from deaths caused by diseases, many children die due to drowning in Bangladesh which is very much preventable. By raising awareness and taking collaborative actions, it is possible to save many lives from drowning,” said the experts in the program.

Muhammad Ruhul Quddus, Country Lead of Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI)  informed that the prevention of different diseases responsible for child deaths has been included in the global targets of SDG, but it somehow missed any action to address the drowning deaths. If no measure is taken to prevent drowning deaths, it likely to be difficult to get rid of high child mortality rate.

The participants also discussed that the flow of the drowning related news in news media is considerably low. There is no systematic national and local information system in place to collect drowning related information. Besides, the reports published or broadcasted in different media are mostly based on single incidents. There is a lack of in-depth media stories on this issue. In this relation Sarwar E Alam, Advocacy  and Communications Manager, Global Health Advocacy Incubator said ”If media houses run more in-depth stories, then the issue will draw the attention policy actors and other concerned, which can lead to the development and implementation of the national program on preventing drowning deaths”.

Journalists and experts attended the event.

Dr. Aminur Rahman, Deputy Executive Director, Center for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh (CIPRB) said, “Even with the death of lots of children, this issue could not get priority to the planning and policy level of the government. Therefore, there is no effective national initiative from the government part.” He informed that CIPRB has been working for preventing child drowning death since 2005 through strengthening local capacity. “We have seen that poverty, unawareness, and lack of institutional initiative are the main causes for child drowning death. Drowning death occurs within 20 meters from the living house. Most incidents of child drowning occur in ditches and ponds in rural areas. Lack of supervision is a key risk factor for child drowning. Some 60% accident occurs between 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. when parents are busy with their household or other works.”

With reference to a recent research paper of John Hopkins University and ICDDR,B, he said, “if we can take care of our children especially at the first half of the day, we can prevent 70% of child drowning deaths. Community-based daycare centre, tested in the different parts of the country, has been proved very much effective to prevent our children from drowning. Besides, daycare center is also helpful for physical and mental stability of the children.”

The orientation program recommended that the government should develop a nationwide strategy to prevent child drowning, learning from proven interventions targeting those most prone to risk. Committed, long-term investment based on learning from the proven intervention such as community based childcare center is essential. Government should also promote best practices for childcare centers with special focus on creative incentives for maintaining quality and effective care.

Based on drowning incidents published in the media, SoMaSHTe found that some 448 people died in 250 drowning incidents this year from 1 January to 15 November 2020. Of them 317 (70.75%) are aged bellow nine years. Among the deceased, 169 were girl child and women. Most of the victims went to nearby water bodies while they were unattended. The highest number of death occurs in August, 102.

Drowning is the second major cause of injury-induced deaths worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) accounts that globally 359,400 children die due to drowning. Twenty percent of them are under the age of five. In terms of the under-five child mortality rate, Bangladesh is one of the vulnerable countries. Drowning alone claims 43% of the total deaths for children aged between 1 and 5.

WHO also estimated that in Bangladesh, an average of 50 children die due to drowning per day, 32 of them are aged below four. As per this estimate, total annual deaths stand around 12,000. Furthermore, 13,000 children suffer a permanent disability due to drowning related injuries. Moreover, 100,000 children get injured due to drowning.

The orientation for journalists was also facilitated by Mir Masrur Zaman, Director of SoMaSHTe and Senior News Editor of Channel i.