World / Asia-Pacific

Drowning first killer of toddlers in parts of Asia

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-05-23 16:48

DHAKA - A new research report finds that one in every four children across parts of Asia dies from drowning, more than the number of kids who die from measles, polio, whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria and tuberculosis combined.

The research, conducted by the Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) , a Thai-based organization that works to reduce the number of preventable child deaths in Asia, in collaboration with the Office of Research of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), states that the cost of drowning prevention among children is no more expensive than interventions for these diseases.

Although drowning is a leading killer of children aged 1 to 4 across parts of Asia, highly effective and cost-efficient programs to reduce such drowning deaths are not being sufficiently embraced, says the report which was unveiled here by UNICEF through a media statement.

"Child Drowning -- Evidence for a newly recognized epidemic and its prevention" surveyed four countries, namely Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, together with two places of China, Beijing and Jiangxi.

"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 (1 year) in the countries surveyed for this report. And yet drowning is off the political radar," he added.

According to the statement, the report finds that the vast majority of the drowning deaths are preventable. They tend to occur within 20 meters of the home and are the result of unsupervised children wandering off and falling into local water hazards, it said.  

"To further improve child survival, it is imperative that we take action to address drowning which is easily preventable," said Pascal Villeneuve, the 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," he said.

Alexander said the research suggests governments and development agencies can do more to support drowning prevention through scaling up early childhood education/crche programmes, and with improved integration with ongoing public health, education and disaster risk programmes, coupled 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."

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