Statement of Dr Kidong Park on the occasion of the launch of child drowning prevention program in Viet Nam

Dr Kidong Park
26 June 2018

First I’d like to congratulate MOLISA for coordinating efforts with WHO, Global health advocacy incubator (GHAI) and project provinces for finalization of the joint work plan. I would also wish to express our thanks to Bloomberg Philanthropies for their generous support for global child drowning prevention efforts which Viet Nam is included.

Globally, Drowning is a major mortality risk factor for children globally with more than 140,000 deaths annually according to WHO in 2014. Majority of these deaths occurs in LMICs and mainly confined to children under 15 years old. More than half of drowning deaths are among the youth under 25 years of age, with the highest rate falling into the age group of children under 5. In the Western Pacific Region, drowning is the third leading cause of injury death overall; however, it is the number 1 killer among children aged of 5-14.

The child drowning burden in Viet Nam also mirrors the situation in Western Pacific Region as well as in other countries in the Asian Region such as Bangladesh and Thailand. Drowning among the group of children from 2-14 is the leading cause of all deaths in Viet Nam. Children in rural, poor areas have a higher risk of drowning than those in urban areas.

There are known risk factors for child drowning in Viet Nam such as the lack of survival swimming skills or effective supervision by adults. Lack of effective supervision is a major risk factor for child drowning. Results from a systematic review showed that 76% of drowned children are due to lack of adult supervision. Furthermore, 95% of drowning cases occurs during day time .

The abundance of open water hazards including ponds, wells, lakes, rivers and streams also adds to this problem. In addition, the availability of personal floating devices for passengers travelling on waterway transport is limited due to poor enforcement of regulations. Viet Nam is climatically affected by seasonal typhoons, floods and other natural disasters. These natural calamities also cause hundreds of drowning deaths each year in the country and many of them are children.

Drowning is preventable.

The Global Report on Drowning Prevention published by WHO in 2014 outlined proven measures that can be implemented or adapted by countries to prevent drowning in general and in children particularly. The recommended measures include: a) Strategic use of barriers to control access to water; b) providing safe places (such as day care centres) away from water for pre-school children, with capable day care; c) teaching school-aged children survival swimming and water safety skills; d) training bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation; e) Setting and enforcing safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations; and f) building resilience and managing flood risks and other hazards locally and nationally.

With support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, MOLISA together with GHAI and technical support from WHO, will be implementing key interventions for child drowning prevention, including effective supervision of children under 5 and teaching survival swimming and water safety skills to children from 6 to 15. Evidence from Bangladesh shows that effective supervision lowers the risk of drowning by 3.3 times compared with those without.

It is also important to acknowledge that people with swimming ability do still drown. This is particularly true in Viet Nam where typhoons and flash floods occur frequently in stormy seasons. However, as a risk reduction measure recommended by WHO, it is important to equip school-aged children with survival swimming and water safety skills. Teaching children survival swimming skills has shown that it does not lead to increased exposure or engaging in high-risk behaviours in the water.

In order to effectively reduce child drowning mortality, a multi-sectoral and a whole society approach needs to be implemented given the multi-dimensional nature of drowning. Drowning prevention strategies must be implemented in close alignment with national priorities to ensure equity, effectiveness and sustainability. Drowning prevention is now given an unprecedented opportunity through the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the overarching principle of leaving no one behind. The interconnectedness of SDGs goals will allow for drowning prevention strategies to address holistically the issues of inequity in children’s access to preschool care and education; or the provision of clean and safe water to communities.

The leader of Viet Nam expressed strong commitment together with other world leaders in 2015 to realise the SDG goals by 2030. It is now an opportune time for partners to work closely together for implementing evidence-based actions to end this preventable loss of lives and disabilities among children.

Thank you!