Drowning is a top killer in many developing countries, but has not received the attention it deserves, the World Health Organization said in its first exclusive report on the problem.
Drowning remains one of the top five causes of death among children between 1–14 years in 48 of the 85 countries the report considered.
Despite being highly preventable, drowning "has never been targeted by a global strategic prevention effort,” the authors wrote.
The problem primarliy plagues low and middle-income countries, which report more than 90 percent of drowning deaths or 372,000 people a year worldwide, 203,603 of whom reside in Asia Pacific.
Compared to other poor and developing countries, the problem is worst in Vietnam.
The WHO report said drowning is the leading cause of death in Vietnam among children aged 5 to 14.
Water claimed 796 children here in 2012.
Vietnam's Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs has said the number of child drowning is 10 times higher in Vietnam than in other developing countries and experience an average of nine fatal child drownings a day--the highest rate in Southeast Asia and ten times that of developed countries.
As a country with 3,260 kilometers of coastline, innumerable rivers, canals and ponds, Vietnam’s government has failed to make swimming lessons part of the standard school curriculum.
Most swimming classes are either held by charity groups in rural areas or private schools and centers in urban areas.
Since 2008, primary school teachers in the Mekong Delta’s impoverished Dong Thap Province have held free classes using makeshift swimming pools in the very rivers that routinely claim local children’s lives during the monsoon.
The WHO said drowning deaths are a global public health challenge as they kill nearly two thirds as many people as malnutrition and over half as many as malaria.
The report suggests efforts that can be taken on the community and government levels.
The group’s proposals for community-based actions include: installing barriers to control access to water; providing safe places such as day care centers for children, teaching basic swimming skills and safe rescue and resuscitation strategies.
The organization called for policy interventions including the adoption of improved boating, shipping and ferry regulations, better flood risk management and comprehensive water safety policies.
The WHO has also called for the implementation of more swimming programs like SwimSafe, which was a collaboration between The Alliance for Safe Children, the Royal Life Saving Society (Australia) and local institutions in Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam.
SwimSafe taught basic swimming skills and safe rescue strategies to rural children aged 4–12 years in controlled environments.
Between 2006-2010, the program showed a 93 percent reduction in fatal drowning among 79,421 participants compared to those in non-attending control groups.