On the first World Drowning Prevention Day, advocates highlight the tragic and profound impact of drowning on families and communities and draw attention to life-saving solutions to prevent drowning. At least 236,000 people drown every year, and drowning is among the ten leading causes of death for children and youth aged 1-24 years.

More than 90% of drowning deaths occur in rivers, lakes, wells and domestic water storage vessels in low- and middle-income countries. Half of all drowning deaths are in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions. Rates of drowning deaths per 100 000 population are highest, however, in the Western Pacific region followed by the African region.

“Anyone can drown, no one should,” noted Etienne Krug, Director of the Department of Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organization (WHO). “I welcome the opportunity of this first World Drowning Prevention Day to increase attention and hasten action by governments and their partners to avert the pain and suffering caused by drowning, a largely preventable killer.”

In advance of World Drowning Prevention Day, WHO released the WHO Guideline on the prevention of drowning through provision of day-care and basic swimming and water safety skills. This guideline addresses: provision of day-care for children under the age of 6 years and provision of basic swimming skills and water safety training to children aged 6 years and older. Approved by the WHO Guideline Review Committee and intended for use by policy-makers and practitioners, the guideline issues strong recommendations in favour of both interventions for drowning prevention.

“Bloomberg Philanthropies has funded efforts to prevent drowning deaths since 2012,” said Kelly Henning, Public Health Program Lead, Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Despite progress in some settings including Bangladesh and Viet Nam, drowning remains a largely neglected public health issue. With the launch of this new WHO guideline, governments will be better informed and equipped to take steps needed to prevent drowning.”

As noted in the WHO Global report on drowning: preventing a leading killer, other evidence-based measures to prevent drowning in addition to those highlighted in the new WHO guideline include: installing barriers controlling access to water; training bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation; and setting and enforcing safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations. Improving flood risk management is another measure recommended by WHO, as flood-related disasters affect millions of people globally due in part to the escalating adverse impacts of climate change, with drowning being the main cause of deaths during floods. Two new status reports produced by WHO’s Regional Offices in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific reflect findings from 30 countries across the two regions, highlighting to what extent these strategies are being implemented.