Childhood drowning: How safe are our swimming pools and theme parks?

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The Perak Clinical Research Centre of the Ministry of Health (MOH) has conducted extensive research on the drowning of children over many years.

Some 500 children drown every year in Malaysia and this is the second most common cause of death in Malaysian children aged one to 18 years.

This year we have obtained support from MOH to establish a National Registry on Drowning in Children, with a view to identifying areas we can work on in terms of prevention.

We would like to share one immediate area of concern that has emerged from the data.

From January to September 2017, there have been at least 31 childhood drowning events in swimming pools and theme parks. They have been reported from all over the country, with the largest numbers in Selangor, Kedah and Pahang.

The drownings have occurred in hotel swimming pools and water theme parks. The children were aged two to nine years, with 75 percent of them under five years of age.

These drowning events could have been prevented by better vigilance and adequate safety measures. Steps that need to be taken to prevent drowning include:

1. No child should be unsupervised in or near any body of water. This rule needs to be enforced especially at swimming pools and theme parks. No child should be allowed into the water without an accompanying adult.

2. Adequate numbers of trained lifeguards must be available at all swimming pools and theme parks whenever they are operational.

3. Children under five years should routinely be offered lifeguard approved flotation devices.

4. All swimming pools should have fencing around all four sides to prevent accidental entry by a young child.

5. Finally, teaching children to swim has been found to reduce drowning occurrence.

With the end of year school holidays just around the corner, we would appeal to parents, hotel managers and theme park administrators to increase their vigilance and review safety measures to prevent further drowning in children.

It is tragic for a young child to lose his or her life or be brain damaged by drowning when involved in a recreational activity.

This letter is sent by Dr Amar Singh HSS & Dr Kavita Jetly of the Clinical Research Centre Perak.

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