First aid

22 March 2013

Emergency callouts for drownings increases

With the Easter holidays approaching and the amount of leisure time spent in or near water likely to increase, parents and those supervising children should be on high alert.


Netcare 911 responded to more than 320 call outs to drownings and near drownings last year and to more than 80 during January and February this year. During the most recent holiday period – from December 2012 to January 2013 – Netcare 911 saw an increase of 11% in the number of call outs compared to the previous year.  

Keep an eye on children

In response to this disconcerting trend, Netcare 911 chief operating officer Craig Grindell called on parents and childminders to be particularly vigilant over the Easter holidays.

“Make sure a close eye is kept on children at all times as many drown while swimming unsupervised in rivers, dams and the sea each year. Don’t assume that because children are of a particular age they can swim without supervision. Netcare 911’s statistics show inland areas report more call outs for children between the ages of two to eight years and coastal areas for those in the 10 to 18 year age category,” he says. 

 Toddlers, however, are still more vulnerable to drowning as they have no idea about the dangers of water and tend to be very inquisitive.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) fact sheet on drowning indicates that children under five years of age have the highest drowning mortality rates worldwide except in Canada and New Zealand, where the rates for adult males are higher.

Further precautions that parents can take are to make sure pools and ponds are covered with a pool safety net and surrounded by child-proof fences. Such protection has been shown to significantly reduce the number of drowning incidents.

 All parents, childminders and others, such as teachers who are involved with children daily, should complete a Basic Life Support course which offers cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), with a reputable training provider, advises Netcare 911. The recently launched Netcare Assist app for smartphones is also invaluable in an emergency as it literally provides assistance with a single swipe of your finger as well as a step-by-step guide on exactly what to do in case of a near drowning. 

 What to do in an emergency

Grindell recommends the following in the event of a near drowning:

  • Ensure the safety of the rescuer and remove the patient from the water.
  • Lay the patient on a firm flat surface and check for responsiveness and breathing.
  • Call an emergency medical services (EMS) provider, such as Netcare 911 (082 911), which will dispatch qualified staff to assist you. Start emergency medical care immediately while you are waiting for emergency medical staff to arrive. The call centre agent can offer valuable telephonic guidance until the emergency medical team arrives.
  • If the patient is not responding and not breathing, start chest compressions (30 compressions), then open the airway and give two breaths (breaths administered must result in chest rise for air entry to be considered adequate).
  • After five cycles of 30 compressions to two breaths, check for signs of life by the look, listen, feel technique – look for movement, listen for air passing through mouth or nose and feel for a pulse.
  • If the patient has swallowed vast amounts of water and vomits once revived, turn the victim on his or her side immediately.
  • If the victim has a pulse but is not breathing, continue rescue breaths. Give one breath every three seconds for children between one and eight years of age and one breath every five seconds to those over the age of eight. If both pulse and breathing have returned to normal, turn the victim on to the side.
  • Continue administering CPR until an advanced life support paramedic or doctor can take over treatment.

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