Heavy summer rains are taking their toll in many parts of the country and, as temperatures soar in other regions, paramedics have warned that the number of reported drownings has increased.
Netcare 911's Nick Dollman said that there was a 100% increase in the number of drownings in Johannesburg in December 2008, compared to the previous year.
"Paramedics view drownings as preventable emergencies - the shocking 100% increase is cause for alarm," he said.
According to Dollman, the majority of drowning incidents attended by Netcare 911 occur in unprotected domestic swimming pools. He urged people with swimming pools to ensure that their pools are secured with physical safety barriers such as safety nets and/or pool fences, or electronic pool alarms/splash detectors.
Other domestic water hazards mentioned by Dollman included: Jacuzzis, fish ponds, water features, boreholes, buckets, large water bowls for pets and children being left unattended in the bath.
Anyone can become a statistic
Netcare 911's breakdown of drownings/near drownings attended to in December 2008 include:
- 56% in domestic swimming pools.
- 25% in public swimming pools (three public pools and one school pool).
- 12.5% incidents in dams.
- 6.25% involving buckets.
- 44% of the victims were under the age of ten.
- 25% of the victims were teenagers.
- 25% of these victims were older than twenty.
- One victim was not found in the dam where the incident allegedly occurred.
- 50% of the victims died at the scene.
"Last year the oldest drowning victim was in their nineties, and the youngest victim was a child who was only a few months old. They both drowned after falling into unprotected domestic swimming pools. This proves that anybody of any age, gender or background, and regardless of political, social or financial status can become a drowning statistic," said Dollman.
He added that in the majority of fatal incidents the circumstances surrounding the incidents were vague, which often "leads us to surmise that nobody saw the incident, and that possibly the victims were either unsupervised children, swimming alone (adults and teenagers) or in the case of the majority of young child-related incidents; they simply slipped away unnoticed".
"Children should be taught how to swim, and taught to ask permission before swimming. Children need to be supervised by an attentive adult while they are swimming," he stated.
Four drownings in 25 hours in Gauteng
Citing an example of the dramatic increase in reported drowning incidents, Dollman said that, in a space of 25 hours, between a Sunday afternoon and Monday afternoon, paramedics responded to four drownings in Gauteng.
At the first one an 11-year-old girl was found floating in a swimming pool at a resort in Krugersdorp. Bystanders had initiated CPR and paramedics arrived to find the girl in a critical condition. She was put on emergency life support and taken to hospital.
A few hours' later paramedics were called to an Alberton home where a 28-year-old man had apparently fallen into a swimming pool and was under the water for a short period of time. Fortunately he was stabilised and taken to hospital.
Later that night paramedics were called to a dam in Benoni where a man had apparently tried to fetch his dog after it went for a swim in the dam. Bystanders found the man vomiting on the ground next to the water and, thinking that he may have experienced a near drowning, they called for medical assistance.
The next day a three-year-old girl died after allegedly falling into an unprotected swimming pool in Waverly. Paramedics arrived to find her in cardiac and respiratory arrest and despite their efforts to resuscitate her, she died at the clinic.
"The summer season always sees a dramatic increase in the number of drowning/near drowning incidents," he said. The problem has been exacerbated by the recent thunderstorms and heavy rain experienced in many parts of the country recently.
"The most common words we hear are 'I don't know what happened' and 'I never thought that this would happen to me'," said Dollman.
Source: Netcare 911's Nick Dollman
(Amy Henderson, Health24, February 2009)
Kids, water and drowning
Drowning first aid