First aid

Updated 09 December 2013

Stop your kids from drowning

Water safety should come first this summer, especially when it involves your kids.

It’s that time of year when the sky has changed from misty grey to clear blue and the temperature from chilly to scorching hot.

Yes, summer is finally here!

And this means you’ll be enjoying the outdoors, engaging in water activities such as swimming, chilling on a yacht or a boat with friends, lazing in the sun or braaing, while enjoying the magnificent views and fresh air.

As always, thousands of South Africans will be lured to the great bodies of water the country has to offer – which is what summertime is all about.

However, with all the fun and pleasure, water activities also have their fair share of dangers.

Drowning ranks as the third unintentional cause of death worldwide and anyone can have a water-related accident, Arrive Alive said in a recent report.

James Ross, from Life Saving SA, told Health24 that there's a huge increase in water fatalities during the festive season, largely because of alcohol. "Most people are in a party mode, so they get drunk and go swimming, and that's when they drown." 

A total of 3 000 deaths were caused by drowning over the past five years, according to the Medical Research Council of South Africa, while Netcare 911 responded 102 drowning and near drowning cases between October and December 2011. And that figure rose to 218 in 2012. 

With an estimated 75% of all local drownings occurring among children aged under five, Peter Feurstein, Netcare 911’s Operations Director, says that it’s way too common to hear about a child having drowned or coming close to drowning.

Most child drowning cases occur in freshwater sources such as private swimming pools, rural dams and rivers, Feurstein added.

Globally the situation is just as alarming, with the World Health Organisation showing that children under five years have the highest drowning mortality rates worldwide.

Did you know?

Drowning is one of the top causes of unnatural death amongst children in South Africa, and the following points really bring the message home:

- 90% of children who drown are under supervision.

- Male children die in greater numbers than female children.

- For every child that dies from drowning, five are left with permanent brain damage.

- Toddlers are the most vulnerable to drowning.

- Coastal incidents mostly involve 10 to 18 year olds. 

- Inland incidents mostly involve 2 to 8 year olds.

Fun doesn’t have to be fatal

While water activities are essential to South African summers, poor supervision can have deadly consequences.

South Africa enjoys better weather conditions than most of the world, so it is important for all children to attend swimming lessons from a young age.

Lessons are relatively inexpensive and teach automatic response systems, such as floating. “Often a child drowns because he/she panics," Dr Victoria Roets, the Principal Medical Consultant for Netcare, said in a statement.

Parents and child-minders are encouraged to complete a basic life support course on what to do during an emergency.

 A safe water fun guide

- Be vigilant at all times around water.

- Keep a watchful eye on children in and around water.

- Never swim alone.

- Always swim near lifeguards.

- Make sure everyone in the family learns how to swim.

- If you have a pool at home, lock the gate and cover it with a pool net.

- Make sure that you know how to perform CPR.

- Avoid alcohol in and around water.

- Make sure toddlers wear arm bands or life jackets.

- Always wear a life jacket on a boat.

- Always keep toddlers in the shallow end of the pool.

- Discourage underwater breathing contests.

- If you're at the beach, watch out for giant waves.

For more information on water safety click here

For water safety and CPR courses, contact Netcare 911 at 011 695 9600, or visit their website.


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