Updated 31 August 2016

Shocking number of children drowning daily

Netcare and Netcare 911 shed light on what can be done to save lives this summer.


Sometimes summertime fun in water can come at a high price. This is according to Netcare 911, which today announced that it had responded to more than 218 call outs to drownings and near drownings from January to October this year.

Netcare 911 Operations Director, Peter Feurstein, said this was most alarming given the fact that the long summer holiday still lies ahead; a time of year which historically includes large numbers of drownings. Last year (2011), Netcare 911 responded to 102 drowning and near drowning cases in October and December alone.

According to the Medical Research Council of South Africa, over the past five years, a total of 3 000 deaths caused by drowning were recorded in the country. In its Burden of Disease report the council noted that as children grew older, external causes such as road traffic injuries and drowning became more prevalent. “This is particularly among boys, who die in greater numbers than girls. This pattern becomes marked among the 10-14 year age group.”

“It is sadly all too common for us in South Africa to hear of a child having drowned or having come close to drowning,” points out Feurstein. “Taking the necessary precautions and knowing how to swiftly rescue a potential drowning victim can make a tremendous difference when it comes to saving lives.”

Toddlers are particularly vulnerable to drowning as they have no idea about the dangers of water and tend to be very inquisitive. Feurstein says that approximately 75% of all drownings in South Africa each year occur among young children under the age of five years. This is backed by a special report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicating that children under five years of age have the highest drowning mortality rates worldwide.

“Netcare 911 strongly recommends that if you have a pool, it should be covered with a pool net and surrounded by child proof fences. Such protection has been shown to significantly decrease the number of drowning incidents. If one has young children, vigilance is key in keeping them safe. Large numbers of children drown while swimming unsupervised in rivers, dams and the sea each year. Toddlers can even drown in a bucket of water or a shallow pond. It is therefore vital to keep a close eye on them at all times.”

Swimming lessons important

Dr Victoria Roets, Principal Medical Consultant for Netcare 911 says that 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. ‘Learn to swim’ lessons are relatively inexpensive and teach automatic response systems, such as floating. Often a child drowns because he/she panics.

Dr Roets asserts that all parents, childminders and others such as teachers who are involved with children daily, should complete a Basic Life Support course. “Knowing what to do in an emergency situation can save lives. It is particularly important to learn cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), an essential life-saving technique in drowning and other situations where a child has stopped breathing.”

Feurstein cautions that parents who want to do a First Aid or Basic Life Support course should make sure that it is offered by an accredited provider and that a certificate is supplied after the course has been completed. This will ensure that proper techniques are taught.

Dr Roets 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), who 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 staff arrive.
  • If the patient is not responding and not breathing, start chest compressions (30 compressions), then open the airway and give two breaths.
  • After five cycles of 30 compressions to two breaths, check for signs of life.

“The victim may have swallowed a large volume of water and may vomit once revived. Should vomiting occur, turn the patient 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 onto the side. It is of utmost importance that every patient is transported to hospital for medical care after a near drowning incident.”

Feurstein says in paediatric near-drowning cases Netcare 911 works as far as possible with medical facilities which specialise in this field such as Netcare Garden City Hospital in Johannesburg. Paediatrician Dr Miles Bartlett, who is an expert in child near drownings and runs the multi-disciplinary paediatric ICU at the hospital, follows the latest international best practice to achieve highly impressive results in the treatment of young near-drowning patients. Dr Bartlett and his team of highly trained medical professionals have created a closed ICU in which every medical professional is specifically trained in paediatric critical care.

(Press Release, November 2012)

Read More:

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CPR often leads to broken ribs

5 odd facts about swimmers




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