Bangladesh is determined to stop a public health epidemic that kills 18,000 children every year: drowning. In Bangladesh, drowning is the leading cause of death for children aged one to 17, and causes 43% of deaths for kids between the ages of one and four—more than measles, cholera, diarrhea and pneumonia combined.
While children’s deaths from other causes in Bangladesh have significantly declined from 2004 to 2011 (pdf, p.4), drownings have remained steady, particularly during the monsoon season, which often causes floods in several areas of the country. Many kids die within 20 meters of their home, often while using ponds as a bathing place (a reported one-third of the country’s 160 million people do so). The Bangladeshi government set up an International Drowning Research Centre (IDRC), which has made mandatory swimming lessons part of its plan to stop this “silent epidemic.”
Swimming lesson programs have been held in the country by UNICEF in collaboration with SwimSafe, an NGO committed to reducing children’s deaths due to drowning. But according to the ministry of education, the lessons will now be made compulsory in schools, and ponds will be made appropriate to hold them, alongside university pools, particularly in urban areas where the deaths from drowning are higher.
Countries with a higher presence of bodies of water are more at risk, particularly in the Western Pacific South-East Asia regions, where the majority of drowning occurs. Drownings are a public health issue overwhelmingly affecting low- or middle-income countries where 91% of deaths related to water-related injury occur. In Bangladesh, the deaths happen mainly in rivers, urban ponds or holes that get filled with flood water, as kids who live on the coastal areas are better swimmers.