Friday, July 15, 2016

Myanmar - Drowning still a leading cause of death, prevention not a govt priority

As rainy season descends, children are increasingly at risk for one of the nation’s biggest preventable killers – drowning.

Already police have tallied 132 deaths by drowning in Yangon Region alone in the first five months of the year.

“Last year, there were 317 drowning cases reported [in Yangon Region]. This year, there have been 132 cases from January to May, including 14 females and 118 males. The cases include many children who died after falling into water,” said a police captain of the Yangon Region Police Force who asked that his name not be used.

According to the World Health Organisation’s Global Report on Drowning, drowning ranks among the 10 leading causes of death of children in every region of the world, but Southeast Asia is particularly at risk, with the highest rate of child drowning fatalities.

The WHO called the issue “a serious and neglected public health” threat that garners less attention than many communicable disease, yet is the third leading cause of unintended deaths globally after car accidents and falls.

According to Myanmar’s Health Management Information System, drowning is the leading cause of injury deaths in the country, with 1257 to 1511 deaths per year since 2005.

More than 90 percent of the estimated 372,000 drowning around the world each year occur in middle- or low-income countries, with children under five and males disproportionately affected.

The police have not disaggregated the Yangon Region data for the ages of the victims, but four incidents within the first two weeks of June highlight the danger for infants.

According to the police, the incidents most often occur when children are bathing or playing near a river, stream or lake, but also happen when children wander off and fall into puddles or flooded areas near their homes.

On June 5, a child went with his father on a trip to buy farming equipment in Twante. While the father was negotiating the deal, the child drowned.

In Dala township on June 14, an eight-month-old baby was left with his 10-year-old brother while their parents went to the Kyan Sitt Thar ward market. The children, Ko Bo Bo Aung and Ko Aung Htoo Myaing, went outside to play. The baby, Ko Aung Htoo Myaing, got lost and was found dead in a five-foot puddle, according to a police report filed by Police Lieutenant Thet Naing.

In another incident on June 13, a one-year-old child from Kyauktan township, who was sleeping with her mother, crawled out of bed and died in a puddle in front of their house.

In the same week, a 10-year-old riding a bicycle on the Mawtin Kaing Dan jetty bridge slipped, fell and died.

“By looking at all the reports, the cases involve mostly infants and children up to 10 years old. Teenagers also skip school to swim in dams, rivers and streams with their friends and die,” the police captain said.

Various surveys have found that parents or guardians are often nearby during the deadly accidents. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, in 10 percent of all drowning cases adults witness the incident but do not recognise the signs of what is occurring.

Stereotypes of drowning symptoms – such as thrashing about and gasping for air – are not actually indicative of the real, often less dramatic event. Drowning victims are almost always unable to call out for assistance, and cannot, except in rare circumstances, wave for help.

Health officials suggest preventative measures, include educating parents and caregivers about the signs and symptoms of drowning as well as how to respond in an emergency situation.

Dr Aung Thein Htay, a trauma project manager at the Ministry of Health, said that while training bystanders on rescue and response efforts is important, the department is not able to focus on drowning when traffic accidents are the number-one killer.

“We cannot do a lot of activities or campaigns around drowning because vehicle accidents are the priority,” he said. “Now we are trying to compile a list of [drowning] patients who came to the general hospitals in Yangon, Mandalay, Magwe and Nay Pyi Taw.”

Nurse Daw Phyu Phyu Aye from Thaketa township suggested parents take action by creating barriers to separate children from water.

“In houses with children the floors must be repaired … Wooden dowels can be made to put at the bottom of doors so children cannot get out unsupervised,” she said. “These cases are preventable and should not happen.”

Toe Wai Aung

Translation by Khine Thazin Han and San Layy, additional reporting by Shwe Yee Saw Myint and Laignee Barron

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