Childhood Drowning: How Safe are our Swimming Pools and Theme Parks?

The Perak Clinical Research Centre of the Ministry of Health has conducted extensive research on drowning in children over many years. Five hundred children drown every year in Malaysia and this is the second commonest cause of death in Malaysian children aged 1 to 18. This year we have obtained support from MOH to establish a National Registry on Drowning in Children with a view to identify areas we can work on in terms of prevention. We would like to share one immediate area of concern that has emerged from the data.

From January to September 2017 there have been at least 31 childhood drowning events in swimming pools and theme parks. They have been reported from all over the country with larger numbers from Selangor, Kedah and Pahang. The drownings have occurred in hotel swimming pools and water theme parks. The children were aged 2-9 years, with 75% under < 5 years of age.

These drowning events could have been prevented by better vigilance and adequate safety measures. Steps that need to be taken to prevent drowning include:

  1. No child should be unsupervised in or near any body of water. This rule needs to be enforced at especially at swimming pools and theme parks. No child should be allowed into the water without an accompanying adult.
  2. Adequate numbers of trained life guards must be available at all swimming pools and theme parks whenever they are operational.
  3. Children under 5 years should routinely be offered life guard approved flotation devices.
  4. All swimming pools should have fencing around all four sides to prevent accidental entry by a young child.
  5. Finally teaching children to swim has been found to reduce drowning occurrence.

With the end of year school holidays just around the corner, we would appeal to parents, hotel managers and theme park administrators to increase their vigilance and review safety measures to prevent further drowning in children. It is tragic for a young child to lose their life or be brain damaged by drowning when involved in a recreational activity.

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, Head
Dr Kavita Jetly, Medical Officer (Research)
Clinical Research Center Perak

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