WHO: "20,000 drowning deaths a year in Europe"

WHO: "20,000 drowning deaths a year in Europe"

"Drowning kills around 20,000 people every year in Europe. It may seem like a small fraction of the total global burden, but it is still the second leading cause of death for children aged between 5 and 14". It is the warning of Hans Klugeregional director of WHO (World Health Organization) Europe who warns: "These deaths are entirely preventable".

"Globally, WHO estimates that at least 236,000 people die from drowning every year. I say 'at least' because these numbers represent involuntary drowning. Based on the nature of the classification, they do not include drowning events related to water transport, environmental disasters, acts of self-harm or assault. This actually underestimates the global burden of drowning by 30 to 50 percent."

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Eastern countries are more at risk

The issue is being addressed on the eve of World Drowning Prevention Day, declared by the United Nations General Assembly with a particular focus on prevention. "Drowning is also a crucial equity issue, with a 20-fold variation in death rates across the 53 countries in the European region, with countries to the east generally having higher rates," Kluge noted in a statement.

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The accidents

"Most of us rarely, if ever, think of drowning as a public health hazard with a significant impact," Kluge argues. "But episodes like the recent capsize in waters between Greece and Italy of the small fishing vessel Adriana, crammed with hundreds of people seeking a new life in Europe, change perspectives. In that single catastrophe more than 600 people drowned together; most of the bodies will never be recovered. Much more commonly, however, men, women and children drown silently and alone in a variety of situations, such as jumping unsupervised into an unfenced backyard pool, getting caught in a rip current, sailing" or other activities "without the protection of a life jacket, falling into the water on your way home alone. The variations are endless."

Most exposed males in Europe

The epidemiology of drownings in the WHO European Region is also markedly different from the rest of the world. "Mortality from drowning in males aged 30-49 is the highest of all six WHO regions. This reflects the fact that drowning is more associated with aquatic recreation than with survival," he adds. hypoxic brain damage with lifelong consequences".

Alcohol and drownings

Europe also has the highest per capita alcohol consumption of any WHO region. And alcohol is causally associated with 26% of all drowning deaths in the European region. Last but not least, Kluge continues, "we have the migration crisis and its links with drowning. According to the Missing Migrants Project of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), around 34,000 people have drowned in the course of migration since data collection began in 2014". This represents 60% of all recorded migration-associated deaths and "of these, nearly four in five - 76% - occurred in the Mediterranean and the English Channel, both within the WHO European Region."

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But for Kluge, there are also signs that the issue of drowning is being placed more prominently on health and safety agendas. "In May 2023, the World Health Assembly adopted a landmark resolution on drowning prevention, supported by 72 countries, including 42 from the European region." "Next year, WHO will publish the Global Status Report on Drowning Prevention, which for the first time will document the burden of drowning in all Member States and document national prevention and response efforts. Guided by this new information, WHO will offer policies and practical options to help countries do even more," Kluge said. Objective: to draw constant attention to this phenomenon, not only when "the latest mass tragedy grabs the headlines too briefly".

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