Police divers search for a drowned diver at the mouth of the Liesbeek River in Paarden Island. Half of all drownings occur at home, research shows. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency/ANA
Police divers search for a drowned diver at the mouth of the Liesbeek River in Paarden Island. Half of all drownings occur at home, research shows. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency/ANA

Drownings on the rise in SA

By Lisa Isaacs Time of article published Jan 9, 2018

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The fatal drowning burden in South Africa is at approximately three per 100 000 people, but is increasing as a proportion of all non-natural deaths.

A systematic review of drowning in South Africa conducted by experts at UCT, CPUT and Lifesaving South Africa aimed to identify gaps in the knowledge base and priority intervention areas.

The research was published in the SA medical journal this month.

The drowning of two pensioners at the weekend has pushed the number of those who perished in water over the festive season to 14 in Cape Town.

Eleven of the deaths were recorded in non-bathing areas, the City said.

At the weekend, the drowning of a five-year-old boy in the pool of the Beacon Island Hotel shocked the community of Plettenberg Bay.

NSRI spokesperson Craig Lambinon said children swimming in the pool noticed an object under water, and on closer inspection realised it was a child.

The researchers analysed a total of 13 published research articles and 27 reports obtained covering data collection periods between 1995 and 2016, and largely focused on urban settings.

They found that drowning mortality rates are high in children aged 15 and under, and particularly in those aged five and under.

In the five years between 2011 and 2015, there were an average of 1541 drownings a year.

They also found that drowning mortality was consistently higher in males than in females across all included articles and reports.

With the exception of the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, where 76.4% of drownings occurred in the sea, approximately half of drowning incidents occurred in and around the home (Joburg 51.6%, Pretoria 46.7%).

This was particularly the case for young children, with 70% of drownings in children aged 0 to four years occurring in or around the home in buckets, bathtubs and pools.

They said there was very little exploration of risk factors such as activity prior to drowning and the role of alcohol consumption.

Few studies have reported on blood alcohol content at the time of drowning.

“The distribution of mortality across age groups and drowning location differs substantially between urban centres and provinces.

"There is therefore a need for detailed drowning surveillance to monitor national trends and identify risk factors in all communities,” the researchers said.

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