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Dec 5, 2018

Drowning in Belize: A Closer Look

Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide; it accounts for seven percent of injury-related deaths globally. But the World Health Organization says that the figure may significantly underestimate the actual public health problem.  Often times we report on incidents that happen across the country and our records show that at least fifteen deaths this year are due to drowning. But the public health threat is preventable as News Five’s Andrea Polanco finds out.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Water – it enables and enhances our daily lives. It supports our economy. But it can be life threatening. In Belize, drowning has accounted for fifteen deaths this year alone and our records show that just as many drowned in 2017. Children, males and persons in rural areas with increased access to water are most at risk of drowning. For the World Health Organization, drowning causes three hundred and sixty thousand deaths every-year. But it is a cause of death that is preventable. But for a country like Belize to address this growing public health threat, comprehensive and accurate data must be used.


David Meddings

Dr. David Meddings, Dept. Management of NCDs, Disability, Violence & Injury Prevention, WHO

“You need basic information about the circumstances surrounding every drowning event in order to make progress. Many countries have some degree of data collection but it is often insufficiently detailed to give a really clear idea of the circumstances surrounding the drowning. They may have a sense that x number of people drowned and die as a result of that drowning, and this was their age distribution but they will not have the necessary additional informational that will be useful for determining whether we have to look at targeting drowning involving children fallings into wells, children falling into irrigation canals, and what have you.”


The most recent victim of this unintentional death is sixteen-year-old- Lionel Bennett. He drowned in a pond in Ladyville Village. This year, nine others drowned either in rivers or open sea. And one person, sixteen- year-old Miracle Ojo, drowned in a swimming pool back in March.


Femi Ojo

Femi Ojo, Father of Deceased

“She is not the type that liked going out. That would her first time leaving the house for an outdoor programme. But on that fateful day, I realized that she was invited for her friend or her classmate’s birthday.   Unfortunately, when we got there we were able to see her tennis, long pants, and shirt. But amazingly none of them could tell us the whereabouts of Miracle. And for almost four hours we were looking for Miracle – where is Miracle?”


Miracle Ojo was at the bottom of the swimming pool – she died shortly after she was retrieved from the water. Many teens, like Miracle, swim at public swimming pools or go to the beach and rivers on weekends and holidays – but even though the sea and rivers are easily accessed in Belize – many locals don’t know how to swim. Over the years, different local organizations like the YWCA and YMCA offer swimming lessons to equip children with the skills to navigate the water, as well as training for life guards.


Clara Cuellar

Clara Cuellar, Executive Director, YMCA Belize

“This is very important to us because with all the incidents, accidents, and even drowning in our waterways we feel that it is very important to promote and push lifeguard. Because instead of telling our young people know water, we need to prepare them for the water all around us.   The schools with whom we partner directly, people are trying to slow down and not take trips to the cayes and the rivers because of the concern; so there is a big need for swim instruction and there is an even bigger need for life guard training so that we can have safety among all our young people and among our young groups.”


Between 2017 and 2018, as many as ten toddlers died due to drowning. They fell into either a well, vat or another water container. Less than three months ago, twenty-three month old Kelvin Sanchez fell into a vat in his family’s yard and drowned in Belize City.


Voice of: Willy Quinocte, Father of toddler

“Like something just told me just look inna the vat and so when I looked inna the vat, I see a red shirt. I took out my phone and put on the light.”



“And you saw your baby inside?”


 Voice of: Willy Quinocte

“Lying face down and I jump in the vat and took him out and start perform CPR. I was able to resuscitate him but all he did was spit out the water and I continue do CPR until the ambulance.”


But this kind of drowning is not unique to Belize. It is very common among low and middle-income countries.


Dr. David Meddings

“The peak rate of drowning that we see is among one to four year old children. So, the example that you gave of little children of this age going out and falling into well and other bodies of water is a very, very typical scenario that occurs every day across the world, but principally in low and middle income settings where we know over ninety percent of the world’s drowning mortality occurs.”


And you can help to prevent drowning among toddlers by implementing easy protective measures around your homes – including properly constructed play pens and cover for water sources.


Dr. David Meddings

“One thing is ensuring that there are barriers, simple barriers that control access to water. So, by that, I mean things like a simple bolt barrier across the doorway of a house to stop a child from being able to mobilize outside of their home. This can be a life saving intervention for a young child who might otherwise be able to move out of their home and mobilize freely within their natural environment. Another type of barrier would be simple four sided enclosure –a play pen where a mother and father would place a young child within while they are busy.”


And while that works for toddlers, for older children the WHO recommends that once they are in school, that they are given structured lessons to provide them with basic swimming skills from the age of eight. Reporting for news five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


In Thursday’s newscast, Andrea will have another report from Surat Thani, a province in Southern Thailand, where they have implemented a successful programme called Merit Maker to teach children and families to learn to swim from a young age. 

This story was made possible with support from the ICFJ-WHO Safety 2018 Reporting Fellowship Program and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

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