Child and adolescent drowning in Portugal

TitleChild and adolescent drowning in Portugal
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsNascimento, S, Botte, H, Galvão, S, Menezes, H, Rocha, E
Conference NameWorld Conference on Drowning Prevention
Date Published09/2007
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationPorto, Portugal
Other Numbers03-04

Drowning is the second leading cause of death in children in all Members States of European Union (WHO, 1996-2000ECSA, European Child Safety Alliance (2004). Priorities for Child Safety in the European Union: Agenda for Action. Amsterdam: ECSA (page 9). ISBN 90-6788-277-1) and in all OECD countries (UNICEF, 2001UNICEF (2001). A League Table of Child Deaths by Injury in Rich Nations.Innocenti Report Card,Issue Nº 2. Florence: UNICEF (page 11)). In Portugal, every year at least 30 child and adolescent die in result of a drowning (INE, 2002INE, Instituto Nacional de Estatística ( 2002). Relatório Anual de Mortalidade. Lisboa: 2002). It’s not known the number and consequences of non-fatal injuries. The specific conditions where drowning occurred were not known as well.

Since 2003 that APSI, Portuguese Association for Child Safety Promotion, undertakes research studies on all the drowning issues in Portugal to better understand the magnitude of the problemAPSI, Associação para a Promoção da Segurança Infantil (2006). Afogamentos de Crianças – Relatório 2005-2006. Lisboa: APSI (page 1 to 6):

  1. local studies in 3 Portuguese hospitals in different regions during 2003;
  2. a study in Faro-Algarve (south of Portugal) between 1998-2005; and
  3. a annual national study based on press clipping data since 2004.

Analysis of data showed that:

  1. most of the drowning occurred with boys (60% to 70% depending of the year and the country region);
  2. in the south of Portugal most of the drowning occurred in pools and in the centre and north Portugal most of the drowning happened in wells and tanks;
  3. in building environments, like pools, wells and tanks most of the drowning occurred with children until 5 years and in natural environments like rivers, lakes and dams most of the drowning occurred with children between 10 and 14 years of age; and
  4. most of the drowning occurred between May and August.

Based on this facts and considering that drowning in children have many risk factors it’s needed and urgent to implement different strategies in a complementary way if we want to reduce the drowning in children: use of fences and protective covers that delay the children access to water (in pools, wells…); use of safety equipments (like personal floaters devices and life vests); supervision and vigilance; and generalized first aid training, and life support. It is also needed a local intervention adapted to each region and their characteristics in terms of aquatic environment and life styles of the local population.

APSI is trying next to the Portuguese government to promote a regulation on pool fencing and to review the Portuguese law for protection of wells that is insufficient. Since 2003 APSI took over the Campaign “The death by drowning is quickly and silent” to increase awareness and knowledge of the problem of children drowning and to promote the implementation of strategies to assist on their reduction. This campaign includes a TV and radio spot, the distribution of leaflets with information.

Learning Outcomes
  1. Recognize that, in Portugal, drowning is an important cause of death in children.
  2. Understand that the type and conditions of drowning in Portugal are related with age of children and country region and type of aquatic environment.
  3. Understand that children drowning is a complex phenomenon with several risk factors.
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