Facts and Figures about Drowning - Data from the Netherlands

TitleFacts and Figures about Drowning - Data from the Netherlands
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication1997
AuthorsBierens, J
Conference NameInternational Medical-Rescue Conference
Date Published09/1997
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationSan Diego, California, USA
Call Number04
Other Numbers018

During the 17th and 18th century, the shape of the "low countries near the sea", that finally became the Netherlands, was outlined by seas, lakes and rivers. Dutch ships were omnipresent at the world's oceans. Drowning was the major cause of accidental death for the Dutch at that time. Many died from drownings during floods, sea-battles, shipwrecks, work, leisure or by accident: during one night in 1790, about 90 persons drowned in the canals of foggy Amsterdam, at that moment a city of approximately 200,000 inhabitants.

The large number of drowning victims and the absence of humanitarian aid to drowning victims motivated a group of citizens in Amsterdam to install the Maatschappij tot Redding van Drenkelingen (The Foundation of the Rescue of Drowned Persons) in 1767. The main aim of the organisation was to promote any activity to prevent death by drowning and to reward courageous acts by persons who had saved drowning victims. The instructions published by the Maatschappij were the first official resuscitation guidelines world-wide. The Amsterdam initiative was promptly followed in several cities in Europe and America (Philadelphia in 1780, Boston in 1786, New York 1794).

The absence of scientific knowledge about anatomy, physiology and medicine was an important problem at that moment. For example: the existence of oxygen in air and its essential role in life processes was only accepted by a few scientists. Terms as ventilation, hypoxia, circulation and cardiac arrest were not known or had a different meaning than nowadays.

Lack of basic medical knowledge resulted in a variety of techniques to bring the apparently dead persons back to life.