SwimSafe: A community-based water safety and swim-learning program suitable for developing countries

TitleSwimSafe: A community-based water safety and swim-learning program suitable for developing countries
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsCox, R, Hossain, M, Dr. Rahman, F, Dr Rahman, A, Scarr, JP, Shafinaz, S, Uhaa, I, Dr. Linnan, M
Conference NameWorld Conference on Drowning Prevention
Date Published09/2007
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationPorto, Portugal
Other Numbers01-19

Context: Prevention of drownings in developing countries offers many challenges, among them lack of physical resources and technical capacity in water safety. Most drownings in these countries are in rural areas, where there is a lack of pools and certified water safety instructors and other resources usually integral to water-safety programs in wealthy countries. The challenge has been to devise appropriate and sustainable water safety programs that function effectively in the context of developing countries. One such water safety program in Bangladesh, SwimSafe, is meeting these goals and we seek partners to expand this to a national and regional scale.

Methods: The PRECISE Project (Prevention of Child Injuries through Social intervention & Education), is a UNICEF funded program in Bangladesh that covers 130,000 households in an operational research setting for child injury prevention. SwimSafe, a partnership between UNICEF Bangladesh, Center for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh, the Royal Lifesaving Society of Australia and The Alliance for Safe Children is a water-safety program that targets mothers of young children has been developed as a core component. The program aims to increase awareness of drowning risk in mothers in order to increase close supervision in early childhood and provides a venue for children to learn survival swimming skills at an early age in the village environment.

Results: The SwimSafe Program is demonstrating on a large scale, an effective, sustainable water safety and drowning prevention program suitable for low-resource countries. To date, over 120,000 families have been provided basic water safety information, and over 6,000 children have been trained for survival swimming. The cost for swim training, using available ponds in the villages is less than 3 USD per child. An early evaluation has shown a halving of drowning rates in early childhood, through increased supervision. Additionally, survival swimming rates in middle childhood are increasing significantly in the villages where the full program has been implemented. This is expected to decrease child drownings in these children as they progress through the rest of childhood.

Discussion/Implications: Current water safety programs as structured in wealthy countries are proven to be effective, but are too resource intensive to be used in developing countries. Given that drowning is the leading killer of children after infancy in developing countries, there is an urgent need to develop cost-effective programs that work in rural environments, are acceptable to parents in villages and are sustainable. The SwimSafe program appears to meet these criteria while being implemented as a pilot program. It needs to be scaled up to national level for final evaluation and we are seeking partners to help with this endeavor. If shown to be effective as a national program, it may provide a cost-effective way to address the regional issue of drowning being the leading killer of children after infancy in Asia.

Learning Outcomes
  1. Drowning is the leading killer of children after infancy in countries in Asia.
  2. It is possible to implement water safety and drowning prevention programs in rural environments in Asia that do not require the same resources as expected in wealthy countries.
  3. The program appears to be effective and sustainable as a large, pilot scale program.  It needs to be scaled up to national level for final evaluation of impact and cost-effectiveness.