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Make sure your child is safe

One would think that, over the summer holiday season, South Africa’s coastal areas experience the greatest increase in drowning incidences. But the latest statistics from the emergency medical services provider, Netcare 911, indicate an interesting trend.


It might not be your child, it might not even be your pool, but look away for 30 seconds and it might already be too late.

Netcare 911 receives more calls relating to drowning and water related emergency incidents from the country’s inland provinces than it has for the coastal areas. According to Peter Feurstein, Netcare 911’s Regional Coastal Operations Manager, many of the calls received from the coastal provinces, involving children, resulted from freshwater sources such as public and private swimming pools, rural dams and rivers.





There is also a noticeable trend in terms of the age differences of the children involved in these incidences. “There seems to be a definite distinction between inland and coastal incidents. Coastal incidents seem to be involving the age group of 10 to 18 year-olds more predominantly whilst, inland, the greatest number of incidents involve the 2 to 8 year-old age bracket,” says Feurstein.

Nick Dollman, a safety officer and spokesperson for Netcare 911’s incident management unit in Gauteng, confirms the alarming statistics being shown through this trend: “In Johannesburg alone, Netcare 911 has attended to 17 victims including fatal drowning and near drowning emergencies, 12 of these involved children under the age of 10, two were teenagers and three adults.”

Feurstein believes that this trend can be explained by the fact that warning campaigns about water safety are seemingly more adhered to, as well as the heightened sense of awareness, in the coastal areas. During last year’s holiday season, for instance, the Vodacom Netcare 911 Surf Rescue Service where five helicopters were made available to volunteer rescue workers from the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), Lifesaving SA and Netcare 911.

Dollman agrees, especially as his team in Gauteng have picked up on the fact that most of the drowning incidences they have been called out to involved the children of people who are not used to being around swimming pools.

He explains: “These past two weeks we attended to several children of domestic workers who had drowned, or nearly drowned, at their parents’ place of work. Some of these children are from other provinces and come to visit their family for the holidays and are not familiar with swimming pools or the hazards that lie within. Interestingly, as many of the employers do not have small children themselves, their pools are not protected, which leads to avoidable tragedies.”

But swimming pools, even those where permanent lifeguards are on duty, are not the only places where children can easily drown. 90% of children who drown are under some sort of supervision at the time.

Dollman warns that a small child can easily drown in only a few hundred millimetres of water. “We have even attended to a child who had fallen into a large plastic bucket that was being used to clean nappies. Parents and childminders should be aware of all the water hazards in and around the home, including fishponds, water features, toilets, pets’ water bowls, bore holes and open drains.”

One of the scariest statistics is that, for every child that dies from drowning, five are left with permanent brain damage as a result of the prolonged lack of oxygen which occurs during a near drowning. It takes only four minutes without oxygen for irreversible brain damage to occur.

Drownings are listed as one of the top causes of unnatural death amongst children in South Africa. At the same time, these unfortunate events are very preventable. Should you find yourself in the position of having to call for help, please call Netcare 911 immediately on 082 911.

Additional notes on preventing drownings:

Prevention is better than cure. Be vigilant and keep a watchful eye on the children around water, keep pool gates locked or cover your pool with a certified pool net. A basic course in first aid and CPR can make a dramatic difference in the outcome should the skills be applied timeously.

For further information on the courses available, please contact the Netcare 911 School of Emergency and Critical Care on 011 695 9600, visit the website or consult your local yellow pages under the "first aid" heading for a comprehensive list of training facilities. Ensure that you use an accredited facility and receive a certificate of competence.

In any emergency situation the most important thing to do is immediately contact the correct emergency number for the relevant authority. Try and memorise the number for emergency services in your area and keep the number saved on your cell phone or close to your landline telephone. In many cases, during the panic of a medical emergency, people cannot remember the correct number or cannot find where they have written it down. Otherwise contact Netcare 911 on their national number: 082 911.

  • Having multiple layers of safety around pool and spa areas or other open bodies of water (such as a safety net, a closed fence, a childminder and a surface alarm) can prevent tragic accidents.

  • Consider swim lessons for your child, especially if you live in an area where many of their friends also have pools. Swimming lessons are designed to teach your child basic water safety like getting to the side of the pool and holding their breath under water. You will also want to teach your kids to never get in the pool alone.

  • Get the victim out of the water as soon as possible, but do not become a victim yourself. Make sure it is safe for you to enter the water first.

  • Handle the victim with care. Many submersion incidents are associated with neck injuries, so keep movement to the back and neck to a minimum.

  • Assess to see if the victim is awake or not.

  • Check for breathing. If the victim is not breathing, administer two slow rescue breaths, ensuring that the victim’s chest JUST starts to rise.

  • If the victim shows no response to the rescue breaths, start CPR.

  • CPR is vital, even if it is an amateur administering it. Keep on doing it until someone who is trained in advanced life support arrives and can take over. All parents should learn how to administer child CPR as it does differ from adult CPR. There has also recently been a worldwide revision in the CPR technique and it is vital that even current first aiders be retrained according to the new protocols.

  • Call, or have someone call, a recognised ambulance service as early as possible during this sequence. Whoever calls for the ambulance must give the dispatcher an accurate location of the incident and a contact number at the scene. Never hang up on the operator and always return to the rescuer to inform them that you have called for help.


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