Global Injury Prevention Showcase tackles big issues: Why do Australian men keep drowning?

Public Health Association of Australia

This week (22-26 March) the 2021 Global Injury Prevention Showcase is being held, bringing together more than 250 presentations from across the world tackling many of the biggest health and injury prevention challenges facing us today.

The event is preceding next year’s global Safety 2022 conference, an international gathering of experts in injury prevention that first started in 1989.

This week, children’s health, road safety, poisonings, falls, intimate partner violence, sport and emergency services are amongst the key topics to be discussed; all reflected and connected by the expert speakers and presenters.

Associate Professor Richard Franklin, a leader in the field of injury prevention and Convenor of the Safety 2022 conference says this week’s five-day event with its theme ‘Innovation, Engagement, Action: for a safer future’ is an opportunity for the global injury prevention community to work towards important solutions for these key public health issues.

A/Prof Franklin noted:

The world sits at a nexus with technology changing the way we work, low and middle income countries faced with addressing a growing injury burden especially around road traffic and the need for new innovative solutions to help provide action for a safer future including addressing violence and self-harm issues…For injury prevention and safety promotion to be effective and create a safer future engagement will be key; this will include engaging with communities, politicians, researchers, people and other stakeholders. While research is important for developing the evidence base there is an ongoing need for action to ensure appropriate evidenced-based policy development, program delivery, increased funding, collaboration and development of future generations of injury prevention experts for a safer future.’

Focus on drowning prevention

There will be a particular focus at this year’s showcase on drowning.

In 2014, the World Health Organization called for the creation of national water safety plans. Yet presenters at this showcase will reveal that drowning remains a serious, preventable and neglected health issue, resulting in an estimated 23,096 drowning deaths per year worldwide, based on 2017 data.

In Australia, despite extensive water safety campaigns, the rate of drownings, particularly amongst men, remains worryingly high.

High risk areas

One conference case study, highlights that until recently the inherent dangers in our rivers had attracted limited research, attention or funding for preventive efforts. While there’s good news that between 2006-07 and 2018-19 location-specific drowning rates at rivers decreased by 24% and at beaches by 5.5%, drownings at rocks increased 35.3% (on the NSW South Coast, near Wollongong, five rock fishermen drowned in two separate incidents at the same location in January and February this year).

Males overrepresented

The showcase will hear that Australian males are consistently overrepresented in fatal coastal drowning incidents, with young males representing a significant proportion of these. This is often attributed to their greater participation and increased confidence levels which do not necessarily reflect abilities.

Since 2004, males aged between 16-39 account for 36% of all drowning deaths. In 2018-19, 44 drowning deaths were young males. Average fatality rate ratios revealed young males were twice as likely to drown on our coast, particularly at rock, cliff and beach locations.

Young males were more likely to drown while jumping, snorkelling, swimming and wading, with 58% of young male drowning victims reported to have little or no experience in the activity being undertaken at the time of their death.

Overseas born risk

The showcase will also hear that in Australia, people born overseas are considered at higher risk of drowning. A total population analysis of all unintentional drowning deaths over 10 years (2008-09 – 2017-18) found 794 people drowned who were born overseas, accounting for 27% of total drowning deaths. 77% were men and 24% were aged 25-34 years.

Dying to help

Bystanders who drown while attempting a rescue are becoming an increasingly important issue within drowning prevention. One study, which collated the results of the national coastal fatality database over a 15-year period (2004-2019) found 67 bystander rescuer fatalities in Australia’s coastal waterways, an average of 4.5 per year.

Most coastal bystander rescuer fatalities occurred in NSW (49%), at beaches (64%), in regional or remote areas (71%), more than one kilometre from the nearest lifesaving service (78%), during summer (45%), in the afternoon (72%), and in the presence of rip currents (73%).

The results from this study suggest safety intervention approaches should target males, parents and carers visiting beach locations in regional areas and should focus on the importance of flotation devices when enacting a rescue, and further educating visitors about the rip current hazards.

The Global Injury Prevention Showcase is hosted by the Public Health Association of Australia and supported by the Australasian Injury Prevention Network and the World Health Organization. The event is being held in the lead-up to the 14th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion in 2022.



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