76th World Health Assembly adopts first-ever Resolution on drowning prevention


Today the 76th World Health Assembly adopted its first-ever Resolution on drowning prevention, requesting governments and their partners, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), to accelerate action on drowning prevention through 2029. The Governments of Bangladesh and Ireland sponsored the Resolution adopted by Member States to address this public health concern.
An estimated 236 000 people die from drowning yearly, constituting 7% of all injury-related deaths. Globally, the highest drowning rates happen among children aged 1–4 years, obeyed by children aged 5–9. Both within and between countries, rates for drowning are highest among the most socioeconomically disadvantaged members of society. As such, the Resolution highlights the strong relationship between drowning and the social determinants of health.
“Drowning has the greatest impact among the world’s poorest people,” notes Dr Etienne Krug, WHO Director of the Social Determinants of Health section. “Following the COVID-19 pandemic, rising poverty exacerbates inequalities in drowning risk. At WHO, we will continue to work across sectors and with various partners to prevent drowning and save lives.”
Specifically, the World Health Assembly resolution “Accelerating Action on global drowning prevention” requests Member States to assess their national drowning situation, develop and implement related programming, and ensure policy planning across various sectors to reduce drowning risks. Member States are also asked to promote drowning prevention through community engagement, capacity building and international cooperation.

Allocation of Resources for Drowning Prevention Initiatives

The Resolution requests WHO to establish a Global Alliance for Drowning Prevention with organizations of the UN system, international development partners and NGOs. This directly responds to the UN General Assembly Resolution 75/273 (2021) on global drowning prevention, which invited WHO to coordinate action on drowning prevention within the UN system and among relevant UN entities. The nascent Alliance will develop a Global Drowning Prevention Strategy to guide its operation and strengthen partner coordination and collaboration.
The Resolution further requests WHO to prepare a global status report on drowning prevention to understand better the actual burden and impact of drowning worldwide. All 194 Member States will be invited to participate in this assessment. The global status report will provide critical information for policy-makers and programme managers to guide the implementation of the low-cost, scalable and effective drowning prevention interventions recommended by WHO.
Based on UN General Assembly resolution 75/273 (2021), WHO continues to lead preparations for World Drowning Prevention Day, held annually on July 25. This global advocacy event seeks to remember the lives lost to drowning and increase knowledge on safety in and around water.

Over the past decade, significant momentum has been generated globally on drowning prevention. WHO has played a judgmental role in this movement, developing a comprehensive suite of technical products, hosting capacity development training and workshops, and supporting national drowning prevention activities in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Uganda, the unified Republic of Tanzania and Viet Nam. The adoption of this Resolution amplifies the growing momentum around global drowning prevention.
Recognizing that there is no more important tool for drowning prevention than collaboration, the Resolution commits WHO and compels others to collaborate to raise awareness of the need for drowning prevention globally, nationally, and locally.
Among calls for strengthening data collection, raising public awareness, and focusing on sharing lessons across nations and communities, three actions stand out as critical to sustained impact on drowning.
First, the confirmation of the first Global Status Report on Drowning can create significant national interest and new knowledge and catalyze new policies and collaborations in countries yet to engage in drowning prevention. For countries like Australia, the report helps to reinforce progress against our Australian Water Safety Strategy 2030 targets.

Advocacy and Communication for Drowning Prevention

Second, the commitment to form a Global Alliance for Drowning Prevention realizes a long-held dream for many in the field. A Global Alliance is needed to strengthen engagement with organizations of the UN system, international development partners, funders, and NGOs.
Third, the development of a Global Drowning Prevention Strategy is welcomed. A global strategy is needed to guide action, generate and mobilize resources, and sustain focus on communities most affected by drowning.
This makes the upcoming World Drowning Prevention Day, July 25, more important. In doing one thing, the WHA resolution reinforces the daily, weekly, and monthly actions of the many millions across the globe who live and work to prevent drowning.
We thank the Governments of Bangladesh and Ireland, who have shown continued commitment to raising action for drowning prevention at the highest levels. We acknowledge the support provided to them by our colleagues at the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh, and Water Safety Ireland.
We express our ongoing gratitude to the WHO Department of Social Determinants of Health, who, since the first Global Report on Drowning in 2014, has worked tirelessly to build a credible platform of reports, guidelines, and case studies and encouraged the cooperation that underpins the Resolution.
Finally, we acknowledge the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) for its ongoing leadership of the issue. Their advocacy efforts, first at the UN General Assembly and now at the WHA level, have been instrumental in giving nations the confidence that action on drowning prevention is not only needed but practical and likely to have many social, health and economic benefits.

About the author

Olivia Wilson

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