Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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$472 Million. How Would You Spend It?

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on May 1, 2013


What if your budget for drowning prevention was $472 million? Every year. It seems ludicrous, doesn’t it? Absolutely impossible! Where could anyone get that kind of money???

Welcome to the world of cancer research. Cancer causes 7.6 million deaths per year.  Cancer research is funded at an estimated €14.04 billion euros per year.  That works out to €1,846,000 or $2,416,044, per death every year, spent on cancer research.

Let’s contrast that to the typical drowning prevention budget. Based on the information I could find, and there is virtually none, which tells us a lot in itself, if your budget is over $10 million a year, you are in a very elite group. If you are operating on far less, you are in the overwhelming majority. Let’s just suppose that, very conservatively, we have $200 million a year as a global budget, and, even more conservatively, only a death toll of 409,000*. That works out to only $488,000 per death per year. If we are more realistic, but still conservative, and assume $200 million per year and 1.2 million deaths a year*, we’re looking at $166,667 per death per year for research and prevention, which is roughly 1.8% of the value of a life**. That is 6.8% of the annual global cancer research budget, even though the death toll is, at most, 7 times larger.

Research and awareness campaigns cost money – big money. So how do we increase our budget?

We could ask ‘what are we doing wrong?’, but better to ask, ‘what is cancer doing right?’ Where does the money come from?

A good portion of the funding comes from governments, which makes perfect sense. After all, 32 of the 33 developed nations have universal health care.  (The U.S. is the exception and has the most expensive system). This means most governments have skin in the game when it comes to controlling medical costs, and since cancer has the greatest economic impact of all causes worldwide, there is a financial need to look at prevention and cost-effective treatment. I’ve talked before about how drowning costs money, the even higher hidden costs of nonfatal drowning, and the global nature of drowning.   We need to make drowning a political and economic global issue, but it is not enough.

$472 million dollars for cancer awareness/research was raised by one organization in one year. The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The organization that single-handedly made the color pink synonymous with breast cancer awareness, prevention, and research. The now ubiquitous pink ribbon that has morphed into pink everything – pink pens, pink horses, pink stamps, pink on football players, even a gigantic pink ribbon hanging from the White House. The organization is not without controversy, but let’s look at what they have done well, at what we need to do for drowning prevention. I’ll quote from the April 28 New York Times Magazine article by Peggy Orenstein, “The Problem With Pink”.

“With it’s dozens of races ‘for the cure’ and some 200 corporate partnerships, it may be the most successful charity ever at branding a disease; its relentless marketing has made the pink ribbon one of the most recognized logos of our time. The ribbon has come to symbolize both fear of the disease and hope that it can be defeated. It’s a badge of courage for the afflicted, an expression of solidarity by the concerned. It promises continual progress towards a cure through donations, races, volunteerism. It indicates community……More than anything else, though, the ribbon reminds women that every single one of us vulnerable….” **

We must create such emotion, such a sense of community around drowning prevention. NO we should not have a ribbon for drowning prevention. Absolutely not, too many other ribbons that no one recognizes except those involved. We are in the unique position that 100% of the world’s population are vulnerable to drowning. We are in the unique position that the main factor in drowning, water, is necessary for us to live. We are in the unique position that most drowning deaths are preventable. We must translate such a unique position into a global campaign that is as powerful as water, as global as water, as evocative of strong emotions as water.

I’ve been working on the components of such a campaign. I hope you’ll stay tuned to learn more, or contact me directly rebeccalioness@gmail.com if you are ready to put the issue of drowning on the global stage and start making real change, with more than just pocket change for funding.

If you agree we need a global awareness campaign for drowning click here to Tweet ‘I think we need a global awareness campaign for drowning #stopdrowning’

  • * Most recent drowning death tolls by the World Health Organization (WHO) are 388,000 and 409,000 annually, but with a caveat that the number is grossly understated due to problems with reporting. 59% of WHO members do not even report drowning as a cause of death. The International Lifesaving Federation (ILSF) estimates 1.2 million deaths a year, but also believes this is understated.
  • ** The value of a life has been most recently calculated as $9.1 million by the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S.
  • ***I added the bold text to highlight the primary emotions the campaign has achieved.

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