Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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How Would YOU Change The World?

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on August 28, 2013

Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Mayor Michael Bloomberg changed the world. Like any leader, the changes Mayor Bloomberg has put into place during his 12-year tenure have met with mixed success, but one in particular has resulted in long-reaching positive global change. The ban on smoking in public places. The ban was passed in 2003. Since then 500 other cities in the U.S. and 35 of the 50 states have enacted smoke-free legislation. By 2012, 48 countries had adopted smoking bans, providing protection from second-hand smoke to 1.2 billion people, or one in seven of all humans on earth.

What does a smoking ban have to do with ending drowning?

One idea can impact the health and lives of billions of people.

What can we learn from Mayor Bloomberg? What should that idea be for ending drowning?

First, find a leader who doesn’t know what can’t be done. Call them an idealist, visionary, or just plain nuts, but as Mayor Bloomberg said about the incumbent when he first ran for mayor, “after you’ve done a job for six or eight years you know what can’t be done”. If you can come up with all the reasons why it can’t be done, put someone else in charge.

Second, start with more than one good idea – multiple solutions to the problem. We don’t really know why the smoking ban took off so dramatically, it’s not always possible to time the zeitgeist or anticipate human nature. A number of Mayor Bloomberg’s initiatives are for improving public health (planting trees, bike lanes), and are being used in many places, but without the dramatic shift in policy, perception and broad acceptance.

Third, just because others have done it and it hasn’t taken off doesn’t mean it won’t ever work, sometimes it just takes the right time, place and people. California already had a smoking ban and they are the 12th largest economy in the world. New York is ‘only’ the 8th largest city in the world but they are credited with starting the movement – right time, place and people.

Fourth, make decisions based on data. The health commissioner pushed for the ban by arguing that ‘a person who spent one minute in a smoky bar would be exposed to as much pollution as someone who stood in the Holland Tunnel for 60 minutes at rush hour’. Compelling data. Convinced, the mayor gave the go-ahead. (need more compelling data? The cost of smoking in the U.S.? $96 billion annually in medical costs and $97 billion in lost productivity due to premature mortality.)

Fifth, ignore the nay-sayers. If the criticism gets to be too much, develop tougher skin, or if you want at least one loyal supporter, get a dog. (or let your significant other keep their dog at your house, like Mayor Bloomberg) Bars, restaurants, lobbyists and commentators fought the smoking ban vigorously. The Mayor pushed the ban through, added a steep tax on cigarettes, and allocated money for cessation programs. The smoking rate by adults dropped by a third, and by half for young people. (It wasn’t just NYC, people were stunned that Ireland, with it’s rich pub culture, managed the ban, but they did, and they led the pack in Europe.)

Back to ending drowning – I think the two ideas we need to focus on are the creche/early childhood day care/education and survival swimming programs, as developed by SwimSafe.  These programs have measurable results – they have reduced drowning in the target population by 82% and 93%. They pass the cost-benefit test – comparable in cost and effectiveness to vaccination and malarial prevention programs.  (Lifesaving Canada also has an outstanding survival swim program.)

If I ran the world and got to chose only one program that goes viral and is adopted globally, I’d choose the creche (day care/early childhood education) program, which also has any number of other positive public safety/health benefits that ultimately benefit society.  My only caveat – they MUST begin to teach basic water safety to the children in the programs, just as they are already teaching hand-washing to prevent diarrhea (a leading killer of children globally) and just as American preschools teach fire safety and Stop. Drop. and Roll. to all children.

I believe we can do it. We know the issue. We know what works. We have the data. I have the dog. Now let’s do it – let’s make the creche and survival swimming programs the global norm.

Click here to Tweet ‘@RebeccaSaveKids says We can change the world.  We can end drowning. http://bit.ly/1dP8scf #stopdrowning’

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