Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
Stay current on water safety awareness:

Leveraging The WHO Drowning Report

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on November 19, 2014

World Health Organization FlagThe first ever World Health Organization (WHO) Global Report on Drowning was released on November 18. If you haven’t had a chance to read the report, click here to download the full report.

There was much good news. The presence of the Director-General of the WHO and several Ambassadors, and a video speech from Michael Bloomberg, all helped guarantee that the launch attracted high-level attention. The public relations firm hired to handle the launch reported an uptick in media coverage about drowning in at least five countries within 24 hours. Well deserved congratulations are due to all who worked so diligently to produce the report, and to all of you who are working tirelessly to end drowning.

But it’s only a start. Without your help, specifically your help, the issue of drowning may again have one great media cycle hurrah, and then sink beneath the waves until the next huge event. We can’t risk that happening.

Each of us can use the report to strengthen our programs and promote the issue of drowning by doing three simple things:

Data: The WHO report was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the same organization that made the largest grant ever to a drowning prevention program*. I applaud Mr. Bloomberg and his organization for recognizing the hidden epidemic of drowning and making such concrete and generous donations, but all of us in the field need to understand that they didn’t just waltz in with a magic wand and decide to focus on drowning. Their involvement required hard program data, solid financials, cost-benefit analysis, and a solid track record of success, or in Mr. Bloomberg’s own words, “I believe that you can’t manage what you don’t measure – and there’s never been a comprehensive effort to measure drowning around the world until now. The more evidence we can gather, the better we’ll be able to tailor our prevention efforts – and the Global report on drowning is a big step in the right direction.”

  • Solution: No matter what size your program, and whether you are just starting or established, you must incorporate methods for capturing data, measuring your success, and showing your program is a good return on investment. Click here for some tips on how to capture data.  It’s never to late to start, but getting major funding without data and demonstrated sustainable results is virtually impossible these days. If we want to keep drowning on the global agenda, we all need to work to collect quality data.

Money Talks: Money makes things happen. Money sets political agendas. Money funds programs and awareness campaigns. We are fortunate that Bloomberg Philanthropies decided to fund the WHO report, but the very fact that the report was produced because of funding from outside the WHO gives us some indication of our primary competition for funding and recognition. It is not just Mr. Bloomberg who is funding studies. Look at the other big killers vying for attention.  All but ‘road injury’ requires pharmaceuticals. According to one source, the global pharma market is the third richest in the world, and alcohol is the richest.  It doesn’t take much of a brain stretch to understand that relatively simple behavior-based changes, and especially sustainable behavior changes like water safety, are going to face stiff competition for attention and funding from companies and industry sectors that depend on people needing their products or services to survive and stay healthy. Having the richest industry supplying a risk factor for teen and male drowning deaths is an added challenge.

  • Solution: Integrate financial arguments into your program. Develop a cost-benefit analysis to show that investing in water safety not only saves money in terms of loss of life and loss of future economic contribution, but can also be an economic catalyst: preparing people for a wider range of careers; lowering health care costs from non-fatal drowning; increasing children’s IQ, coordination, and health; and providing sources of employment. It’s not enough to ‘do good’, you have to show that it makes dollars and cents sense. Have a moan privately, but don’t get hung up complaining about how the world works. You can only make change happen if you understand how things work now and work both within and against the system to change the status quo. Let’s make water safety an economically viable and desirable option.

Engage Media: You may be thinking that the WHO report was all we need to turn the public’s attention to drowning. Maybe you are even waiting by the phone for the news outlets to call you and beg to highlight your program. They won’t. We need to use the WHO report as the hook to pitch stories to the media, but it is your job to reel them in. In today’s fast news cycle, if you want a story to appear, you need to lay out the story and seduce the reporter and editor into granting you column inches or air time.

  • Solution: Start with the hook of the WHO report and then explain how your program is making a difference in your community. Include data from your community, state, region, or country. Talk up the good news, that even though drowning is a global epidemic, it is largely preventable. Tell individual success stories. Talk about how preventing drowning saves money. You have to convince the news outlets that you have a story worth telling. You have to sell water safety as a feel-good story worth reporting. The media will only rarely seek you out, you need to keep pitching good stories whenever something like a drowning occurs, knowing only some will be picked up, but establishing a relationship so that when there are stories, like the WHO report, you are available for comment and can be counted on to provide good news content. Don’t forget social media. The WHO has done their part, it is now the responsibility of the global water safety community to spread the word about the report.
  • Action Steps:  
    • Commit to posting the link for the report on social media;
    • Use #StopDrowning and #WHOdrowning on Twitter;
    • Post the link on Facebook and LinkedIn;
    • Send an email blast to your mailing list;
    • Include a link on your website.
  • Traditional media may launch the story, but only social media will give the story legs, and that will only happen if you help. We can’t do this without you. Please share the report widely!

* $10 million to fund the creche program in Bangladesh and to fund the construction of playpens out of bamboo as an additional measure to keep young children out of the water.

Previous post:

Next post:

don’t just tread water get updates: