Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Making Each Life Count.

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on April 3, 2013

Jaylin Shepherd was just four years old when she drowned. An adorable child, she is mourned by her twin sister, the rest of her large and loving extended family, her friends, and her neighbors. Her life, her spirit, her potential – lost forever in 2 fast minutes. It used to be that Jaylin’s life would be remembered and honored only by those who knew her, but that just changed. Jaylin’s tragic death has been counted by Global Drowning Tracker.  Global Drowning Tracker© is the innovative, game-changing new tool that will allow us to manage the critical balance between making it personal and documenting the epidemic.  Making it personal so that people understand that everyone needs to learn how to be safer around water.  Documenting the epidemic because  we must have data to put the issue on the global stage, raise awareness, and attract funding for effective and measurable programs.

Achieving the balance between making drowning personal while simultaneously demonstrating that drowning is a global epidemic will revolutionize our efforts to end drowning. People don’t care about issues they don’t think affect them personally, and throwing big mortality numbers at them actually reduces how much they care. Psychologically it’s easy to ignore an anonymous child drowning every minute (you never think it’s your child), even easier to ignore big numbers like 409,000, but it’s a lot harder when you see the name and the way the person drowned on a ticker tape – continuously, compellingly – especially when you recognize the name, see the face, or relate to the age or location – when you realize it could be your child, your loved one. Watch the Global Drowning Tracker© ticker for a minute and try not to be personally affected.  I promise you, the team that has been inputting the data has had a rough time of it, and these are professionals in the lifesaving profession. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the utter futility of lives cut short in 2 minutes and by the magnitude of the issue – especially when faced with the unrelenting frequency – it jolts you into awareness and makes it personal.

The beauty of Global Drowning Tracker© is that it engages the public directly to call attention to the issue, and it helps us build solutions. Global Drowning Tracker© leverages the power of social media just as Facebook and Twitter harnessed emotion and power during Arab Spring into coordinated action. The majority of countries where drowning is at epidemic levels don’t even report drowning as a cause of death,  yet an estimated 80% of the world’s population have cell phones and can report drowning deaths directly to Global Drowning Tracker© via SMS text message or directly through the web-site, where it is verified and vetted to ensure accuracy and privacy are maintained. This same population can begin to feel part of a tidal wave of change – a change in awareness about the epidemic of drowning and an understanding that we need to learn how to be safer around water, protect our young children, and teach all our children how to be safer.

It’s not just raising awareness though. Once you’ve mobilized the friends and families of the estimated 1,000,000 plus people who drown every year, you need to provide them with the tools for change, and for that we need data. The 59% of World Health Organization members that don’t capture drowning as a cause of death are generally the countries where 97% of drowning deaths occur. Since we don’t know the demographics and locations, we can’t put targeted programs into place. Global Drowning Tracker© can change that. Just as a talented team used data to determine the exact demographics and reasons for child drowning and develop the creche and SwimSafe programs that have reduced drowning by 82% and 93%, respectively, using data from the Tracker will help us put the right programs in the right places at the right time. That’s the sort of targeted, measurable and cost-effective intervention that makes me giddy with excitement.

A huge shout-out to the dedicated volunteers at International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) who recognized the need to develop a single data source and put a face on the tragedy and then put their considerable talents to use creating Global Drowning Tracker©. To learn more, watch a video here  or read more by clicking here.  The ISLA staff are exactly the kind of young, dedicated professionals that I was talking about a couple of weeks ago, the talent we need to nurture and support.  Their tech-savvy approach to shining a gigantic spotlight on the issue of drowning will, I believe, forever change how we do business, and will enable us to drastically reduce drowning.

This won’t work without your help. First, spread the word, share the link with all your social media networks. If you are in a position to be collecting data, please input the data into the Global Drowning Tracker©. If you have connections with the media, governments, local paramedics, hospitals, pediatricians and emergency room staff, please share the information with them. If you need more information, you can contact ISLA directly.  Global Drowning Tracker© will only work if we can collect data, and yes, anyone can access the sanitized data to create programs and support funding requests.

One last action that will take less than one minute of your time. The creche and SwimSafe programs need funding. To the best of my knowledge, they are the only drowning prevention programs acknowledged by UNICEF, and they are the gold-standard in drowning prevention programs, so it is critical we keep those programs alive. Please take one minute to watch the video and to vote for the program to win funding (and publicity) from Grand Challenges Canada – Bold Ideas for Humanity.

We have the tools, we have the programs – all we need is YOU to make it happen.

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