KAMPALA — Drowning has been listed among the leading causes of injury deaths in Uganda’s fishing communities— with latest figures putting the estimated numbers at over 1000 between 2016 and 2018.
According to a new report, Understanding and Preventing Drowning in Uganda, released Tuesday July 27, by Makerere University ‘s School of Public Health, drowning accounts for 7% of all unintentional injury deaths, with the WHO-African region experiencing the highest drowning death rate of 8/100,000 population.
Whereas in other parts of the world, especially Asia, and United States drowning deaths predominantly involve young children, the new report indicates that in Uganda, most cases of drowning deaths were among young adult fishermen.
The figures collaborate with WHO findings, whose recent report indicates that drowning rates in low- and middle-income countries are more than three times higher than in high-income nations.
Crossing flooded rivers and streams, delayed rescue attempts, alcohol use and collecting water were listed as the leading causes of drowning.
Mr. Frederick Oporia, a research associate at Makerere University’s School of Public Health says the report presents findings of a two-phased study that was conducted in 60 districts of Uganda for a period of 2.5 years.
In the first phase, Opo says, records concerning 1,435 drowning cases were found in the 60 study districts.
The second phase, she adds, was limited to only 14 of the initial 60 districts.
In the 14 districts, a total of 2,066 drowning cases were identified by community health workers and confirmed through individual interviews with witnesses/family members/friends and survivors of drowning.
He says of the 2,066 case registered, 1,332 were fatal, accounting to 64%.
The report shows that there is limited and differing information on the burden of drowning as a result of no systematic process to record and track drowning related incidents and deaths.
According to official study sources, Kalangala is indicated as the leading District with highest drowning related death cases (124) while in the second spot.
However, the community approach employed by the researchers indicate that 287 people died by drowning in Mayuge followed by Rakai with 169 drowning related deaths.
According to Mr. Oporia, 1,435 drowning cases were registered in the 60 study districts 1,332 being fatal while 127 were recorded to have survived.
He says there was no information on whether the remaining 16 survived or not.
“In phase II, 2,066 cases from the communities were recorded and 64% (1332) of these were deaths. Mayuge district was reported to have the highest drowning rates.”
He says the community approach revealed more than three times the number of drowning deaths in the same 14 districts.
“These results show that drowning is a major cause of premature death in Uganda, especially among young adults whose livelihoods depend on water activities,” he says — noting that most drownings are preventable through policies and regulations that reduce exposure to drowning risk, and institution of interventions to ensure safety around water.
He also adds that the strategy could address matters of leadership coordination, funding, advocacy, awareness raising, prioritization, target setting, and monitoring and evaluation.
Dr. Olive Kobusingye, one of the principle investigators, says Uganda is on its way to developing a National Water Safety Strategic Plan for Prevention of Drowning.
She explains that since drowning is a multisectoral issue, and all stakeholders (local and national government, water transport, water sport, education, fishing, health, and law enforcement) had to coordinate together for a national water safety strategy and action plan.
Mr. Sowed Sewagudde, Assistant Commissioner International Transboundary Water Resources at the Ministry of Water and Environment stresses the urgent need to bring all stakeholders on board to address the drowning burden.
“All Stakeholders must come together to fight and end drowning in our societies”, Mr. Sewagudde says.
He notes that: “Water cuts across a number of sectors and if we are going to have success for our strategy, we will need to bring them all on board because they interact with the water environment”.
On his part, Ubaldo Bamunoba, Commander Marine Police acknowledges gaps in rescue operations. He blames them on poor funding but says his department is establishing several rescue centers at all major water bodies to support the rapid rescue operations.
He says 19 detaches have been established on Lake Victoria alone, 4 on Lake Edward and Kyoga each and one on lake Bunyonyi.
He says plans have entered final stages for a water safety strategy and in it will be aspects of preventive policing on the water to among others curb drowning.