Childhood drowning in South Africa: local data should inform prevention strategies.

Research paper by L L Joanknecht, A C AC Argent, M M van Dijk, A B AB van As

Indexed on: 19 Nov '14Published on: 19 Nov '14Published in: Pediatric Surgery International


Drowning is an important cause of childhood injury, however, little is known about drowning in Africa. The aim of this study is to investigate submersion incidents in Cape Town, South Africa and provide specific prognostic factors as well as to develop age-appropriate prevention strategies.A retrospective chart review performed at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. Patients admitted because of 'drowning' or 'near-drowning' between January 2007 and April 2013 were included.75 children were included. 63 (84 %) survived without complications, 8 (10.7 %) died and 4 (5.3 %) had permanent neurological sequelae. The median age was 2.2 years (range 0.1-12.4). 46 (60.5 %) incidents happened in or around the home, only 14 (18.7 %) were witnessed. 42 (56 %) took place in a pool (29 private, 13 public). Significant predictors of the outcome were: estimated submersion time, duration of apnea, unresponsive and dilated pupils, intubation and use of inotropes. On arrival at the ER we found these significant predictors of the outcome: CPR, a GCS <5, hypothermia, bradycardia, asystole, as well as the PIM2-calculated mortality risk for patients admitted to the ICU.The majority of incidents were unwitnessed and occurred in or around the home. Prevention programs should be focused on adult supervision for younger children and creating awareness on the dangers of drowning in the home environment. While bathing in baths or buckets, children should never be left alone and parents should be made aware of the dangers. In our study, the majority of incidents occurred in swimming pools and limiting access to these could prevent many incidents of drowning among older children. Although children of all language groups are at risk for drowning, English- or Afrikaans-speaking children were particularly at risk for drowning in private pools while Xhosa-speaking children mostly drowned in baths or buckets. We also report multiple prognostic factors for the outcome, but none of them were absolute predictive of the outcome, indicating that each victim of submersion deserves full resuscitative treatment.