SINGAPORE: The number of children involved in near-drowning or drowning incidents in Singapore has risen drastically over the last five years, according to figures released by the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) on Thursday (Mar 10).
The hospital sees about 80 per cent of submersion-related injuries involving children in Singapore, where a child under the age of 15 struggles underwater. It saw 104, or between 17 and 27 cases each year, during the five-year period. This was a sharp rise compared to the period between 2005 and 2010, with about one to 14 cases each year.
Of the 104 cases between 2011 and 2015, 10 resulted in deaths, the hospital said. In two of the cases, the children survived the ordeal but suffered hypoxic brain damage, an irreversible condition due to oxygen deprivation to the brain.
The group at highest risk was children under six years old, accounting for more than 76 per cent of these incidents. Boys were also more at risk, making up 66.3 per cent of the cases, KKH said.
A total of 69 cases of the 104 took place in private pools, with 54 of those cases occurring at condominium pools, 11 at hotels, one at a chalet and three at other private pools.
One in five of the incidents happened during pool parties. Pool party fatalities contributed to half of the total number of child drowning deaths reported between 2011 and 2015.
Other findings from the study showed that 40 per cent of the incidents occurred from Friday to Sunday, between 4pm and 8pm.
UPWARD TREND IS "DISTURBING"
“The upward trend of submersion incidents involving children in recent years is disturbing as we know that all these incidents could have been prevented. Drowning deaths can occur within minutes and even if the child survives, there may be permanent brain damage,” Dr Arif Tyebally, deputy head and consultant at the hospital's Department of Emergency Medicine, said.
He also said the main reasons for the increase in incidents over the years could be that more people are living in condominiums with pool facilities, but children may not be closely supervised while using them.
These pools may also lack safety measures, such as barriers to prevent unsupervised children from accessing them. Dr Tyebally added that these measures can significantly reduce the risk of children drowning, but they do not replace the need for constant vigilance by caregivers.
"Children are not aware of the dangers around them, and so the parents and caregivers have to take it as their responsibility," he said. "Understand that when children are near water, it is a very high-risk activity. They have to be constantly keeping an eye on their children."
“It only takes a split second for someone to lose their child, so there should always be due care and vigilance by a supervising adult whenever a child is in or near water,” he added.
Private swimming instructor Owen Gian said that in the almost 20 years he has been a swimming instructor, he has seen more parents living in condominiums signing up their children for swimming lessons.
"Condo safety measures are considered quite minimal, because most of the pools I've been to, there are no lifeguards on duty," he said. "Employing a lifeguard may be quite costly to the condo management, but you can improvise these measures by promoting water safety awareness or basic life-saving techniques."
Sport Singapore said it has initiatives to educate both children and adults about water safety, such as its SwimSafer programme, which was originally started in 2010 by the National Water Safety Council, which transferred its full ownership to Sport Singapore in 2013.
The six-stage programme will be conducted in 176 schools this year. It has also branched out to teach adults. In 2015, a total of 55,112 people participated in the programme.