For many years, the definition of drowning was confusing. Additional terms to describe the type of drowning only added to the confusion.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drowning is a major global health problem and in 2005 it moved to redefine ‘drowning’, with consensus given to removing terms like wet, dry, active, passive, silent, and secondary drowning. The definition was simplified, so there would be no confusion around whether a person had ‘drowned’ or not.

WHO’s definition of drowning is: the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid. Drowning outcomes should be classified as: death, morbidity and no morbidity – but all are considered “drowning”.

If you have suffered respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid – regardless of the outcome – you have officially ‘drowned’ and should be recorded as a drowning statistic.

The main reason for the change in definition was the growing misconception that if someone was resuscitated poolside, they would make a full recovery and we could all breathe easy. If only that were true. All too often many of these people suffer permanent disability, requiring 24/7 medical care for the rest of their lives. While the drowning may not be ‘fatal’, the devastation is acute.

In Australia, there is still limited reporting of drownings in our public pools and no central register to understand just how many people are drowning in community pools. If people are resuscitated, taken to hospital and later released, there is very little record-keeping, incident-reporting or follow-up.

Based on general hospital data, it is estimated that on average 65 people drown in public and holiday resort style pools every year in Australia. But how many of these people fall into the categories of death, morbidity and no morbidity, is still not clear.

That’s why we would like to see a Central National Register of Drownings in Australia, with clear reporting around where the drowning occurred, the age of the person and the outcome.

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report for 2017 puts the average cost of just ONE FATAL DROWNING at $4.2 million; which begs the question…what is the cost (economic, social and emotional) of just one drowning where the person has suffered permanent injury requiring permanent medical care?

We think it’s time local, state and federal government in Australia cared a little more about ensuring they have access to accurate data, so they can better understand the true toll drowning is having on this country.

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