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More than 60,000 Children Under the Age of Five Drown Every Year. Bloomberg Philanthropies Commits $25 Million to Address the Problem

Children near the water in Matlab, Bangladesh on March 31, 2016 (Photo by Kuni Takahashi)

Michael R. Bloomberg Urges Donors and Governments to Reduce Global Drowning Deaths

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that drowning claims the lives of more than 60,000 children under the age of five and more than 360,000 people globally. Today Michael R. Bloomberg, WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, announced a $25 million expansion of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ global drowning prevention program at a convening of experts.

“Three quarters of children who drown do so no more than 65 feet from their front door,” said Bloomberg. “There is a shocking lack of data on where, when, and how people – especially children – drown globally, and this new work will help us better define the problem. We’re glad to be working with several partners in this effort, including the World Health Organization, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, & Synergos.”
“It is unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of people drown each year,” said Dr. Etienne Krug, Director of WHO’s Department for the Management of NCDs, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention. “We have the means to prevent the enormous loss of life associated with drowning. It is time to implement the knowledge we have about what works.”

The first phase of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ drowning program, piloted in 2012, tested the effectiveness of playpens and community daycare as prevention measures in Bangladesh. The program found daycare to be very effective in preventing drowning in children under five, illustrated in a video also released today. Phase two of the program will expand the use of daycare and support survival swimming in Viet Nam –  as well as continue to support successful community-based daycares in Bangladesh, pursuing sustainability funding to integrate daycare into national government programs. Additionally, the expanded program will implement national drowning surveys in two countries in Sub Saharan Africa, since the World Health Organization estimates that this region has the highest rates of drowning deaths but there is very little country-specific data.

Bloomberg Philanthropies will be working with several partners in this effort, including the World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Synergos for implementation and monitoring through 2022.

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ initial funding for drowning prevention also included support for the WHO report Preventing drowning: an implementation guide. The report, released today, outlines the severity of drowning as a global crisis and presents a range of effective drowning prevention strategies and recommended measures to be taken by national and local governments. Key prevention policies include:

  • Providing safe places for pre-school children
  • Installing barriers controlling access to water
  • Teaching school-age children swimming and water skills
  • Building resilience and managing flood risks
  • Training bystanders in safe rescue and resuscitation
  • Set and enforce safe boating, shipping and ferry regulations.

To commemorate the expansion of the program and the release of the implementation guide, Bloomberg Philanthropies, in collaboration with the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, convened a forum on drowning prevention with panel discussions from experts in the field, Ambassadors to the United Nations, and representatives from the World Health Organization and other UN agencies. Drowning activist Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene of Monaco addressed the group via video.

RNLI spokesperson, Helen Morton, said of the event, “This Forum marked a major milestone: demonstrating that drowning prevention can marshal the attention of diplomatic, development, humanitarian and public health leaders. And not without impact; from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ game-changing expansion announcement, to Ambassadors’ collectively committing to pursue the first ever drowning prevention resolution in the United Nation’s 70-year history, this event encourages us that we can end the ‘silent epidemic’ of drowning; recognizing, resourcing and re-positioning the issue as a global health and development priority.”

At the event, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan honored Michael Bloomberg with the WHO medal for his long service to global health and dedication to noncommunicable diseases and injury prevention.

About Bloomberg Philanthropies:
Bloomberg Philanthropies works in over 120 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable activities, including his foundation and his personal giving. In 2016, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $600 million. For more information, please visit or follow us on FacebookInstagramSnapchat, and Twitter.