Friday, December 5, 2014

Collaborative Task-Force Aiming to Reduce Ugandan Drowning Rate

      Justin Sempsrott, M.D., SAI Medical Director and the Executive Director of Lifeguards Without Borders, traveled to Uganda in October as part of an inter-agency team to address drowning prevention. Uganda has one of the highest drowning rates worldwide. This was a first-time collaboration for SAI, the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA), Lifeguards Without Borders, Nile Swimmers, and the three main aquatic safety entities in Uganda: Swim Safe Uganda, Uganda Lifesaving Federation and the Royal Lifesaving Society of Uganda.

     While in Uganda, Sempsrott and the representatives of ISLA and Nile Swimmers conducted a 3-day course on lifeguarding, water safety and CPR for 60 participants. “The course was great and very helpful to those who attended, but the most beneficial part of our trip was meeting with the community stakeholders and the focus on teaching survival swimming in the community,” said Dr. Sempsrott.

     The community stakeholders meeting was the first of its kind in Uganda, and included not only the aquatic safety agencies, but also representatives from the police and fire departments, EMS, military, Ministry of Sports, Ministry of Education and the Uganda Swim Federation. Committee members created a task-force to address drowning in Uganda. The task-force will meet monthly to create an agenda for drowning prevention.

Dr. Sempsrott and the aquatics safety agency representatives he traveled with are very
excited with the outcome of the meeting.

“Together we are stronger. No one agency can solve the problem of drowning alone,”
Dr. Sempsrott said. “We rely on multiple levels of protection for drowning prevention:
pool gates, supervision, swim lessons. The same method can be applied when addressing drowning at a policy level . We need multiple levels at  multiple agencies working together.”

Dr. Sempsrott reported that the initial task-force meeting quickly highlighted the biggest aquatics safety need in the community: survival swimming.

“At this point, we can break swimming into two components: competitive swimming and survival swimming,” explained Dr. Sempsrott, “Survival swimming is just what it sounds like; it’s teaching kids and adults how to handle themselves in the water so they don’t drown.”

    Ugandan swimming Olympian Peter Mugisha was in attendance at the stakeholders task force meeting and charged the Minister of Education with the goal of implementing a swim instruction program for children within the school system. The Minister of Education reportedly agreed that children should be taught how to swim at school, but noted that it may take years before the school system and curriculum is updated to include swim instruction programs.

    “It would be great progress to have a swim instruction program within the schools, but that could take a while to get started,” Dr. Sempsrott stated. He reinforced the need for non-profit programs to provide a survival swimming program in the meantime. J. and Lorraine Wilson of the Dive Spot, Inc. a Training Center for SAI, took the Starfish Swimming curriculum to Uganda and demonstrated that brief swimming interventions can be effective for teaching survival swimming skills.  Dr. Sempsrott noted that there is a continuing need for additional programs like the one spearheaded by the Wilsons.

   “If we can teach the kids in Uganda to swim, we can vaccinate them from drowning later in life,” Dr. Sempsrott urged. We need more agencies to get involved. If we all work together and play to the strengths of each agency, we can do more to help.”