World Drowning Prevention Day: Improving Drowning Data to Save Lives


Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, with an estimated 236,000 deaths each year. Ninety percent of all drowning deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest estimated drowning death rates globally. The coastal town of Apam, Ghana, was confronted with this reality on March 7, 2021, when more than 20 teenagers, ages 14 to 17, were involved in a drowning incident. Thirteen of them died. The group of friends went for a swim at Apam Beach which was unsupervised by lifeguards due to COVID-19 restrictions. The group was swept away by a sudden swell. Survivors of the incident were left in disbelief that a leisure activity could end in such tragedy. To prevent tragedies like the incident in Apam, more attention is needed on water safety.

July 25, 2021 will mark the inaugural World Drowning Prevention Day, day to highlight the devastating impact of drowning on families and communities globally and call attention to the need for life-saving drowning prevention strategies. Recognized by all 193 Member States of the United Nations (UN), the UN General Assembly passed the historic resolution on April 28, 2021, Under this resolution, organizations are encouraged to describe the burden caused by drowning, whether it’s through cultivating awareness and action on prevention recommendations from the World Health Organization, or planning activities or events to mark World Drowning Prevention Day.

In observance of World Drowning Prevention Day, the CDC Foundation is highlighting our work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and partners to understand the burden and circumstances of drowning, an important first step in identifying appropriate prevention strategies. Despite the estimated high burden of drowning in sub-Saharan Africa, surveillance and data collection activities to understand the full extent of drowning in the region are incomplete, due to limited resources and infrastructure and competing public health priorities. With funding support from Bloomberg Philanthropies and technical assistance from CDC’s Division of Injury Prevention, the Understanding and Preventing Drowning in sub-Saharan Africa project is working to improve drowning prevention by better understanding the burden and circumstances of drowning in Uganda and Ghana.

The CDC Foundation and CDC partnered with Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) in Uganda to conduct a retrospective study of drowning cases across 60 districts in Uganda that occurred between January 2016 to June 2018. MakSPH researchers conducted an extensive review of all available records on drowning cases from administrative sources, including police offices, fire/rescue brigade detachments, marine police detachments and large mortuaries. Additional data were collected through in-depth interviews and focus group discussions to better understand circumstances surrounding drownings.

Overall, no single administrative data source was sufficient for understanding the burden or characteristics of drowning in Uganda. When using data from multiple sources, study researchers found that common characteristics of drowning in Uganda include male sex and young adult age. Frequent drowning locations and activities differed, including both lakeside and non-lakeside districts. Approximately one-third of fatal drowning cases occurred in non-lakeside districts, warranting additional investigation of drowning in non-lakeside districts. These findings are being used by Makerere and other local partners in Uganda to prioritize prevention strategies. Learn more about the study in the BMJ Injury Prevention article, Drowning in Uganda: examining data from administrative sources.

In its next phase of the project, the CDC Foundation and CDC are partnering with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology to understand the burden and circumstances of drowning in Ghana. Building upon the findings and lessons learned from the Uganda study, the project team will further expand its reach to calculate an estimate of Ghana’s drowning death rate.

The unprecedented global attention on drowning through World Drowning Prevention Day and the impactful research conducted through public-private partnerships like these, can help prevent tragedies like Apam Beach.

The CDC Foundation encourages you to participate in this very first World Drowning Prevention Day of observance. Visit the World Health Organization’s World Drowning Prevention Day Guidance for Organizations to learn more about the current state of drowning globally and actions you can take to address it.

Janel Blancett Headshot Image
Janel Blancett is a program officer for the CDC Foundation.