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Discussing TAGS at World Health Organisation. Geneva, Switzerland

20 March 2018

Dr David Meddings leads the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) global work on drowning prevention from its Geneva headquarters. On 20th March, TAGS founder, Malini Mehra, caught up with him to learn about the history of the WHO’s work on the issue and its current strategy.

According to the WHO’s latest data, 360,000 people die from drowning each year – over half are aged under 25. In 2014, the WHO called the global drowning epidemic a “silent killer” in its first-ever global report dedicated exclusively to drowning.

Since then, there has been another major new WHO report on drowning – this time focussed on prevention. Entitled Preventing Drowning: An Implementation Guidethe 116-page report was published in 2017, with Dr Meddings as its Executive Editor.

Explaining the long journey that the global public health community has taken to get to this point, Dr Meddings highlighted the controversies that had dogged the field –including differing views on the value of swim lessons in preventing drowning fatalities until relatively recently. He emphasised the need for a robust evidence base to inform policy and that the 10 key recommendations in the Implementation Guide represented the state-of-the-art in the field.

The 10 interventions comprise six interventions and four strategies ranging from teaching school-age children swimming and water safety skills to developing a national water safety plan. The TAGS campaign is actively promoting implementation of the WHO report, in particular its guide to appropriate swim safety training with pre-screening and essential safeguards in place .

In discussing the complementarity between the TAGS campaign focus on gender and disaster risk, and the WHO’s drowning prevention recommendations, Dr Meddings agreed that gender analysis in the field was under-developed.

As improving gender awareness and promoting gender responsive policies in the fields of drowning prevention, disaster risk reduction and climate change are key aims of the TAGS campaign, there is good potential for the campaign to provide value to the WHO’s work and benefit from mutual learning.

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