Prevention still the best cure

2009-09-12 13:51

MOTOR vehicle crashes, drownings, burns and physical hazards created by adults are some of the causes of death among children under the age of five years in this country.

Many parents still drive with their children either on their laps or unbuckled on the seat.

Some home owners don’t fence the pool area or install a pool cover.

The National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (Nimss) ­recently released a report that states the most common place for young children to be injured is inside or around their own homes.

“Ensuring safety at home, schools and public places is important. Injuries to children carry a significant cost to individuals, families, communities and the healthcare sector. Therefore prevention is better, cheaper and also easier than cure,” reads the Nimss report.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 262?000 children worldwide die each year from pedestrian injuries. In South Africa 33?500 children are injured and 565 die each year of such accidents.

Although traffic legislation makes it compulsory ­to “buckle up” children in a moving car, research has found that 89% of children seriously injured in car accidents and ­admitted at Red Cross Hospital in Cape Town were not strapped in ­properly.

Amid this grim picture the SA Emergency Service Institute has forwarded a proposal to the SA ­Bureau of Standards to force all pool owners to fence off their pools or cover them with a net.

The institute’s Marius Atterbury says swimming accidents can often be prevented.

“Currently the levels of safety are unacceptably low. We need to come up with a creative mechanism that can save both the lives of our children and animals,” he says.

The institute has also proposed that every pool should have a splash alarm. This, Atterbury says, will improve response time when a child is drowning.

“Parents can either buy the splash wristband alarm, which can informs them immediately the first moment their child falls into water,” he says.

Childsafe, a local advocacy group for child accident prevention, estimates that on average of every three people who drown in South Africa, one is a child. They say most drownings occur in rivers and dams, followed by swimming pools.

Paediatrician Dr Miles Bartlett says children who are saved from drowning usually develop a high temperature within a few hours of the incident. This alone can cause massive damage to the brain.

Bartlett’s advice to parents is to learn CPR. “It’s vital to keep on ­doing it until emergency services personnel arrives,” he says.

Healthcare givers at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital say last year alone they treated more than 10?000 children for ­various injuries, including poisoning and drowning.

Esmé Abrahams, manager of ­Netcare Garden City Hospital in ­Johannesburg, says: “Considering how valuable our children are, this is indeed a shocking statistic. And the sad truth is that many of these accidents could have been avoided had the necessary precautions been taken.”

Abrahams says parents need to be more aware of how to improve their children’s safety at home and on the playground.

Charlene Davies, founder of Swim Alive says every adult must learn five basic safety tips to prevent drownings.

She says: “Fence the pool with a automatic shutting gate. Be vigilant at all times when children are around water. Teach children to swim. Teach children emergency procedures and learn CPR.”

Child safety tips

CHILDSAFE, an advocacy group for child accident prevention, has these tips for parents:

  • Children under the age of eight should always be ­supervised when walking
  • Children should always be buckled up in motor vehicles
  • Cyclists should wear helmets at all times. Research shows that this reduces the risk of head injuries by 85%
  • Always supervise small children near water even if they can swim
  • Never leave small children alone in the bath and always empty nappy buckets or close firmly with a lid
  • Never handle small children and hot substances at the same time
  • Medication, paraffin and household cleaning materials should be stored away safely out of the reach of children as they pose a poisoning hazard
  • Babies should never be left alone on any high surface such as a changing table or bed
  • Teach children not to experiment with fire, matches or lighters

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