Drowning: One of the World’s Most Prolific "Silent Killers" of Children

Aileen M. Marty, M.D.

Director, FIU Health Travel Medicine Program


Florida, with its sunny beaches and swimming pools, loses more children under age five to drowning than any other state, but drowning is a worldwide concern. On November 14, the World Health Organization posted its first Global report on drowning. It estimates that drowning kills 372,000 people each year and is among the top causes of death for children and young people around the world.

We need to get serious about this health risk to our children and our community. Drowning is the leading cause of death among children ages 1-4 in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties. In the United States, about ten people drown every day, mostly children under the age of 5. “Annually in Florida, enough children to fill three to four preschool classrooms drown and do not live to see their fifth birthday,” according to the Florida Department of Health. For every child who drowns there are 5 times as many who need to go to an emergency room and require hospitalization; these near-drowning injuries can produce severe brain damage and can cause long-term disabilities ranging from memory problems and learning disabilities to permanent loss of basic functioning (such as a permanent vegetative state). Worldwide, and in Florida, drowning kills twice as many boys as girls, and among survivors, boys are more likely to need hospitalization and have more complications.

Drowning Prevention: WaterproofFL


In response, the Florida Department of Health developed a campaign, “WaterproofFL” which follows national recommendations and emphasizes the elements needed to prevent drowning: supervision, barriers, and emergency preparedness.

To protect yourself and your family members, you should take time to learn about drowning awareness, including the risks associated with drowning by reviewing the Florida program (http://www.floridahealth.gov/alternatesites/waterprooffl/) and acquire water survival skills for yourself and children to prevent drowning.

High risk individuals

Individuals with epilepsy and autism are at particular high risk of drowning. FIU Health has a comprehensive health care program for adults with autism. FIU EMBRACE (https://fiumedicine.exposure.co/fiu-embrace) is a comprehensive and integrated clinical and training program that includes strategies to help prevent drowning and address many other challenges faced by individuals with autism spectrum disorder.