To date there have been no deaths from COVID-19 infection in Vietnam. But COVID-19 is contributing to risks for what is already the leading cause of child mortality in Vietnam – drowning.
Within the space of a few months, COVID-19 has sadly become a part of everyday vocabulary. The virus has reached nearly every country on earth and claimed nearly 130,000 lives at the time of writing. Vietnam has received significant praise and recognition for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is widely accepted that social distancing is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – and in many cases, this includes school closures. In late January, children in Vietnam took a break from school for Tet holiday and were due to return on the 6th February – but due to COVID-19, they didn’t return. Schools remain closed nationwide.
We know that there are number of factors that affect the rates of child drowning. Normally in Vietnam, we see an increase of child drowning cases in the summer holidays. Often these drowning cases occur when children are off school, the weather is hot, and they head to the water without the skills, supervision or knowledge required to keep them safe. When schools are closed it can be a huge challenge for parents to supervise their children. Some parents may be able to pay for childcare, or leave children with competent family members in safe environments. For some families, there are no easy options.
Anh and Giang
On the 9th March, Ngo Chau Anh and Nguyen Thu Giang from Bac Giang province were off school. The two friends went out to play together and headed to a local river. After their families realized they were missing, they went out to look for them. They found their shoes at the top of a bridge, and after a quick search of the area, they found their bodies in the river. It was too late – they had drowned, at a time they would normally be sat safely in school.
Senior Lieutenant Colonel Do Duc Trinh, Chief of the Luc Nam District Police Department warned: “On this occasion, students were on leave due to the Covid-19 epidemic while their parents still had to work so they had less time to care for and manage their children. Many families also send their children to the countryside, or rely on neighbours for supervision, so the risk of accidents, drowning is very high.”
These tragic cases are far from unique. While many parents and caregivers may think that it is safer for children to be at home, over 30 cases of related child drowning have been reported in the media in March 2020 alone. In Vietnam, there are over 2,000 cases of drowning every year – the highest in South East Asia. Often under reported and under recognised, the World Health Organisation refer to drowning globally as a ‘silent epidemic’.
Keeping children safe during the school closures
Recently, the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs in collaboration with the Global Health Advocacy Organization, Hue Help, and UNICEF Vietnam launched a drowning prevention publication for children during the COVID-19 season. This is a publication for parents and caregivers. We recommend that all parents and caregivers read this guidance and implement these measures where appropriate to keep children safe from drowning.
In 2018 and 2019, Hue Help worked with VTV7 to produce a series of educational videos on drowning prevention. These are designed for children, and give practical, clear water safety messages. You can watch them for free online here and here.
Anh, Giang and many other Vietnamese children will not be going back to school. Their lives have been taken early, not by COVID-19 directly, but by drowning at times they should have been in the safety of school. While we continue with robust measures to fight COVID-19, we must continue the fight for child drowning. We must do all we can to make sure that while we protect children from COVID-19, they are not instead taken by the silent epidemic of drowning.
Bao Bac Giang – (http://baobacgiang.com.vn/bg/phap-luat/324700/bac-giang-xuong-suoi-rua-chan-hai-hoc-sinh-tieu-hoc-bi-duoi-nuoc.html?fbclid=IwAR01IjBhVOI57-E-kZaapRrB_r5XLaHi8Nr2_3DgID125TC8EFVDzfTC4LI)
MOLISA – http://www.molisa.gov.vn/Pages/tintuc/chitiet.aspx?tintucID=222500