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Nanaimo doctor working to reduce childhood drowning deaths in Bangladesh

A Nanaimo doctor has just returned from Bangladesh, where he’s spearheading an effort to reduce the number of children who drown every year. 17,000 kids drown in Bangladesh on an annual basis, the highest rate of child deaths by drowning anywhere in the world.

Dr. Steve Beerman is a family physician and Clinical Associate Professor with the University of BC’s family practice training program at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. He was in a rural, flood-prone community on the weekend to officially launch a lifesaving initiative called the Bangladesh Anchal and SwimSafe Project. Beerman says the goal is to reduce the number of kids who drown every year by 50 per cent half in the next 5-10 years. They’re tackling the issue in a few different ways.

First, they’re creating community daycares, called Anchals, to supervise 1000 kids between the ages of 1-5 years old from 9:00-1:00pm six days a week. Beerman says, statistically, that’s when most drownings occur.

Beerman says the children live in an area that’s often flooded, so they’re surrounded by hazards. He says the swimming lessons are meant to give the kids the basic skills they need to rescue themselves.

Phase one of the project is being funded by a $117,000 grant from the Canadian government, through the Grand Challenges Canada initiative. That’s enough to hire about 100 people in Bangladesh to run the community daycares and teach the swimming lessons. If it proves successful they’ll get more funding for phase one to grow the size of the program and bring it to other regions of Bangladesh.

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