Background Drowning is a leading cause of injury-related mortality and morbidity in Australia. In accordance with the Australian Water Safety Strategy (AWSS), advocacy efforts have been directed towards areas of high risk, underlined by an aspirational goal of a 50% reduction in drowning by 2020.
Methods A total population analysis of unintentional, fatal drowning was conducted using the Royal Life Saving National Fatal Drowning Database. The study baseline (three-year average from 2004/05–2006/07) was compared to current figures (three-year average from 2016/17–2018/19), aligning with the beginning and end of the AWSS aspirational goal.
Results Between 2004/05–2006/07 and 2016/17–2018/19, the overall drowning rate reduced by 20.5%. Substantial decreases were recorded against AWSS Goal 1 children 0–4 years (49.2% decrease) and 5–9 years (55.5% decrease), with negligible decreases or increases among people aged 75 years and over (Goal 4). The location-specific drowning rate at rivers decreased by 24.0% (Goal 5) and beaches by 5.5% (Goal 6) but increased at rocks by 35.3%. Seven of Australia’s eight States and Territories recorded reductions in the rate.
Conclusion Australia’s drowning rate has reduced over the course of the AWSS, with significant progress made in children (Goal 1) but little to no success in reducing drowning among older people (Goal 4). Future iterations of the AWSS should prioritise areas of limited progress by developing and implementing targeted drowning prevention strategies.
Learning Outcomes Future drowning prevention efforts should be directed towards areas of limited progress, while consideration needs to be given to changing demographic trends and emerging issues.
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