Childhood drowning in Matlab, Bangladesh: An in-depth exploration of community perceptions and practices

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Social Science and Medicine








Bangladesh; Child health; Drowning prevention; Explanatory models


While reductions in infectious disease have resulted in impressive declines in child mortality in Bangladesh, drowning is becoming proportionately more important as a major cause of death, accounting for at least 19% of deaths of children between 1 and 4 years of age in trend analysis since 2000. Little is known about indigenous beliefs and behaviors associated with drowning, which may be critical to preventing child-related drowning deaths. Qualitative research was carried out over 13 months in Matlab, Bangladesh to describe the indigenous explanatory model of drowning and to identify behavioral factors increasing the risk for drowning deaths. Methods included cognitive mapping procedures as well as open-ended interviews with families who had lost a child or experienced a near-death due to drowning and families with at least one child under 5 years living near a body of water. Along with diarrhea, fever, and pneumonia, drowning is perceived as a leading cause of child death. Causal explanations are primarily associated with "evil spirits" believed to entice young children to water or bewitch mothers so that they forget about the child. Another primary interpretation relates to a water goddess known to prey on small children. When a young child is discovered in water, parents refrain from rescuing the child due to a belief that if a parent touches a drowning child, the child will die. After the child is removed from the water, traditional practices that have no known benefit are employed. The research identified locally constructed beliefs and practices such as refraining from touching the child that may increase the incidence of drowning deaths. Future efforts are required to address these beliefs and assess the feasibility, cultural acceptability and effectiveness of strategies designed to prevent drowning. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.