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An NSRI study on fatal drownings in South Africa, published last year, was recently recognised at the annual Prism Awards, Africa's most sought-after public relations and communication awards.

In South Africa, a country blessed with abundant water resources, the battle against fatal drownings has taken on new significance. Why? For the first time, ground-breaking research into fatal drownings in the country sheds light on the factors contributing to these tragic incidents and points to strategies for their prevention. The SA Epidemiological Study of Fatal Drownings was conducted by NSRI Drowning Prevention Executive Director Dr Jill Fortuin, NSRI CEO Dr Cleeve Robertson, research assistant Nongcebo Mahlalela and UCT Researcher Innocent Karangwa, and published in November 2022.

On 29 July 2023, it was recognised with a Prism Award in the Communication and Research category, an accolade that recognises the value of the research and its critical importance to the public good.

“Winning this award is one of the proudest moments for the Drowning Prevention department, considering that the research division has been operational for less than 18 months,” says Nongcebo, who attended the event to accept the award on her team’s behalf. “This research gives an accurate estimation of the drowning burden in the country. We provided the contributing factors related to the high number of drowning incidents. In addition, the inferences that we have drawn are consistent with what has been reported in global drowning research. All this information aids in making more informed decisions in the prevention strategies that are to be put in place.”

Some of the findings of the paper include the fact that during the study period (2016–2021):

  • 5 820 males (81%) succumbed to fatal drowning compared with 1357 females
  • Far more fatal drownings occurred in fresh water than in the ocean
  • The average number of fatal drownings per year was 1 477, with the highest incidence occurring in KwaZulu-Natal
  • Children under the age of four have the highest prevalence of drownings among all the age categories
prism award

“We have received a lot of positive responses to the findings of our research,” says Nongcebo. “This was the first comprehensive fatal drowning epidemiological study conducted in South Africa. As a result, the publication gained a lot of traction in the media. It has also created collaborative opportunities for the organisation, nationally and internationally.”

Indeed, the Altmetric Attention Score – a weighted count of the attention that a scholarly article has received – for the study, is 49. This score is two times higher than the average score that most publications attain.

“Winning this award is also evidence that the publication continues to gain the public’s attention,” said Nongcebo. “Furthermore, in June, we reached a milestone of 50 reads. To date, we have 63 reads and one citation.” (This is important as it strengthens the H-Index, which is a metric that gauges the performance of the research outputs.)

The NSRI extends its congratulations to the entire Drowning Prevention team for this excellent contribution towards saving lives on South African waters.

If you would like to download the paper, click here.

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