x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

First aid is an invaluable and basic skill for all parents.

We look at the child safety meaures in the UAE.

Attendees at a paediatric first-aid course at health Bay Polyclinic in Dubai practise CPR techniques.
Attendees at a paediatric first-aid course at health Bay Polyclinic in Dubai practise CPR techniques.

It occurred to me the other day that should, God forbid, an accident befall my one-year-old son, I would not know what to do. Yes I could apply a plaster and kiss it better, but for anything worse (now I'm touching wood) I would be helpless.

With that in mind, I recently booked myself on to a paediatric first-aid course at the Health Bay Polyclinic in Dubai. Valid for three years and certified by the Dubai Ambulance Service, it included training in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

I spent a Saturday in a teaching room off Al Wasl Road with a group of nursery school teachers and expectant parents, and left buoyed by a renewed sense of confidence. Not only might I be able to help my son out of a sticky situation, but also anyone else who may need assistance.

It seemed such a small commitment of my time for something so important and yet it is surprising how few people here have such training, says Rebekah Bradley, a senior midwife at Health Bay Polyclinic, who led the course. "When I arrived in Dubai last year, I was horrified to learn that even some of the lifeguards at the pool didn't know first aid," she says. "I don't know how many mums and dads know that, but I wouldn't be happy sending my five-year-old son on a swimming lesson in that situation."

Given that the rate of childhood injury in the UAE is, according to the Dubai Health Authority Child Injury Prevention Strategy, 19 per cent higher than world average figures, increasing the number of first aiders here is something about which Bradley feels passionately.

"How you, as a witness to an accident, react in the first eight minutes can have a huge effect on the outcome," she says. "Seventy per cent of people who receive CPR within the first few minutes following an incident will, where there is no redisposition or existing disease, go on to make a complete recovery. That's three out of every four. An ambulance here can take up to 20 minutes to get to you." CPR enables the body's vital organs - its heart and lungs - to keep functioning when they cannot do so on their own.

The clinic currently offers eight courses a month. "We offer them in split sessions, evenings and weekends," says Bradley. "We've got trainers who can conduct the course in Tagalog or Arabic."

She says the aim is to make it easy for people to come.

But while an increasing population of trained first aiders will help tackle incidents once they have taken place, it poses the question: how to prevent them happening in the first place? "The saddest statistic," says Bradley, "is that around 80 per cent of these incidents are preventable."

Not surprisingly, road accidents make up the majority of child mortalities in the UAE, according to a report (Epidemiology and The Prevention of Child Injuries in the UAE) published in 2008. "We found that mortality from road traffic injuries was almost four times higher than in some countries with more developed safety promotion," says Dr Michal Grivna, an associate professor at UAE University's department of community medicine, and one of the report's authors. "One of the main reasons was not using safety restraints for children. Another is that many families here believe that a child in a mother's - or even a father's - lap in the front seat is quite safe, when in fact is it incredibly unsafe."

Campaigns are underway, including a public health awareness programme, yet to be launched, by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD). In the meantime, says Dr Jens Thomsen, the section head at the health, safety and environment department at HAAD, who is helping to develop the campaign, they are working with other government departments to improve legislation. "There is currently no legislation in place that makes it mandatory for children to be properly restrained in a child safety car seat," he says. They are also distributing 2,400 child car safety seats throughout Abu Dhabi hospitals.

The roads pose an obvious risk, but the number of accidents taking place in the home is also alarmingly high. According to a recent study of home and non-traffic injuries among children and youth in the UAE, of which Grivna is also an author, injury mortality for 0 - 14 year-olds was 10.3 per 100,000 population in 2004 in the UAE compared with 3.8 in Sweden. Falls make up the biggest number. "Many families here are using unsafe equipment such as baby walkers," says Grivna. "There were three deaths in Al Ain related to their use. They are dangerous not only because of the risk of falling down stairs, but because the child can move very fast and can strike sharp edges, or reach electrical plugs or hot objects." He advises that the UAE should follow Canada's lead and ban their sale and import. "They are an incredibly unsafe piece of equipment."

Supervision, says Grivna, is not enough. "Parents cannot supervise children 100 per cent of the time." In the case of swimming pools and water features, he advises that not only should they be fenced off with an automatically closing gate, but the children should also be given swimming lessons. "A child can drown in only 10 to 15 cm of water," he adds. Parents should check every room in the house for risks to children, paying particular attention to places such as stairs.

Proper supervision alone may not be the answer, but, says Bradley, it would certainly help. "We have a large workforce here of people who are not specifically trained in what they're doing," she says. "It's often a case of people not watching and who are not equipped to deal with the responsibility they're given. I would like to think that all nursery workers here are trained in health and safety and first aid, but they're not. I find that shocking. It's a basic skill."

One of the biggest challenges, says Grivna, is trying to challenge cultural views on culpability. "Many people here believe that injuries are not preventable and that it is destiny," he says, "that the evil eye or the djinns are playing the roles. We need to convince people that it's not destiny. You can do something to reduce the risk. If you are buying your child a bicycle, buy them a bicycle helmet as well. It may save their life."