The epidemiology of operations performed by the National Sea Rescue Institute of South Africa over a 5-year period

Erasmus, Elaine ; Robertson, Cleeve ; Van Hoving, Daniel Jacobus (2018)

CITATION: Erasmus, E., Robertson, C. & Van Hoving, D. J. 2018. The epidemiology of operations performed by the National Sea Rescue Institute of South Africa over a 5-year period. International Maritime Health, 69(1): 1–7, doi:10.5603/IMH.2018.0001.

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Background: Injuries remain a major contributor of morbidity and mortality worldwide, with drowning accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths with rates of between 4 and 8 per 100,000. The African region has death rates comparable to most low-income countries. Non-fatal drowning in Africa remains unquantified but it is estimated to be ten times higher than the fatal drowning rate. Timely search and rescue, initial resuscitation and rapid transportation to definitive care play a crucial role in preventing injury- related morbidity and mortality. The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) of South Africa is a non-profit organisation responsible for ~97% of maritime search and rescue operations in South Africa (including inland navigable waters). The aim of the study was to describe the epidemiology of operations performed by the NSRI of South Africa over a 5-year period. Materials and methods: The NSRI operational database was analysed from 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2014. Summary statistics are presented. Results: The NSRI launched 3281 operations over the study period. Marked seasonal variation were noticeable with peak periods in December and January, corresponding to the South African summer holiday season. Water-based operations (67.6%) were the most frequent operation performed. The NSRI assisted 3399 individuals of which 77% were male. The mean age of rescued persons was 42 years. Eight hundred and thirty-six (25%) individuals had non-fatal injuries or illnesses requiring medical assistance. Medical emergencies (35%), traumatic injuries (32.8%), and non-fatal drownings (23%) were the most common types of injury and illness. The majority of the 184 (18%) deaths recorded were due to drowning (75%). Conclusions: Injury and illness, specifically drowning utilise a large proportion of search and rescue services. The results suggest further preventative measures and public health strategies be implemented to minimise traumatic and medical incident severity and subsequent casualties at sea.

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