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JIS News

To assist in the effort to curb the level of violence in the society, particularly among young males, the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with other key agencies, is spearheading the Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA).
Launched on November 10 at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, the Alliance is a network of government, non-governmental and community-based organizations, and private, international and inter-governmental agencies working together to prevent violence.
It shares a public health approach that targets the root causes of violence, and recognizes the need for improved services to mitigate the harmful effects of violence.
Key agencies working in collaboration with the Health Ministry are National Security and Education, Youth and Culture Ministries, and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Statistics have shown that violence is the fifth leading cause of death in Jamaica and is the number one cause of death in young males.
Dr. Elizabeth Ward, Director of Disease Prevention and Control in the Ministry of Health tells JIS News that the objectives of the Alliance “will be to support any national action plan against crime and violence prevention as well as to facilitate the development of policies, programmes and tools to implement the recommendations of the WHO’s report on violence and health in Jamaica”.
Other objectives include the collaboration and exchange of information on violence prevention, to enhance capacity for the collection of data on violence with a specific focus on the use of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, to support the promotion of primary prevention of violence, particularly through public education, and to support the integration of violence prevention into social and educational policies, thereby enhancing the promotion of gender and social equality.
The Alliance will provide strategy level guidance to participant organizations and others, on how to draw on the WHO recommendations to become more effective and systematic in the violence prevention activities they support and implement. It will also look to share information, experiences and expertise between participants, institutions and groups that focus on different sub-types of violence.
According to Dr. Ward, focus on primary prevention is a key component to the success of the programme. Speaking at a VPA workshop recently, Dr. Ward said that work has to begin early, as young people are the ones who are being severely affected by violence.
A report on violence-related injuries in 2003 showed that 32,644 visits for violence-related injuries (VRIs) to Accident and Emergency departments at government hospitals, accounted for 41 per cent of all visits. Young adults (20 to 29 years) accounted for 33 per cent of the visits, while adolescents (10 to 19 years) represented 22 per cent of the cases seen.
Males in particular, were singled out at the workshop for being in need of urgent attention, as they are 1.4 times more likely to present themselves at the hospital with a VRI, than females. In fact, men aged 25 to 44 years accounted for 47 per cent of the injuries sustained by males.
Violence can be considered cyclical, and the VPA has developed a cyclical approach to violence prevention and intervention. This involves breaking down the approach into three stages.
The first involves primary intervention, where parents and guardians teach life skills to children. Secondary intervention, which follows, calls for literacy and mentoring as necessities, and techniques such as supervised after-school activities are employed as preventive and protective measures. The final stage is tertiary intervention, where incarceration and hospital based treatments come into play. This final stage involves the key component of rehabilitation for a change of lifestyle.
Dr. Ward tells JIS News that the VPA will be working along with the Safe Schools Programme, which was implemented to curb the rising cases of violence in schools; to provide resource persons and data for the programme, and to do an evaluation to gauge the progress of the programme.
One sector which is being severely hampered by crime and violence is the health sector. It is estimated that Jamaica spends $600 million each year on the care of victims of violence.
Director of the Accident and Emergency Department at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), Dr. Jean Williams-Johnson says that $12 million was spent on VRIs between December 2003 and February 2004.
This is undoubtedly robbing the island of human and monetary resources that are greatly needed in the development of the country.
The VPA has adopted a public health approach to violence prevention and intervention, which is based on the identification of risks or protective factors. These factors will be used to determine the cause of violent behaviours and the measures that can be put in place to prevent the occurrence or recurrence of violent actions.
Sustainability will be key to the eventual success of the programme. In this regard, Dr. Ward tells JIS News that the National Health Fund will provide funding to finance and co-ordinate the programme. A Steering Committee from a wide-cross section of the country will be using a WHO model to monitor and evaluate the impact of the Alliance’s work, she adds.
“Alliance has already began to pull on international resources with the invitation of Rodrigo Guerrero, former Mayor of Cali, Colombia, who worked on violence prevention in that city, to the VPA launch and workshop, to tell of his experiences in this field and give his advice,” Dr. Ward points out. Although reducing violence to a tolerable level seems an insurmountable task at this time, Dr. Ward believes that with the commitment of the entire Jamaica, the VPA can be successful.
“It’s going to take a lot of resources, energy and commitment from every Jamaican to make it work, because it is not something the Ministry of Health can do alone,” she tells JIS News.
Dr. Ward explains that the VPA’s ultimate aim is to make sure the public benefits and to keep all Jamaica, especially children, free from violence and the fear of violence.