The World Report on Violence and Health was a landmark document when it was published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2002. Never before had the issue of violence around the world been so thoroughly documented. And the data were striking. The report estimated that in the year 2000, violence claimed the lives of 1.6 million people worldwide. Armed conflict caused 310,000 deaths; suicide was responsible for 2.5 times that number.
The report made clear what EDC’s Jerry Reed had known for years—violence of all forms was a threat to public health.
“The report caused people to realize that we couldn’t ignore the impact of suicide and self-directed violence on global health any longer,” says Reed. “But to make headway, we needed to encourage governments to develop public health responses to suicide. It’s not been easy, but there are signs that we are making progress.”
Reed points to the launch of the recent WHO report Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative as one of these signs. Another is the significant attention the issue is getting from the WHO’s Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA), a group of public health experts committed to implementing the recommendations of the World Report on Violence and Health report. EDC has been a member of the VPA’s steering committee since 2004.
Alexander Butchart, coordinator of the Prevention of Violence Team at the WHO, says that the VPA now considers suicide prevention as a key step towards curbing global violence.
“Jerry has been forthright in saying that we shouldn’t leave self-directed violence out of the public health equation—and there’s more attention on that issue now,” says Butchart.
In October, the VPA gathered at EDC’s Washington, D.C., office for its annual meeting, an event that included 68 attendees from 13 different countries. The alliance draws its membership from the fields of civil service and public health and is a global voice promoting evidence-based responses to violence prevention.
“We want to emphasize that one type of violence causes another,” says Butchart. “When you are dealing with a violent individual, you are often dealing with a troubled family, or a dysfunctional network, too. So violence prevention must also address cross-cutting risk factors. That will be one of the most important messages coming from this group.”
Reed believes this outlook is essential.
“Meaningful violence prevention initiatives will cut across different forms of violence, both self-directed and interpersonal,” he says.
At the October meeting, alliance members discussed recent progress in the cause of global violence prevention, including the recent World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution calling on health systems to specifically address violence against women, girls, and children, as well as the new WHO report on suicide prevention. The group also discussed dissemination strategies for the December 11 launch of the WHO’s Status Report for Violence Prevention, which focuses on the response to interpersonal violence in 133 countries. The VPA plans to use these initiatives to inform policymakers about the importance of building momentum behind violence prevention initiatives at national and regional levels.
“Very few resources find their way to violence prevention, despite the profound burden that violence places on communities,” says Reed. “But it is essential that we continue to deliver the message that violence is preventable. This alliance is doing just that.”