Putting Violence on the Health Care Agenda

The National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy is probably the most important part of last year’s health care reform that you didn’t hear about. Despite an uninspiring name, the National Prevention Strategy is an encouraging step by the Obama Administration toward a more collaborative and prevention-focused national health policy.

Even more inspiring is the administration’s inclusion of violence prevention as one of the seven evidence-based measures for reducing preventable death and illness.

Cure Violence has always seen violence as a health care issue and an evidence-based, public health approach as the most effective way to prevent it. We’re glad that the current administration agrees—and recently pledged $4 million in community grants for organizations that work towards healthier communities, including through violence prevention.

But there’s still more to be done. Twenty-five years ago, no one would have thought twice about lighting up a cigarette in a room full of pregnant women. Today, that is unthinkable. In far too many of our communities, violence is still seen as a “normal” response to conflict. Even a small slight or perceived insult can be enough to elicit a deadly shooting—and ignite a destructive chain of retaliation. Our goal is that 25 years from now, using violence to solve a dispute will be as unfathomable as smoking next to a pregnant woman.

To achieve our goal, we’re working to change the way our society thinks about violence. Too often, we react to violence with punitive measures—harsher sentencing, super max prisons, increased police presence. Cure Violence takes a different approach, using scientific research, data, and outreach workers who know the streets to prevent violence before it occurs.

As Dr. George Albee, a former president of the American Psychological Association, once said, “No mass disorder afflicting mankind is ever brought under control or eliminated by attempts at treating the individual.” Violence is as terrible an affliction as our country has ever seen. Homicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among 10 to 24-year olds, and the number one cause of death among African-Americans of the same age. Making violence prevention a central part of our national health strategy is the first step toward eliminating this deadly epidemic.