The year 2013 was a big year for violence as a health issue and I think it will go down as the year that the health sector finally started to establish itself as a key player in violence prevention.
The impetus was dreadful – the Sandy Hook shooting that killed 20 children and six adults on December 14, 2012. But this tragedy began a public dialogue in the health community about what can be done to prevent not just mass shootings, but gun violence of all types.
Why is health sector involvement in violence prevention so important? Scientific research has shown violence to be a contagious process, and one that acts just like an epidemic disease. Because the health sector has training in dealing with epidemics and because it has regular contact with those exposed to violence, the health sector is not only a valuable, but also a necessary part of the solution.
The path to this realization has included many steps: early research on violence as a public health issue by people such as Deborah Prothrow-Stith; the early involvement of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Injury Prevention branch, and Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s support for viewing violence as a public health issue – to name only a few. But in recent years, it seems that looking at violence as a health issue has gone from being a fringe theory to becoming a widely accepted idea.
A big indication of this shift can be seen in all of the medical organizations that have come out in 2013 in support of and advocating for the health sector involvement in violence prevention. Here are a few examples:
- American College of Physicians (ACEP): adopted a resolution to: “Promote awareness of hospital-based violence intervention programs as evidence-based solutions for violence reduction and coordinate with relevant stakeholders to provide resources for those who wish to establish hospital-based violence intervention programs.” (“2013 Reference Committee Reports Compendium”)
- American Psychology Institute: issued a report saying the most effective way to reduce gun violence is through public health methods – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/12/us/broader-approach-urged-to-reduce-gun-violence.html?hpw&rref=us&_r=0
- American Academy of Pediatrics: issued a call for pediatricians to get involved in preventing gun violence – http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/Pages/A-Message-from-AAP-President-Thomas-K-McInerny-MD-FAAP-on-the-Anniversary-of-the-Tragedy-in-Newtown-CT.aspx
- American Medical Association – sent a letter to the President of the United States advocating for prevention and treatment to prevent gun violence – http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/advocacy/topics/violence-prevention.page
We are still a long way from a solution, but now we are headed in the right direction. Let’s hope that 2014 is a year in which the health sector makes real strides toward solving the problem of violence in our world.