IANSA Public Health Network at WHO meeting on violence prevention

On 6-7 September, nearly 300 experts on violence prevention from more than 60 countries met in Cape Town, South Africa, to discuss progress on WHO's Global Campaign for Violence Prevention and the way ahead. The meeting was hosted by WHO, the Ministry of Health of South Africa, and the Provincial Government of the Western Cape. Among the participants were representatives from the Small Arms Survey and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), a leading member of the IANSA Public Health Network.

Thanks are due to Maria Valenti of IPPNW for sharing this report from the meeting:

WHO Cape Town Violence Prevention Meeting: “Health is Not Possible in Violent Communities”

Dr. Etienne Krug, Director of the of Department of Injury and Violence Prevention of the World Health Organization (WHO), challenged over 250 participants to “go home and decide how you will help move violence prevention forward” at the conclusion of the two-day meeting “5th Milestones of a Global Campaign for Violence Prevention” held recently in Cape Town, South Africa. The biennial meeting was convened to review progress on international violence prevention efforts and to help create a blueprint for the future. Four leaders in the Aiming for Prevention on armed violence program of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War attended to share expertise with colleagues from around the world.

Dr. Krug warned that attaining the “highest possible level of health”—WHO’s overarching goal—is not possible in violent communities. He said that while violence is among the world’s biggest public health problems, prevention efforts have “not yet gained political traction.” Moving forward will require the development community to invest more resources in low-income countries to document the context of violence and help create and scale up prevention programs.

This includes investing in more data collection on injuries and deaths from armed violence, and in assessing prevention programs that work.  Mapping such programs was the topic of speaker Anna Alvazzi del Frate, research director of Small Arms Survey, one of the few plenary presenters who focused on armed violence. She described preliminary results of a survey of over 570 armed violence prevention (AVP) programs in six countries – Brazil, Burundi, Colombia, Liberia, South Africa and Timor Leste. Challenges included how to define an AVP program, such as indirect programs that focus on the social determinants of violence, and the fact that most programs are less than 3 years old and have not been evaluated for efficacy.  “We need more long term planning, more program evaluation,” she said, as well as we need to encourage partnerships and scaling up of activities that work.

South African gun control advocate Adele Kirsten was one of the few others who addressed gun violence in particular. She discussed successful advocacy and education strategies by Gun Free South Africa and the Center for Violence Prevention and Reconciliation. This included the use of media to highlight the high incidence of gun deaths by city, as well as building local partnerships. “Sometimes a massive research project is not possible,” said Kirsten. “In South Africa, all we needed to know was that 35 people a day were being killed by guns.” This stark statistic helped mobilize positive actions on prevention.

WHO has made securing treaties such as the Arms Trade Treaty one of its nine priority recommendations in the landmark 2002 World Report on Violence and Health, that is “to seek practical, internationally agreed responses to the global drugs trade and the global arms trade.[i]

IPPNW members left the meeting to answer Dr. Krug’s call to action in a number of countries, including in Liberia to conduct armed violence research, to a Cluster Munitions summit in Beirut, and to conduct further organizing on armed violence prevention in South Africa.

The WHO Violence Prevention Alliance will next meet in Munich, Germany in April 2013.


[i]Krug E. et al. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2002.