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Global efforts to prevent violence: World Health Organization reports significant progress

Governments around the world are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that violence can be prevented and are investing in effective strategies. Experts in preventing violence will assess the advances that have been made at a conference, the 2nd Milestones of a Global Campaign for Violence Prevention, in San Francisco, California, on 19 October 2005, co-hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and The California Wellness Foundation.

Since the launch of the World report on violence and health three years ago, there has been significant progress by many countries towards measures to prevent violence, WHO reports. "A few years ago, you could have counted on one hand the number of countries able to spell out the links between violence, public health and prevention," said Dr Catherine Le Galès-Camus, WHO Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health. "Today, more than 70 countries have national violence prevention focal points and more than 50 have initiated policies and programmes focused on addressing the root causes of violence."

Important milestones include: the development of national violence prevention strategies in Malaysia, the Russian Federation, South Africa and Thailand; work on strengthening medical and legal care for victims of sexual violence in Jordan, Mozambique, Nicaragua and the Philippines; the release of national reports on violence and health in Belgium, Brazil, France and the United Kingdom; resolutions on preventing violence in the WHO African Regional Committee and in the Council of Europe; and the creation of entities such as the National Commission on Violence Prevention in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the Arab chapter of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

"The change is very positive and the door on this issue is opening around the world,'' said Dr Etienne Krug, WHO Director of the Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention, "For many countries, accepting the notion that violence can be prevented has been nothing short of revolutionary. This in fact may be the most important of all milestones achieved to date."

Jamaica is one example of a country starting to tackle the problem of violence. Data from that country show violence to be the leading cause of death in young males, and the fifth leading cause of death for people of all ages. Caring for the victims of violence costs more than 700 million dollars per year. In response, the Ministry of Health launched a chapter of the Violence Prevention Alliance, a network of national and international agencies - government, nongovernmental and private - which share a public health approach to violence prevention. Jamaica's Minister of Health will present his country's experiences at the San Francisco conference.

The State of California in the United States is also addressing violence. From 1991 to 2003 the number of young people killed by gun violence decreased by 41%, due to a combination of factors including increased investment in violence prevention, particularly in youth safety programmes, and stronger gun control laws. "Shifting resources to comprehensive violence prevention programmes requires that we move ourselves and our society beyond special interest, beyond the politically expedient and beyond the punishment mentality," said Mr Gary Yates, President and Chief Executive of The California Wellness Foundation. "Just as violence has many causes, there is no single means of preventing it."

The World report on violence and health demonstrated the extent of the impact of violence: suicide and homicide are the 5th and 6th leading causes of death in people aged 15-29 years. More than 90% of those deaths are concentrated in low- and middle-income countries. Between three and seven million adolescents and young adults receive hospital treatment each year for a violence-related injury. Every day, millions of children, women and the elderly experience physical, sexual and emotional abuse, often by family members, that can lead to lifelong consequences for physical and mental health.

Evidence shows, however, that a major proportion of violence-related death and suffering is avoidable through investment in positive approaches such as parent training; home visitation services; reducing alcohol availability and access to firearms; helping high-risk adolescents to complete schooling; changing cultural norms that condone the use of violence; and providing adequate emergency medical care. Cost-effectiveness studies show that most of these strategies are cheaper to implement than paying the costs of responding to violence.

In addition to showcasing some of the significant violence prevention work underway around the world, the conference, 2nd Milestones of a Global Campaign for Violence Prevention, will serve as an opportunity to chart the future of the Global Campaign for Violence Prevention, including the feasibility of a global media initiative against violence.

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For more information contact:

Ms Laura Sminkey
Technical Officer
WHO Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention
Telephone: +41 22 791 4547
Mobile phone: +41 79 249 3520
E-mail: sminkeyl@who.int

Alison Phinney-Harvey
Technical Officer
Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention
Telephone: +41 (22) 791 2867
E-mail: phinneya@who.int

Dr David Meddings
Medical Officer
Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention
Telephone: +41 (22) 791 3798
Mobile phone: +41 (79) 477 1729
E-mail: meddingsd@who.int