A two-day regional symposium on violence as a public health issue began in Trinidad and Tobago on Monday, acknowledging the impact violence and crime are having on the socio-economic development of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) region.
Bahamas Prime Minister and Caricom chairman, Phillip Davis said “we need all hands on deck,” insisting Caricom is committed to fighting crime in all forms”.
Davis said that the symposium, which is being attended by regional police commissioners, academics and other stakeholders, provides the region with an opportunity to hold an in-depth discussion about “what we can do as a region to develop a holistic approach to violence reduction.
“An epidemic of violence grips our region, one that claims lives and generates fear and anger. In 2022, Jamaica had a staggering homicide rate of 52.9 per 100,000 inhabitants; Trinidad and Tobago had a rate of 39.4 per 100,000, and the Bahamas, Saint Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines all recorded homicide rates above 30 per 100,000. This is over five times the global average.”
Davis said that people throughout the region live in crime hotspots, never knowing if they will be a victim on any given day.
He said in the Bahamas, he has had to bring comfort to mothers and their families, who have lost their sons and daughters “and I know many of you have done the same for your people.”
“Violence spreads like a virus, gaining momentum as one violent crime begets another. In fact, there is a substantial history of analyzing patterns of violent crime using many of the same references used in epidemiology,” Davis said.
“Violence is contagious, and those who map the commission of violent crimes find that their data mirrors the spread of infectious diseases within a community. Violence can strike in waves and can grow exponentially. Those who come in close contact with violence are most likely to spread it and most likely to fall victim to it,” he added.
Davis said that Caricom has embraced the view of violence as a public health crisis, requiring comprehensive interventions to battle an epidemic that has claimed far too many lives.
“As we would with any public health crisis, we must define and monitor the problems, identify the risks and protective factors, and develop mitigation and prevention strategies to halt the epidemic,” he said.
He said the discussions throughout the symposium will deepen the region’s understanding and provide policy makers with a foundation from which holistic strategies can be developed. “We must continue learning from one another and collaboratively develop data-based violence reduction models. I know I don’t have to persuade any of you about the urgency of this work.
“On a typical day, some estimates suggest that an average of 13 young adults between the ages of 16 to 30 lose their lives to violent crime in our region. Each day that passes is another day in which lives are ended, families are broken by grief and loss, and our communities threatened.”
Davis said that there is need to mobilize resources with the same determination “we would bring to fighting any other life-threatening epidemic,” acknowledging that the battle is a complex one.
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