Tackling crime from a public health perspective – Symposium to be convened in Trinidad and Tobago in April

 Tackling crime from a public health perspective – Symposium to be convened in Trinidad and Tobago in April

Across the Region the screaming headlines make for sombre reading and reflection on the cheap value now placed on life; on the irrationality of the use of guns at the drop of a hat; at the ease with which guns have become more accessible to almost anyone with nefarious intentions.

Loss of life from gun violence is increasing in the region. Drugs and human trafficking are fuelling the upsurge in crime and violence. Chair of CARICOM, the Hon. Philp Davis, Prime Minister of The Bahamas, addressed those matters pointedly as an area for priority action, when he addressed the opening of the Forty-Fourth Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM.

“We should seek to strengthen our collective response to end the smuggling of guns and drugs.

“And we must do all that we can to wipe out the misery of human trafficking,” he told his colleagues and other delegates. Calling for a the Region to operate within a framework of “the interests of us all”, the Prime Minister warned “none of us will be safe until we are all safe. None of us will develop sustainably or securely, if we leave our neighbours behind. None of us will truly prosper if our resources are forever taxed by the poverty and instability of those nearby. Going it alone will not work.”

The crime and violence situation has galvanised regional security stakeholders to search for different approaches to confront the problem.

One such approach that is gaining traction is tackling the matter form a public health perspective. It is not the first time the link is being made between regional public health and crime and violence. Back in 2020, when Prime Minister of Barbados, the Hon. Mottley, was chairing the Conference of Heads of Government, she had announced that a multi-disciplinary summit on security was being convened. She noted then that crime, violence and security were not issues that could “be believed to be simply the responsibility of governments”, particularly in the context of the Caribbean where they are “effectively public health disorders, public health diseases”.

At the conclusion of the 44th Heads of Government Meeting in The Bahamas, Prime Minister Davis announced that Trinidad and Tobago will host the high level multi-stakeholder meeting in April to address crime, particularly violent crime as a public health concern.

“The Heads of Government expressed deep concern at the current levels of violence being experienced in Member States. We recognise that to adequately address crime and violence, a holistic approach must be undertaken which addresses economic growth and prosperity, legislative judicial, police and education reform,” he said at the press conference at the conclusion of the Meeting.

In October last year, Institutions that participate in the CARICOM Security Cluster met in Trelawny, Jamaica, during a series of security-related meetings, including the 24th Meeting of the Council for National Security and Law Enforcement (CONSLE). The CARICOM Security Cluster comprises the CARICOM Implementing Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM-MPACS), the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the Regional Security System (RSS). The October Security Cluster meeting focused on crime and violence as a public health issue preparatory to the 44th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM on the matter.

After the CONLSE Meeting, CARICOM Today spoke with security and health experts including Dr. Joy St. John, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), and Lt. Col. Michael Jones, Head of the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS)

It makes a lot of sense

For Dr. St. John, the approach makes a lot of sense. She explained that the perspective considers what makes people behave in a way that allows crime and violence to thrive, because at the essence of health is behaviour. “So, the public health approach is therefore looking at how we can change that behaviour, so that when people are deciding on a way of life, they don’t decide on violence and crime”.

Dr. Joy St. John, CARPHA Executive Director, at the just-concluded 44th Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM, Nassau, The Bahamas

“From a purely public health perspective, it makes every bit of sense to link crime and violence with public health. In public health, we look at things that affect the health of the population and so the context, the national environment is going to affect the population. So, looking at crime and violence from a public health perspective is almost like a no-brainer. It’s the next step because we have been seeing since the COVID-19 lockdowns have stopped there’s been this resurgence in crime and there has been a lot of loss of life through shootings. We’ve seen that it has also affected the culture and the way in which especially young people are interacting with the whole of society, so it makes sense to have a public health perspective.”

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