A public health epidemic

Antoine POLLEZ –
Faced with spiralling youth violence and knife crime, authorities in London have decided to treat the issues as a public health problem, deploying similar tactics from the fight against disease epidemics. The strategy follows pioneering projects credited with bringing down murder rates in Chicago and Glasgow, two cities blighted by violent crime.
In 2018 so far, the British capital has recorded 133 murders, around two-thirds of them stabbings. “Violence meets the definition of an epidemic health problem,” Charlie Ransford, of Cure Violence — an American NGO founded by former World Health Organization (WHO) worker Gary Slutkin which has pioneered the strategy — said.
“We can address it using the same techniques that we use to address other epidemics.” Modelled on WHO strategies for combatting the spread of diseases like Ebola or HIV/Aids, it treats violence like a similarly contagious phenomenon, trying to turn the tide in three stages.
The immediate priority is limiting transmission, followed by tackling behaviour that fuels the spread, before focusing on changing community norms that allowed the epidemic to begin.
This final part can include better job training and employment placement, as well as so-called “second chance” schemes for offenders. Authorities in Scotland adopted the approach in 2005, after it was branded the most dangerous nation in the developed world in a United Nations report that noted 2,000 Scots were assaulted each week.
They set up the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (SVRU) to implement this novel approach, its director Niven Rennie said.
“It started 10 years ago and we reduced the homicide rate by over 50 per cent in that period,” she said. The unit followed its own three-step strategy. It first strengthened the penalties for carrying a weapon or for perpetrators of aggression, aiming to isolate them and limit the spread of violence. The SVRU then identified those most at risk, to give them “options to move away from being involved in gangs, to get a stabilised life,” according to Rennie.
Finally, from 2012 the unit developed prevention strategies in schools and hospitals to consolidate progress. — AFP