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IPPNW recommends public health action plan to UN small arms meeting

June 18, 2010

As an NGO participant at the Fourth Biennial Meeting of States (BMS), which was convened to review implementation of the UN’s action plan to combat the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, IPPNW had an opportunity to address the conference on Thursday, June 17, during a special civil society session.

Emperatriz Crespin

Emperatriz Crespin, a physician from El Salvador working with IPPNW's Aiming for Prevention campaign, addresses the Biennial Meeting of States at the UN on June 17, 2010.

Dr. Emperatriz Crespin, a physician and activist from El Salvador, told the states parties to the meeting about the public health impact of armed violence and about the role physicians play not only in treating the victims and assisting with their rehabilitation, but also in documenting the broader social dimensions of the problem.

Dr. Crespin noted that the Programme of Action, while it addresses the human health consequences of armed violence, contains no specific actions focused on improving public health outcomes. Referring to a policy paper released at the BMS by IPPNW as part of its Aiming for Prevention campaign, she recommended that states incorporate public health strategies into national action plans.  The Programme of Action, she said, should reflect the need for a comprehensive supply and demand approach to control small arms and light weapons proliferation, to recognize that health and development are intricately linked, and to implement national collections of data on gun-related deaths and related costs.

Some excerpts from the policy paper:

“Armed violence has been recognized as a humanitarian crisis and a threat to development, but the dimensions of the problem are poorly understood. Despite the comprehensive nature of the UN Programme of Action (UNPoA) on small arms, the implementation of efforts around this document have been rather narrowly focused on arms management issues….

“Sustained high injury and death rates for violent injury require a public health commitment to develop and support action-oriented research, with a goal of collecting data on armed violence injuries and then using it to help formulate prevention policies at all levels, and which can help define successful measures for interventions. It is important to understand the context in which homicides and violent injuries occur in different countries. It has been recognized that several modalities of interpersonal violence occur in a complex interplay of individual, relationship, social, cultural and environmental factors. This approach for understanding the multiple levels of interaction has been defined as the ‘ecological model’. 

“A public health approach to small arms injury focuses on the risk factors driving armed violence and the health effects of gun violence, and brings into the arena the public health community’s emphasis on scientific methodologies and prevention. Public health groups work with many sectors of society promoting a variety of measures that can reduce the frequency and severity of shooting injuries…..

“We recommend the following as a basic action agenda to help states incorporate public health strategies into their National Action Plans.

  • UN PoA outcome documents should refer explicitly to the need for a comprehensive supply and to the control of small arms & light weapons proliferation. demand approach
  • Recognize that health and development are intricately linked as highlighted in the Millennium Development Goals and the Geneva Declaration, and encourage states to invest in prevention programs by integrating public health strategies into National Action Plans, including those related to development, health and poverty reduction.
  • Ensure health representation on National Commissions on Small Arms, and that at minimum the Ministry of Health is represented and ideally an NGO member of the health community as well, to help assess the most strategic investments based on highest needs.
  • Implement national collection of data on gun-related deaths and related costs, needed to guide prevention planning, identify high-risk groups and areas, and to monitor the effects of interventions. Support hospital- and community-based research projects to provide details on gun-related injuries, which are needed to identify risk and resilience factors, and assure proper prevention and management of victims. The cost of this should be included National Commission budgets.
  • Increase support for victim assistance programs that include comprehensive follow-up to ensure productive reintegration of individuals into society.
  • Educate the medical community, students, the media, the public, and policy makers about the public health burden of gun-related injuries.
  • Encourage more involvement of the injury prevention community in gun-related injury prevention. This group can help to apply decades of experience with public health approaches to the prevention of injuries from small arms and light weapons.

The complete policy paper, Prescriptions for Prevention: A Public Health and Human-Centered Approach to Reducing Armed Violence and Promoting Health, Development, is available here.

An in-depth summary of the NGO statements to the BMS, prepared by the UN Department of Public Information, is on the DPI website.

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