Global Campaign for Violence Prevention

Opening Address

Geneva, Switzerland
12 January 2004

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to Geneva. This city has a reputation for low levels of violence, but unfortunately no community can afford to be complacent in this regard.

Globally, violence kills 1.6 million people a year and leaves several million more with injuries, disabilities and mental disorders. It is the health services that are confronted most directly with these consequences of violence. In caring for its victims, they have accumulated much knowledge about its causes and effects. This knowledge equips the health sector to play a leading role in reducing violence and the damage it does.

Violence also contributes substantially to other health problems. The social instability it causes increases poverty, and with it the diseases of poverty. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is exacerbated by sexual violence and by intravenous drug abuse. Child mortality rises where violence prevents immunization activities. The mental effects of violence lead to further health problems such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, risk-taking behaviour - and further violence.

In short, violence is a cross-cutting risk factor for many of our most pressing health concerns. It makes sense, therefore, for public health professionals to be fully involved in its prevention.

In addition to their task of reducing suffering through care of victims, health agencies at every level have a particular interest in preventing violence. Scientific studies by public health experts have produced a large number of effective interventions for individuals, families, communities and societies.

These were some of the facts that led the Health Assembly to highlight the problem and preventability of violence in 1996, and call for a response from WHO and its Member States. Experts in 70 countries then worked on gathering and interpreting the information that became the World Report on Violence and Health published in 2002.

The Report provides data from around the world on suicide, child abuse, youth violence, sexual violence, abuse of the elderly, violence between intimate partners, and other areas of personal and social conflict. In doing so it makes clear the magnitude of the problem, and at the same time the enormous potential that exists in the health sector for reducing it.

The Report was used to launch a global campaign on violence prevention. More than forty countries have been participating by stimulating public awareness of the problem and the ways in which it can be tackled. Several of them have also made national plans of action for violence prevention involving collaboration between the health services and other sectors such as education, social services and crime prevention.

At this meeting you will be looking at advances made since the launch of the Report, and discussing further ways to implement its recommendations. These recommendations are not about doing the impossible, such as changing human nature, but about taking simple preventive measures through health and other relevant social systems. National plans of action, data collection and exchange, monitoring of adherence to existing laws and rules, and improving services for victims would already achieve a substantial improvement. At this stage, documenting effective responses and making that information available to others is a major priority.

To this end, a Global Interpersonal Violence Prevention Alliance will be launched this afternoon. It will bring together partners with expertise in violence research, training, advocacy and prevention programming. The continuing high rates of violence will not be reversed without this kind of large-scale commitment to collaboration and investment in prevention.

I would like to thank Dr Unger and the Government of Geneva for co-hosting this meeting with us. Geneva has a long and distinguished history of involvement and leadership in international violence prevention activities. Like all cities in the world, it has also had to respond to problems of youth and family violence in its own population. You will be hearing later today about how Geneva has tackled violence from a public health and judicial perspective.

The World Report on Violence and Health was an excellent beginning. As requested by the World Health Assembly last year, we need to continue the work of transforming its wealth of information and ideas into activities. This will make a valuable contribution to the effectiveness of national and international health systems. As a result, we will see better services for the victims of rape, child abuse and other forms of violence, improved legislation, clear national and local estimates of the economic costs of violence and how to reduce them, and, above all, a continually growing body of information on successful prevention strategies.

WHO will continue to do everything it can to provide leadership and support for these efforts. As part of the UN system, we exist to promote justice and security in the area of health. Violence prevention contributes directly to both these aims.

I encourage you to listen carefully today to the accounts of the many activities that have been taking place since the launch of the Report. Give particular attention to at least one of them that could be used in your own countries. It could be a national report, a policy discussion, a proposal to join the violence prevention alliance, a poster campaign, an improvement in services for victims, a preventive activity, or a data collection system. If each country represented here starts just one additional activity we will have taken another step towards making the world a healthier and safer place.

Thank you.