RJRGLEANER Honour Awards 2019 | Working to immunise the population against violence
Recipient: Violence Prevention Alliance
Category: Voluntary Service
As public health specialists, the two women who head the Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA) are focused on preventing and treating violence with the use of data generated from multiple agencies that are united in the fight to create safer communities.
Dr Elizabeth Ward, an epidemiologist; and Dr Deanna Ashley, a paediatrician, say their respective roles as chairperson and executive director of VPA has meant many long nights, as they assess initiatives that are helping to make a difference.
“It is not easy work that we are talking about,” said Dr Ashley.
The women are firm in their belief that violence is preventable, much like several health complications that currently affect Jamaicans.
“Whether it be dengue or violence, heart disease or diabetes, you have to understand what are the drivers and how do you focus on changing the trajectory of that health condition, so we are treating it [violence] like another health condition,” Dr Ashley said.
The VPA was started in 2004, after a World Health Organization global report in 2002 kick-started an international campaign for violence prevention. A global VPA was launched in Geneva in January 2004 and then the local affiliate was launched in November that year.
Public health approach
The alliance takes a public health approach to addressing violence and partners with governmental, non-governmental and private-sector organisations to address its root causes.
“We work with various groups that have the skill set to deal with the problem, but the common thread through all of it is the data. We analyse the data and look at what is the best programme to respond to the problem on the ground,” said Dr Ward.
“So we don’t go in with a fixed programme to solve your problem, we do the background work before that process starts and work with people who are the most effective at delivering that programme.”
As a result of the outstanding work the group has been doing in the area of violence prevention, the VPA is the recipient of the 2019 RJRGLEANER Honour Award for voluntary service. Some of the initiatives they have worked on over the years include the National Plan of Action Against Child Violence and Trees for Peace.
Dr Ward believes that the population can be immunised against violence by creating programmes that focus on proper parenting, conflict management, engagement in church and the community, and safe spaces for children.
One of the most successful projects the VPA has assessed is the Child Resiliency Programme, which provides pyschosocial intervention for troubled children.
“The guidance counselor would identify the most at-risk children and then have an after-school programme for them,” explained Dr Ward.
The programme is targeted towards pre-adolescents and utilises dance, music, nutrition, family home visits, academic support, sports and life skills, among other techniques, to transform these children.
“Our main role would be to track if it is having the impact that we want,” Dr Ward noted.
The assessments provided by the team at the VPA have helped to inform several government and non-government policies. The Jamaica Injury Surveillance System, for example, has provided useful data for the health sector. The alliance also produced the West Kingston crime observatory, which eventually led to the creation of a national crime observatory.
* The Violence Prevention Alliance works with persons from all different spheres of society.
* Dr Elizabeth Ward and Dr Deanna Ashley constantly get calls to ask their opinion on various matters, to do presentations or attend meetings.
* The VPA think tank assesses ongoing activities, which are then tested and supported.
* The VPA is widely believed to be good value for money.
* The Violence Prevention Alliance has created a data-driven injury surveillance approach, providing the geographical statistics.
* VPA gets policy support and collaborates with government agencies.
* The organisation operates both locally and internationally.
* VPA’s Child Resiliency Programme.
* The Violence Prevention Alliance wants to develop a communication strategy to change the culture of violence.
* The organisation wants to see the inculcation of a different approach to dealing with children.
* VPA wants more coordinated, data-driven approaches in programmes.
* The alliance wants dedicated funding.