Violence a health issue, says Tshabalala-Msimang

Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said on Monday that South Africa had long recognised violence as a health issue and that the health department was currently running a number of programmes to combat the scourge.

Msimang was speaking in Port Shepstone at the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) local launch of the World Report on Violence and Health—a report that came about as a result of a motion tabled by South Africa in 1996 at the world health assembly.

The minister told Dr Etienne Krug, the WHO’s Geneva-based research co-ordinator and the man who presented her with the report on Tuesday, that the health department was considering plans to put health warnings on alcohol.

She said that while there were a number of clearly identifiable risk factors for violence, two stood out above all others—poverty and alcohol.

“What this tells us is that we can not afford to be narrow in our thinking on how to combat violence. Yes of course more police ...are important but we also need to tackle the very complex problems related to poverty and we need to have powerful programmes to stop alcohol and drug abuse,” she said.

According to the latest Statistics SA report on the causes of death in South Africa, non-natural causes remain the highest single cause of death.

Msimang said on Tuesday that a highly significant portion of the health budget was being spent on emergency services and that in some areas, up to half a hospital’s budget went to emergency outpatient service. Violence related injuries are the main cause of admission for emergency services.

The WHO report has made recommendations that governments and others involved in combating violence should try out new ways of preventing violence, evaluate them and roll out the methods that work well.

According to Msimang, the health department was currently doing just that.
It was, she said, involved in a project along with the Education Department for reducing violence in schools.

“This has two goals: The one is to reduce violence levels in schools themselves and the other is to assist school age children to cope with their problems without resorting to violence,” Msimang said.

She said the department of health, as part of the government’s Victim Empowerment Programme, had also trained over 500 nurses to adopt a more caring attitude towards survivors of violence.

“Specially trained health workers can also collect forensic evidence to assist the police and the courts in effectively prosecuting offenders. We are designing training and curriculum models and will ensure that such services become much more accessible to all,” she said.

In assuring WHO representatives that government was taking their report and recommendations to heart, Msimang said a central team, consisting of representatives from all major sectors responsible for violence prevention, was being set up.

She said the team would, in line with the report’s recommendations, also be setting up an intersectoral plan to combat violence. - Sapa

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