Health Ministry takes lead role in addressing intimate partner violence

Recognising that it is a public health issue, the Ministry of Health said it will now take a lead role in addressing intimate partner violence (IPV) and violence on the whole.

Speaking at a recent press conference, Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, noted that there has been much negligence in the past, on the part of health sector workers, in detecting or intervening in such cases.

“For far too long, in dealing with violence and injury and particularly in dealing with IPV, in which I include sexual offences, health has been quite hesitant in taking its place at the table. There is a feeling among many that this is a security and a legal matter and that health is encroaching into a territory that does not belong to it. I vehemently reject that notion,” Ramsammy stated, while adding that health must play a lead role in the detection and prevention of IPV and all forms of violence.

The minister as well as Director of Professional Medical Services of the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH), Dr Madan Rambarran, agreed that the responsibility for dealing with this major issue lies with all sectors; human services and social security and the security (home affairs), health and education. “We all have responsibilities,” he said. As such, he stated that the ministry has been working very closely with the ministries of human services and home affairs.

Ramsammy pointed out that where IPV is concerned, the ministry and health service providers are often very weak in their responses. Many health workers, he noted, feel that what goes on in the patients’ intimate/domestic life is none of their business, especially since most of the violence and sexual offences are not reported by the victims. As such, little effort is made on the part of health sector personnel to elicit that information. “Even when there is grave suspicion that there has been an incident of IPV or a sexual offence is committed, the health sector takes the position that if such info is not volunteered then it’s not their business,” he said. Ramsammy pointed out too, that legal authorities often complain that the ministry’s and health sector’s intervention and collaboration with them (the legal authorities) create major difficulties for them.

The minister pointed out that Guyana has among the most advanced domestic violence and sexual offences acts in the Caribbean. He said also that “in recent times we have amended the Domestic Violence Act to make it more contemporary.

In addition, following a stamp out campaign that was conducted in 2006-2008, Guyana introduced a new Sexual Offences Act”. Ramsammy said the ministry is in the process of implementing these acts.

The minister also highlighted another violence related issue – intoxication and alcohol use, which he feels has been overlooked as well by health officials and workers. “We also do a poor job at identifying alcohol or substance abuse-related acts of violence, committed by anyone, but particularly by intimate partners or family members,” he said.

He revealed that over the years efforts have been made to estimate the extent of the problem and added that studies done at the Accident and Emergency Unit of the GPH through a survey of those injuries related to IPV, along with another test, have shown a link between violence and alcohol.

The minister announced a collaboration with Vanderbilt University, which he said “comes at a very opportune time…when the Ministry of Health, working with health personnel are trying to develop the guidelines that will assist health personnel to provide the kind of support that are necessary… When globally we have placed intimate partners violence and violence in general on the public health agenda.”

Since 2008, Guyana has played a lead role in placing violence, particularly as it relates to IPV and sexual offences on the public health agenda.

This was done at the World Health Assembly in 2008 by Minister Ramsammy who was president of the assembly at the time. As a result, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), at its 21st Directing Council, again pledged its commitment to the promotion of violence prevention as a top priority.

Also present at the gathering was anaesthesiologist of the GPH Vivienne Mitchell and a team of representatives from the Department of Emergency and Medicine at Vanderbilt University.

As one of the ministry’s main objectives is for more emphasis to be placed on educating children on the issue at an early age, the Ministry of Education was invited to a seminar and workshop, which was held on Thursday at Ocean View.

This workshop targeted mainly health workers; doctors, nurses, social workers, who, as a result will be more equipped to detect and teach others about IPV.

Mitchell said the ministry hoped that with this seminar, the Ministry of Education will find a way to include IPV and violence education into the curriculum. This, she said, will assist in a reduction of all types of violence, and thus reduce the number of cases arriving at the hospital. During her address, Mitchell also revealed a fact many persons are not aware of, “infidelity is a form of violence”.

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