Violence - a serious public health problem

Medical research has increasingly acknowledged that violence on all levels is a serious health problem; health professionals need to take more responsibility for its prevention (WHO, World Report on Violence and Health, 2002).

Medical Peace Work uses a public health approach to violence prevention, and deals with the peace capacity of health professionals. The Medical Peace Work framework draws heavily on the experiences of Health as a Bridge to Peace (WHO) and Peace through Health (McMaster University), as well as on other relevant concepts and disciplines like Global Health, Violence Prevention, Health & Human Rights, and Medicine & War.

The terminology and concepts used in the Medical Peace Work framework are influenced by the Norwegian peace researcher Johan Galtung. Some similarities between health and peace are suggested:

Just like the opposite of health is disease, the opposite of peace is violence. There are many different types of disease, and there are many different types of violence , war being merely an extreme form of collective violence. Both disease and violence can affect individuals, families, local communities or whole societies.

Sugested definitions:

Violence is the unnecessary insult of basic human needs, as survival, well-being, identity and freedom needs. Violence, as well as peace, can be

  • direct (physical, verbal, psychological acts)
  • structural (socio-economic, political processes)
  • cultural (in religion, ideology, language, art, science, cosmology)

What is Peace?

  • not merely the absence of violence
  • state of mutual beneficial relationships, fair structures, a culture of peace
  • capacity to handle conflicts with empathy, creativity and by non-violent means

What is Peace Work?

  • prevention and reduction of violence, and promotion of peace

What is Medical Peace Work?

  • using the health professionals’ peace-qualities, -tools and -opportunities intentionally for improving health through peace work

Model of Harm Prevention in a Cycle of Violence

Beside the classical role of preventing, treating and rehabilitating the physical and mental health effects of violence and war, medical personnel can also contribute to health and well-being through the prevention and reduction of violence, and the promotion of peace. Interventions before, during and after violent events, can in a public health approach be labeled as primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. The classical health work is the entry point for medical peace work.

(For a more exhaustive discussion on the difference between “Direct Health Work” and “Medical Peace Work”, see Melf K., Exploring Medical Peace Education and a Call for PEACE MEDICINE, University of Tromsø, 2004.)