PM Drew addresses gun violence at St. Lucia health conference

Basseterre, St. Kitts – St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister Dr. Terrance Drew delivered a riveting keynote address during the 68th Annual Health Research Conference which was hosted by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).

During the meeting held in St. Lucia on 25th April, 2024 Dr. Drew highlight the devastating impact of gun violence on the region and its people and called for a unified approach to combating the issue.

“It is tragic to look at the effects of gun violence across the region. The proliferation of firearms poses a grave threat to our societies, fuelling crime, exacerbating conflict, and undermining the rule of law. With approximately 80 percent of homicides committed by firearms in many CARICOM Member States, it has led to devastating effects, creating a pervasive culture of fear, trauma, and insecurity in our communities, and also at an individual level,” Dr. Drew said.

“ Survivors of gun violence often suffer from severe physical injuries, such as gunshot wounds, which can lead to disabilities, chronic pain, mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and long-term medical complications. This extends beyond the individual who was shot, but to the families who have to provide care and support. It is also critical to understand that treating gunshot wounds and related injuries places a significant burden on national healthcare systems, consuming resources and personnel that could be allocated to other healthcare needs. The Caribbean Firearms Study documented that the average medical expenditure required to treat a single firearm injury was equivalent to between 2 and 11 times the annual per capita public health spending in three case countries (Bahamas, Barbados, and Jamaica),” he continued.

Drew, who also served as the current chairman of both the CARICOM Council on National Security and Law Enforcement (CONSLE) and the Regional Security System (RSS) also noted the alarming increase in the number of children who are becoming victims of gun violence across the region.

“What has also become quite alarming, is the trend of increasing paediatric firearm injuries/ gunshot injuries among young children and adolescents.. How can we have a society where children feel unsafe to play and roam freely with their friends in our neighbourhoods and schools? I just focused on injuries but let us not forget the high number of deaths/or mortality rates across the region due to firearms,” he said.

The prime minister also expressed deep concern over the fact that those most affected by gun violence are males age 15 – 30. Dr. Drew lamented the threat to this demographic,as well as the girls and women who are also negatively impacted.

“Let us think about the consequences of having what should be the most productive age group in our regional population dying prematurely from gun violence. While young males are the main perpetrators and victims of gun violence in the Caribbean, young girls and women are also deeply affected. They are often among the victims of gun violence, suffering injuries or fatalities in shootings or related incidents. Also in high-risk communities, gun violence can lead to the displacement of families, forcing young girls and women to flee their homes in search of safety. This displacement disrupts their lives, education, and social networks, exacerbating their vulnerability and increasing their risk of exploitation or abuse.”

He further underscored the multilevel approach that must be implemented to ensure that gun violence is addressed both domestically and regionwide.

“ I believe it is our collective responsibility to take decisive action to address this crisis and ensure the safety and security of all our people. At the national level, I have already put in place a zero-tolerance approach to violence with a comprehensive plan to address crime through multi-sectoral initiatives. 

“At the regional level, the Heads of Government of CARICOM began discussions on the public health approach to violence at the CARICOM symposium on Violence as a Public Health Issue: The Crime Challenge held in Trinidad and Tobago on April 17–18, 2023. As a result of this meeting, the Heads of Government declaration not only focused on strengthening traditional approaches to law enforcement and crime legislation but also recognised the diverse origins of violent crime require a regional response that incorporates a public health approach.”

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