Dr. James Mercy with Etienne Krug (Director of the Injury/Violence program at WHO) and Linda Dahlberg (former DVP Associate Director for Science who has since retired).
In Part 1 of the interview, Dr. James Mercy shared insight into his career journey at CDC, the building of critical evidence across countries and challenges and solutions for violence prevention.
In this second part, he delves into the effects of the pandemic, how the violence prevention landscape has changed over the years and the power of Partnership.
Could you shed light on how the COVID-19 pandemic affected violence against children? Was there anything standout from the CDC’s efforts you would like to highlight? What are the long-term consequences that need to be addressed?
One thing I have learned from COVID-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks like Ebola and Zika is the importance of taking action to address urgent problems even in the absence of perfect science. With COVID-19 and other major outbreaks, important prevention and response actions were taken in absence of clear scientific evidence about the nature and how best to prevent and respond to these problems. When you have urgent problems like violence that affect large swaths of the population, and which have potentially devastating health effects, you take action to prevent or curb it the best way you can. I believe we need to treat violence, and violence against children, more specifically, as an urgent public health crisis. The impacts of violence when viewed in terms of its broad downstream effects on health is every bit as urgent as the infectious and chronic diseases that are typically given more priority and investment.
I believe we need to treat violence, and violence against children, more specifically, as an urgent public health crisis. The impacts of violence when viewed in terms of its broad downstream effects on health is every bit as urgent as the infectious and chronic diseases that are typically given more priority and investment.
How has the violence prevention landscape changed over the years? What are some of the biggest learnings or solutions that can be applied today?
One significant change is that violence as a public health issue has been institutionalised. You now see articles on violence prevention in public health and medical journals, which was not the case 40 years ago. You now see universities with classes on violence prevention. We now have a whole new generation of researchers and program implementers in this field that didn’t exist 30 or 40 years ago. Policy leaders now talk about violence prevention, when even 20 years ago violence prevention wasn’t on their radar. The predominant view was that violence was a criminal justice issue. We still have a long way to go, but progress has been substantial.
As a member of the End Violence Partnership’s Executive Committee, could you talk about what it’s like to steer direction for a global partnership and why partnerships are important for organisations like CDC? What have been key takeaways from the experience?
Partnership is critical in this work. For example, one of our strongest partners and a key member of the End Violence Executive Committee, has been Together for Girls. They have been tremendous in amplifying the impact of the VACS work especially as it relates to girls and young women.
My participation on the Executive Committee of End Violence has been especially valuable in working together to brainstorm solutions to the challenges of implementing a global partnership. It is also very valuable for me to learn what others are doing and then to apply these learnings back to our work at CDC and in the U.S. The relationships I have formed on the EVP committee have been important and meaningful. I have formed many friendships whose counsel and input I feel I can draw on whenever needed. To me, my participation in the End Violence Executive Committee has reinforced my belief that relationships are everything and, by extension, partnerships are essential to solving any problem.
What is your message for those working to end violence against children today? Is there something you’d like to convey from your experience?
My message would be that preventing violence against children is one of the most powerful ways to change the world.
It is incredibly gratifying to know that thousands of children won’t experience violence, and the associated trauma and health consequences because of this work. It is a testimony to the power of linking science and data to action. This connection between science, data and action is at the heart of public health. I believe that this work sets the field on a course that will result in a safer and more nurturing world for children.
Would you like to share any of your plans for life after retirement?
I am excited to spend more time with my family, especially my granddaughter. I do plan to stay connected to the field, but also relax and continue to enjoy life!