What if we treated urban violence like Cholera?
I've become a big fan of Ted Talks. I guess it tells you just how much of a type A personality I am that I download them and listen while working out. But I also think if I'm going to be able to talk about new and interesting things every day, I had better be learning about new and interesting things on a regular basis.
Some Ted Talks strike me as one hit wonders. There are a lot of people out there who think the world's problems can be solved with a soccer ball, a bed net, a portable phone, a dry toilet or mime. I prefer the talks from people not just peddling a solution but a whole new way of thinking about an issue.
This morning I played a few clips from Gary Slutkin. He is a disease expert who took a vacation from fighting contagious diseases in Africa and came home to the U.S. There he discovered an epidemic of violence and when he asked about it people shrugged their shoulders as if it was just so much background noise. Slutkin set out to study the nature of violence and when he looked at a map of where it was happening in Chicago it struck him how much it looked like the epidemiology maps he worked with in Africa. So it occurred to him: what if violence is contagious and if it is, can we contain it the same way we contain a disease outbreak.
His pilot project involved tracking down the most virulently contagious individuals and the working out from them to the people who were infected but not necessarily spreading the virus as actively. Through containment of the infection and changed community behavior (the same thing as providing fresh water and teaching people to wash their hands to stop the spread of bacteria) he was able to reduce crime dramatically.
Slutkin compares the way we've been fighting crime to the way we fought disease before we knew what bacteria and viruses were. And his contention is that if we make violence a health issue and apply the right measures, we can be just as successful as we have against measles, polio, HIV, cholera and countless other scourges.
You can watch the full talk here.