The COVID-19 pandemic has infiltrated our community creating havoc in ways we may not recognize for months and maybe years to come. In its wake, it has disrupted several of our nation’s systems and structures.
But our silent crisis is gender-based violence (GBV). GBV is defined as violence directed at an individual because of the individual’s biological sex, gender identity, or socially perceived adherence as defined by cultural norms.
Although GBV can and does affect men, women are disproportionately affected.
GBV includes physical assault, harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse, elder abuse, and human trafficking.
Internationally speaking, GBV affects one in three women (35 percent) at some point in their lifetimes. Thirty percent of women in a relationship will at some point have experienced some sort of verbal, physical, emotional and/or mental abuse solely based on their gender.
Thirty-eight percent of murders of women (globally) are committed by an intimate partner. In The Bahamas, we can extrapolate from the international statistics that we experience similar numbers.
However, sadly so, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a hesitancy among the general population to access healthcare facilities. Many facilities are used cautiously as people fear contracting the deadly virus. This decreases the opportunity for physicians to observe, diagnose and report to the appropriate agencies to ensure these individuals receive the medical, social, and psychological assistance they so greatly need.
As such, the COVID-19 pandemic, paired with an increase in incidents of GBV, places our healthcare system on a tightrope as the system battles the direct and indirect healthcare outcomes related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
GBV has several short-term health outcomes which include injuries, self-harm, homicide, suicide, unwanted pregnancies, miscarriage, still birth and pre-term delivery.
However, the long-term health implications not only affect the individual physically and mentally, but also impact the foundation upon which our country rests – the young generation. The research indicates that there has been an exponential rise in depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicidal tendencies in women who have experienced GBV. Evidently, GBV places the need for healthcare professionals in high demand as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Medical Association of The Bahamas contends that GBV is a public health concern which demands an immediate “vaccination policy”.
The serious short- and long-term consequences on a victim’s physical, sexual and mental health as well as on their personal and social well-being require a national effort to circumvent the devastating impact on national development.
To bring triage, the Medical Association encourages the community to seek medical services when needed. Health services, when accessed in time, can provide critical, time-sensitive interventions for sexual assault/rape, such as emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy (within 120 hours) and Post–Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) medication to prevent HIV infection (within 72 hours of possible exposure), as well as presumptive treatment of STIs.
Health services can also provide psychological first aid for the survivor and referral to additional services. Even when accessed after 120 hours, health services can provide important care and referral services to survivors.
As healthcare professionals, we remain committed to creating a healthier nation.
As such, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Medical Association of The Bahamas speaks on behalf of all physicians throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
We join our voices to encourage everyone throughout the 700 islands and cays that make up our beautiful country to take a stand, “If you see something, say something” to end GBV throughout our country. We remain steadfast in our commitment to creating a healthy Bahamas, and in our commitment to creating a violent-free Bahamas.
— Medical Association
of The Bahamas