March 09, 2023. The Spotlight Initiative, a global United Nations initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls supported with funding by the European Union, marked International Women's Day with the launch of The National Clinical and Policy Guidelines on Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence: Trinidad and Tobago. The launch featured the ceremonial handover of 100 copies of the Guidelines and IT equipment to support data collection on the healthcare sector’s response to intimate partner violence and sexual violence. The Spotlight Initiative and the Pan American Health Organization/ World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the UN entity overseeing the development of the Guidelines, donated the equipment.
In his opening remarks, the Minister of Health noted the unacceptable levels of intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual violence (SV) in Trinidad and Tobago. Citing the 2017 National Women's Health Survey, he revealed that 1 in 3 women in Trinidad and Tobago have experienced IPV, and 1 in 5 have faced sexual violence from a non-partner in their lifetime.
The Minister acknowledged the historical significance of the country's first National Clinical and Policy Guidelines and promised the Ministry would integrate them into its health care regime "from Charlotteville to Charlieville." He also noted the Guidelines build on past successes in addressing maternal mortality, proving that the Ministry could tackle difficult women's health issues with a concerted approach.
Dr. Faith B.Yisrael, Secretary of Health, Wellness and Social Protection in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), indicated that if survivors are to receive proper care, health authorities need to orient and train healthcare providers. She expressed confidence that the Guidelines can be effective in providing the appropriate guidance. Notably, Dr. B.Yisrael also highlighted the need to consider how we talk to boys and men about handling their emotions. She said society should embrace equity to ensure that both women and men are wholesome human beings.
Dr. Erica Wheeler, PAHO/WHO Country Representative, noted how fitting it was for the Ministry of Health to mark International Women's Day with partner agencies, saying that launching guidelines to enable the health system to respond to Violence Against Women was the best way to mark the occasion. She emphasized the importance of close collaboration to help ensure the guidelines' implementation.
Dr. Wheeler outlined plans to continue building capacity to treat survivors of IPV and SV in the healthcare sector through additional “train the trainers” workshops in the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs). Added to this is curricula development for students who are training in helping professions (medicine, nursing, social work, and psychology). The RHAs have already trained around 250 healthcare workers to care for survivors. The Ministry of Health and the RHAs plan further structured staff training on implementing the guidelines with support from PAHO/ WHO.
His Excellency Peter Cavendish, Ambassador of the European Union (EU) Delegation to Trinidad and Tobago, said that with the launch of the Guidelines, "a light has been cast into the shadows.”
The EU-funded Spotlight Initiative began in 2017. The global donation of the EU to the Spotlight Initiative is 500 million Euros, including 4.5 million to the Trinidad and Tobago programme. This grant is historically the largest funded global initiative to address violence against women and girls. Commending Trinidad and Tobago on its historic achievement, His Excellency pledged the support of the EU to this issue beyond the end of the Spotlight programme in December 2023.
PAHO/WHO's Director, NCDs and Mental Health, Dr. Anselm Hennis, commended the leadership of Trinidad and Tobago for adopting the Regional Strategy and Plan of Action to Strengthen Health Systems to Address Violence Against Women. He observed that Trinidad and Tobago has met one of the major indicators in achieving the Regional Plan by having national clinical guidelines.
Quality and accessible data are critical to informing clinical and policy decision-making. A form is included in the Guidelines to enable healthcare workers to gather information and generate reports on health conditions and care provided to survivors of IPV and SV. A manual for using the health care form has been developed. The IT equipment presented at the launch will support analysis of the data collected through the Trinidad and Tobago IPV and SV Health Care Form.
Trinidad and Tobago is now the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean to develop an electronic health information system on violence against women. PAHO/ WHO plans to use the Trinidad and Tobago experience as a benchmark for technical cooperation to develop similar information systems on violence against women in other countries of the Americas.
In her presentation, Dr. Roma Bridgelal-Nagassar, Manager, Medical Research and Audit, Directorate of Women's Health, emphasised that a range of national stakeholders gave inputs to shape the Guidelines, which are based on existing national laws and protocols and aligned with guidance from the World Health Organization.
Ms. Ayana John, Acting Director in the Health Education Division, spoke on behalf of the Committee of Ministry of Health Representatives for the Spotlight Initiative. She described steps in the continuum of care, including procedures for identifying violence, first-line support, immediate care, post-sexual assault care and referrals between services.
Copies of the Guidelines were presented to senior THA representatives and executives of the five RHAs. A copy was also presented ceremoniously to Mrs. Sharon Clarke-Rowley in her capacity as National Champion of the Spotlight Initiative.
As the agency responsible for Sustainable Development Goal 3: To ensure health and well-being for all, PAHO/WHO leads on two of the six Pillars of the Spotlight Initiative. They are Pillars 4: Strengthened service delivery to survivors and 5: Quality and accessible data to inform policymaking.
The launch of the guidelines and the handover of the IT equipment were significant strides in achieving these objectives.
For additional information, please contact Dr. Caroline Allen, Spotlight Initiative Project Manager at the PAHO/WHO Country Office, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-868-491 3593
* This press release was originally drafted by PAHO/WHO Trinidad and Tobago.