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Gary Slutkin: Let's treat violence like a contagious disease

Physician Gary Slutkin spent a decade fighting tuberculosis, cholera and AIDS epidemics in Africa. When he returned to the United States, he thought he'd escape brutal epidemic deaths. But then he began to look more carefully at gun violence, noting that its spread followed the patterns of infectious diseases. A mind-flipping look at a problem that too many communities have accepted as a given. We've reversed the impact of so many diseases, says Slutkin, and we can do the same with violence. (Filmed at TEDMED.)

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Could our culture have misdiagnosed violence? As the director of the initiative Cure Violence, Gary Slutkin approaches gunfire on neighborhood streets as a contagious disease, looking to science and public health for strategies to stop it.

There are many parallels between infectious diseases and epidemic violence. For example, both transmission patterns show characteristic population clusters and characteristic "epidemic" curves. In the last 15 years, this connection has become more explicit as the scientific nature of violence and its transmission have been revealed.

"Discoveries about the effects of violence exposure on the brain and the transmission of violence allow us to develop a new system of "disease control" -- modelled on the way we control TB or bird flu -- systematically detecting and interrupting potential transmission, and designing systems for changing collectively wired norms. My own team's approach has been demonstrated as effective in reducing lethal violence by three independent evaluations. Other communities are adapting this method, such as Safe Streets in Baltimore, Save Our Streets in New York, and Community Resource Centre, Cape Town. By revealing the underlying truth behind such a lethal problem, science offers hope. We may have a way out of violence."

Gary Slutkin is founder and executive director of


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