When a survivor of sexual violence (SV) or intimate partner violence (IPV) seeks medical attention at any public health facility, they will now get an all-hands-on-deck approach from healthcare professionals.
Staff at various regional health authorities were trained within the last year to provide such support, after a 2018 health survey showed that healthcare workers were likely to be the professionals women confided in when they experienced violence at home.
“Equipping healthcare workers with the tools and the skills and the knowledge that they need to actually take care of survivors is critical,” PAHO/WHO’s T&T representative Dr Erica Wheeler said.
Wheeler said the workers were trained through the Spotlight initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls, which is a United Nations initiative supported by the European Union and other partners.
“What’s very important is that the funding from the EU has allowed several UN agencies to actually get together and work together in a spirit of unity among one common subject and this means that each agency has its own focus and it uses its strength, its comparative advantage to bring the issues to life,” Wheeler said.
She said PAHO/WHO focuses on services and building capacity and the gathering of data on women who suffer from violence, two of the six pillars of the Spotlight initiative.
In July 2021, PAHO trained four to six people from each RHA in how to care for survivors. These trained workers then passed on their knowledge to 52 more people from disciplines in medicine, nursing, social work and administration.
So, when a survivor visits a public health facility, they are in turn greeted by trained workers who will walk them through the process and take them to a nurse. The nurse will find out what’s wrong and examine them, Wheeler said.
“I have some old injuries and I just want to see the doctor…I fell down,” medical social worker Janelle Joseph, who acted as a survivor, said.
At first, she said patients may be hesitant to say what’s wrong but with further inquiries, they may reveal the problem.
“To be honest, it’s my husband,” Joseph said.
The nurse will then brief the doctor, who will care for the conditions as well as refer them to a medical social worker.
“My fear is that I will really end up a next person, a next woman in the news that is murdered by her husband,” Joseph said.
Acting registrar of the Accident and Emergency Department at the Sangre Grande Hospital, Dr Latoya Baptiste-Manzano, was part of the first cohort of workers trained.
She said the first half of the training was on how to respond to IPV and SV victims and the second half was on how to train other workers to do the same.
“It is imperative that we all understand what these people are dealing with…so we are one team when we move forward with all the survivors we have,” Baptiste-Manzano said.
At the Sangre Grande Enhanced Health Centre, she said she learned a lot, especially about what she was doing wrong.
“I was not actually asking the questions I was afraid to ask,” she said.
She said the training provided her with the how, where to refer them for assistance and the impact of violence on the nation.