Is terrorism a threat to public health? – From a public policy perspective

News Hour:

Terrorism has surely been a global crisis for many centuries now. It would rather be a good question to ask whether there was a time when terrorism had not been considered as a global crisis at all. Although politics has been discussed from a positivist perspective by most of the social scientists, but if we put a public health lens to analyze politics, it surely will bring in the consideration of epistemology at large, trying to understand why and how have politics emerged for or to serve humanity.

Public Health – a considerably new genre of science – has managed to put humanity as a priority in its agenda. Starting from trying to understand human body and mind, exploring the cause of pain and posture and fighting death and devastation in the existing civilization, the journey of public health has been vivid. It has walked along with medicine, biology, anthropology; learned and listened to nature, touched and torched the neuron of artificial intelligence, and finally appeared as a school of its own.

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Fighting communicable and non-communicable diseases is still one of the major components of public health. However, this is the time when we look into new aspects of it; the horizon that has largely been broadened and yet not been considered to be the greatest threat to human health – Terrorism!

Although, it is still a new concept and not many scientists are proactively considering terrorism as a public health threat, does not mean it has not attracted the attention of some thought-provoking genre of scientific arena. The developed world as we assign the rich countries have started working and considering terrorism as a serious threat to public health.

It is important to remember that public health does not necessarily refer to disease and death only; it has many socio-cultural aspects as well. Countries like the USA, Canada, the UK have been considering small guns as a major public health threat for many decades. In Bangladesh, drowning is one of the major causes of child mortality which does not take place as a health outbreak. Mental health took many years to be seriously considered as a mainstream public health concern and it is now one of the fastest growing public health divisions globally.

There could be many examples of terrorism. As a social scientist, someone may consider warfare as the most terrifying act. War as an arguable yet profitable business for many has been causing millions of lives to suffer from death and injury globally. I shall, however, raise my voice to declare the faith-based attack on humanity as a special school of terrorism that requires serious public health consideration in the coming decades. One hypothesis behind that would be to investigate the pattern of faith-based terrorism, more specifically terror attacks those are taking place in the name of religious deliverance, are at the early age of its new level of constructivism.

The world is yet not ready, prepared or willingly to fight it to death as a social cause and thus it is going to prevail for a long time. As I have mentioned warfare is a profitable business to many, so does faith based terrorism! Now, it is important to see what public health needs to do to prepare fighting it and make lives of people safer.

The act of terrorism has a greater influence on the human mind. A particular incidence that might affect hundreds of people directly, could affect millions of people indirectly in a country like Bangladesh. We all remember the terrifying incidence that took place last year at Holy Artisan restaurant killing almost 18 foreign nationals and few more Bangladeshis. The event might count twenty some dead bodies but it affected the whole nation terribly. Some innocent lives were sacrificed who were heroic to face terrorism and act against it on that day. The mental trauma the country has experienced is not yet over and probably it will remain a nightmare in thousands of people’s mind for the rest of their life. It can affect their work, creativity, family and social life drastically. Health Economists might attempt to calculate the economic loss concurred from this event, but even without knowing the figure we can anticipate the terrible loss that it attempted in our daily lives. The public health sector of Bangladesh was not ready for such an event and we still are not ready to face something like that again.

There are systemic review and counseling facilitation available in countries like Canada which helped the victims, their family and friends and residents of Quebec to fight their mental trauma after the brutal attack in a local mosque just a few weeks back. The awareness level is high in the whole country. Starting from Prime Minister to the school going kids are systematically taught about these events so that instead of being traumatized they collectively stand strong against any kind of terror act and mentally boost those who suffer. It is the time that we prepare our countrymen to face these kinds of challenges. Criticizing law and enforcement agencies every time will not help us becoming a united nation. This kind of terror act is a new experience for our administration as well. We are a young nation but we have faced all previous challenges strongly. Now, this is the time our policy makers take some strong actions against faith-based terrorism as well as prepare the nation to fight it internally too.

Our policymakers need to emphasize that faith-based terrorism is a global phenomenon and it has huge mental and physical health impact on the nation. Accepting this fact we need to work seriously on preparedness, response, and rehabilitation as an integral part of public health action. We can just wait for such an event and act upon the magnitude of damage; we have to have understanding and preparedness at three stages like pre-event, event and post-event phases in terrorist actions.

A public health policy framework should be developed having a rigorous planning on risk assessment, risk communication, inter-sectoral cooperation, enactment of laws and regulations which consider protection of the people’s health and civil liberties. However, such framework should consider physical and environmental barriers for certain groups of people who need the support system and economic assistance the most. Awareness program to resist such situations, create the human blockade to spread faith-based terror incidents as an act of heroism for some and keeping moral high considering it as an event of few misguided people would be another step to be considered.

It is not very easy to accept this kind of reality and start working on that. Bangladesh has made a great progress fighting faith-based terrorism and thus it has a great potential to act as a regional leader in fighting such terrorism from the beginning. However, only fighting terrorism is not enough as such an incident affect millions of people, we as a nation, need to prepare ourselves so that the after effect would be minimized through proper public health interventions both at medical infrastructures as well as through mental health healing procedure.

It is obvious that allocation of resources would be needed for a long term focusing allowance for maintenance and development of ongoing public health activities. It is high time for policy analysts to provide enough data and information to our policy makers to enact faith-based terrorism as a public health threat and to fight it systematically by putting enough resources in the next 7th Five Year Plan of the Government of Bangladesh.

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Shamim Ahmed is a public health professional and a development economist. Currently, he is a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto and pursuing doctoral research on Social and Behavioral Health Sciences. He is also working as a Teaching Assistant of Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Shamim is a published author. He has four well-acclaimed poetry books. Being a public health professional, he is known to be a philanthropist for his regular columns on diverse issues from politics to social science, poetry to diplomacy, and what not.
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