Faraway: Get Out of Your World
Measure for Measure
Dr. Rodrigo Guerrero is mayor of Cali, Colombia. It’s his second term with nearly twenty years in between the two. He is an epidemiologist by profession, a scientist by nature, and a social innovator in action, using his propensities to improve the health of his city on several levels: physically, socially, and economically.
Like most physicians, Dr. Guerrero is motivated by the joy of helping others to live a healthier life. Instead of working patient-by-patient, he has increased his ability to improve the overall health of his community by serving as mayor.
Guerrero saw gun violence as the #1 health issue causing 126 deaths per 100,000 when he first took office in 1992. Dr. Guerrero viewed that statistic as a public health problem and went about solving it using scientific methodologies. Guerrero was also aware of the economic impact of violence that had reduced Colombia’s GNP by 25% in the early ‘90s.
He began his investigation by tracking the pathways of violence. He stopped by the police station and asked how many homicides had occurred in the past few months. Using his scientific training, he knew that he had to check several sources to make sure the data was correct. Next he stopped by the criminal justice office and got a number twice as high as the police department had given him. Noting that neither were keeping accurate records, he turned to academia at the local university who study forensic medicine and convened a series of meetings with the police and judicial officials to come up with useful data that pinpointed actual cases as homicides. He found out that most murders were committed on the weekends and by drunk gunmen.
Guerrero proposed a program to reduce public alcohol consumption on the weekends by asking bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol after 1:00 a.m. on weekdays and 2:00 a.m. on weekends. Naturally, the business owners opposed the program. Guerrero negotiated a deal: try it for three months and see the results. Violence decreased dramatically by over a third in the relatively short time frame. The business owners kept with Guerrero’s program for the rest of his term. Interestingly, when Guerrero left office to further his public health innovations by working for the Pan American Health Organization in Washington, DC, to establish its violence prevention program, the next mayor did not keep the program going and the business owners in Cali went back to their old ways. However, other mayors in neighboring cities were inspired by Dr. Guerrero and adopted his methods of reducing gun violence. Bogotá Mayor Antanas Mockus instituted alcohol and firearm restrictions. These restrictions endured through successive mayors. The homicide rate in Bogotá dropped from 80 per 100,000 in 1993 to 16 per 100,000 in 2012.
Dr. Guerrero returned to Cali and was voted back in as mayor in 2012, once again bringing the homicide rates dramatically down. For more on that part of the story, here is an article from the BBC.
Dr. Guerrero won the inaugural 2014 Roux Prize for setting a global example of how to use scientific data to tackle public health problems.
During his second term as mayor, he is taking on greater social issues in the community, like inequality. Here is the latest on Dr. Guerrero’s social innovations from a report in the Institute on Health Metrics and Evaluation. He is, indeed, bravely using his skills and talents to make the world a better place.