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— Violence in Detroit is a public health problem that requires a community-based solution, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy said Thursday during a visit to the city.

Murthy has been on a "listening" tour across the country since the U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination Dec. 15. Murthy, an appointee of President Barack Obama, has stopped in various parts of the country to hear the concerns of local public health officials.

Considered America's top doctor, Murthy oversees operations of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a uniformed non-military service. The corps includes 6,800 uniformed health officers working across the country and around the globe.

"(Violence) has been a problem, I know, that Detroit has struggled with for a while," Murthy said Thursday following a closed-door session with health officials including Vernice Anthony, director of Detroit's Department of Health and Wellness Promotion.

"We can clearly see that violence impacts people's health," he said. "It's obvious to anybody who has worked in a hospital like I have, or who has cared for a patient in any capacity and has seen the injuries, the death, the destruction, distress to families that comes with violence."

During a stop at Southwest Detroit's Community Health and Social Services Center Inc., Murthy said the community needs a unified response to the city's violence problem. He also visited ACCESS, a community health and social services agency in Dearborn.

"(I)n order to reduce violence, this is something that we have to do collectively where we need health care partners to be working with law enforcement, to be working with other community leaders, to be working with our local businesses and with our faith-based organizations, to see how we can really shape not only policy and structural elements in our cities, but also culture as well," Murthy said.

A Detroit News study last year found that Detroit has the highest death rate among large U.S. cities for children from birth through age 18, due to high infant mortality combined with a high homicide rate.

Public health officials who met with the surgeon general in a closed session Thursday voiced concerns about Detroit's high infant mortality rate, residents who remain uninsured and drug abuse, Murthy said.

Programs in Detroit that provide personal support and services to pregnant women and new mothers hold the promise of reducing the city's high infant mortality rate, he said.

"While the challenges are great in Detroit, I am happy to see that the passion and the leadership to solve these problems is also equally as great," the surgeon general said. "(T)o invest in prevention early on in the lifetime of a child and during the prenatal phase (will) bring great dividends later on in life."

kbouffard@detroitnews.com

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