Internship Opportunity with the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center

The Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program is looking for the Fall 2017 class of interns, who will be based at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC. The application closes this Sunday, July 16th.

Since 1994, the Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) has actively pursued the connections between the environment, health, population, development, conflict, and security. ECSP brings together scholars, policymakers, media, and practitioners through events, research, publications, multimedia content, and an award-winning blog, New Security Beat.

The Environmental Change and Security Program is seeking interns to:

– Write for their award-winning blog, New Security Beat
– Network with leading experts in the environment, development, and security
– Work closely with the friendly, dynamic “Green Team” at the Wilson Center

Assignments may include:

– Researching and writing stories for New Security Beat and ECSP’s website
– Assisting with events and conferences
– Researching environment, security, development, global health, and demography topics
– Assisting the preparation of publications and/or outreach materials
– Performing administrative assignments in support of ECSP activities

Requirements

Potential interns should be students, prospective students (within the next year), and/or recent graduates (within the last year) with an interest in, coursework related to, and/or experience working on environmental and human security.

In addition, applicants should:

– Possess strong research, writing, and/or administrative skills
– Be detail-oriented
– Be able to work both independently and as part of a group

ECSP currently offers unpaid internships. They are looking for candidates who are willing to devote at least 21 hours per week, up to a maximum of 35 hours per week. Interns work seven hour days.

For the full description, list of qualifications, and instructions on how to apply, please see the Wilson Center website:
https://www.wilsoncenter.org/opportunity/internships-the-environmental-change-and-security-program

Member spotlight: Len Rubenstein featured on NPR’s Morning Edition

Longtime IH Section member Len Rubenstein was on NPR’s Morning Edition this week! On Monday morning, he was featured in a story on attacks on health workers in conflict:

Leonard Rubenstein, a lawyer who directs a program on human rights, health and conflict at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins. says there were a staggering number of assaults on health care facilities in 2016.

“The international community says it wants to stop this and then does nothing to implement its own recommendations,” he says. “These attacks go on.”
Rubenstein is the editor of a new report called “Impunity Must End” about aggression against health facilities and health workers globally last year.

Rubenstein found that health care facilities were under assault last year in many other parts of the world. The report was not able to compile data on the total number of attacks in each country.

“It’s quite remarkable how varied the forms of attack are,” Rubenstein says. “For example we found in 10 countries hospitals were bombed or shelled, in 11 countries health workers were killed, in about 20 countries there were various forms of intimidation — abductions, kidnapping of health workers.”

You to listen to the story here. A transcript is also available.

Global Health in Conflict: A Weightier Commitment

It is important for early-career professionals interested in pursuing a career in global health to be aware of the realities of working internationally. Although stories of setting up vaccination clinics or fighting Ebola may stir up feelings of excitement, being a part of the action may require additional education and training in conflict resolution and institution building. This is especially true when it comes to conflict-affected areas and fragile states that are the most in need of health care/public health services as a result of the local health system infrastructure being weakened. A different kind of public health professional, one that is willing to risk their life and invest in the indigenous health system, is required in our world today.

I currently work as an epidemiologist at a regional health department in Texas. We serve two main roles for the 30 counties we cover. One of our roles is to function as a local health department and deliver a diverse range of services to 23 counties. The other main role is to serve as an extension of the state health department and provide surveillance/investigation guidance for the reportable conditions that health care providers, schools, and community members are mandated to report. This relationship is seen especially when we work with the 7 counties in our region that have their own local health departments. Before beginning this job, I actually worked at one of these local health departments and was on the receiving end of the interaction described above.

For most of my life, I’ve been interested in pursuing a career in global health or humanitarian work. When I was younger, I thought the only way I could pursue this dream was by being a physician (especially if I wanted to be able to support myself financially). I also believed this to be a great way to help communities that were dying from preventable illnesses. My introduction to public health helped me see that there were many other ways to help achieve the goal of combating deaths due to preventable illnesses. I focused in on epidemiology as a way to combine my science/laboratory background with my desire to serve and entered into an MPH program after completing my B.S. in Biology. Most of my MPH program was spent working hard to obtain tangible experiences in public health practice and deciding which skills would be most necessary for me to have before entering into the workforce. While pursuing my MPH from 2014-2015, some of the hot topics in public health were Ebola, antimicrobial resistance, bioterrorism, anti-vaccination movements, hospital-acquired infections, opioid abuse, tuberculosis trends related to travel, maternal and child health gaps, and continued efforts to end polio and AIDS, to name a few. Towards the end of my program, I began to hear more about the dangers of humanitarian work and global health as stories involving health care and humanitarian workers being targeted in conflict-affected areas/fragile states were highlighted in various media outlets. I also knew of at least one faculty member at the university I attended whose global health team was attacked shortly after the individual returned to the US (after working in the field for a number of years).

When I entered into the public health workforce in 2016, Zika was just becoming a hot topic in public health circles in the U.S. But there were other things for me to learn at my local health department. I received an introduction to the Immunization team and programs such as Texas Vaccines for Children which enable young people in Texas to receive affordable immunization coverage (there is an adult vaccine program too). I also received an introduction to the statewide ImmTrac system that stores vaccine records and learned about some of its strengths and challenges. Ultimately, I was able to see the importance of public health collaborating with healthcare providers, schools, and community members to ensure that a community has adequate herd immunity or, in the case of outbreaks, can deliver effective interventions in response to infectious disease threats. Something else I learned about was the role of immunization clinics or point of dispensing units (PODS) during natural disasters, such as floods, and other public health emergencies.

I’ve shared some of my experience working at the local level because it gave me a tangible picture of how public health functions in stable environments or areas that are not weakened by natural disasters. In conflict-affected areas or fragile states, public health efforts may be fragmented at best. For example, in August 2015 Nigeria was removed from the World Health Organization’s list of countries with endemic Wild Polio Virus (WPV). This was the result of global efforts aimed at eradicating polio through targeted immunization campaigns. Nigeria went two years without WPV cases before, in August 2016, two cases were reported in Borno-a conflict-affected state. Two additional cases were reported in September 2016. The cases were from inaccessible areas of the state with limited security and indicated that prolonged transmission had gone undetected as a result of armed conflict. Although the number of areas held by insurgents, and therefore without access to vaccines, eventually decreased, the conflict in Borno prevented timely vaccination campaigns and posed a risk to Nigeria as a whole. Specifically, migration between Internally Displaced People (IDPs) camps and refugee communities resulted in a higher potential for WPV cases to be reported in states not directly tied to the conflict. A similar trend was noticed with the Ebola outbreak that occurred in West Africa from 2014-2015. The disease posed an increased risk in fragile states and areas affected by conflict. For example, prior civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone severely weakened the countries’ infrastructure in the 1990s. The conflicts also affected surrounding countries and resulted in millions of displaced people. In some of instances, countries had the resources needed to respond to public health emergencies caused by conflict. However, groups of people or areas deemed to be inaccessible as a result of conflict continued to undermine the effectiveness of immunization clinics and infectious disease response efforts.

A comparative analysis conducted by Bourdeaux et al. in 2015 assessed the effect of conflict on health systems in Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.  Health systems were defined as, “the organized network of institutions, resources and people that deliver health care to populations” and was based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework for Action (2007). The framework highlights financing, leadership/governance, information, medical products/vaccines/technologies, health workforce, and service delivery as essential components of effective health systems. When this organized network is destroyed as a result of armed conflict, high levels of morbidity and mortality occur and can have negative effects that persist even after the conflict is over. The analysis found that the building blocks most affected by conflict and security forces were “governance, information systems and indigenous health delivery organizations.”  In order to address these gaps, a suggestion provided by the authors is to deploy Health Security Teams comprised of individuals with training in public health and institution building to conflict-affected areas and fragile states. The teams would support indigenous health systems instead of creating parallel or temporary systems, and not be involved in serving military interests. Additionally, these teams would know how to guide security forces as they engage with health systems in diverse political climates.

At this point in time in my career, most of my work is done in an office on a phone or computer. When I started my journey in public health, I pictured something different. I still have the long-term goal to work internationally (or financially support myself while volunteering internationally). However, I am sobered by the fact that if I want to serve those who are truly in need (especially as it relates to conflicted-affected areas and fragile states) I will have to be at peace with laying my life on the line. I will also have to be prepared to navigate the challenges presented above. This includes learning as much as I can about conflict resolution and negotiating to protect health systems. In general, I feel that public health has much to do in terms of educating and re-assuring those we serve (both domestically and internationally). As a result, part of my journey in public health will include developing skills as a connector of people and someone that can see both sides of an issue. I think that all public health professionals interested in working in a global health or humanitarian worker capacity should consider this. At the same time, immigrants or refugees that have left their homes due to conflict or in search of better opportunities can also develop the skills needed to resolve conflict and rebuild institutions. The success of the suggested Health Security Teams could depend on this.

 

Photo: Diane Budd, M.D.

conflict

Attacks on Health Care Workers in Syria and the Weakening of the International Community

Before the conflict began, Syria’s health care system was one of the most advanced in the Middle East with chronic diseases ranking as the most common health concern, vaccination coverage rates at 95%, and their pharmaceutical industry producing over 90% of the country’s medicines. Five years later, the conflict has nearly decimated the health care system and today nearly half of the country’s public hospitals and primary health care systems are closed or only partly functioning, almost two-thirds of health care workers have left the country, domestic production of medicines is down by two-thirds, and the vaccination coverage rate has dropped by half. Correspondingly, life expectancy has dropped by nearly 14 years.

Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, Physicians for Human Rights has documented 382 attacks on 269 different medical facilities and 757 deaths of medical workers. The patterns of attacks clearly demonstrate that health care facilities and workers are being deliberately targeted. When health care workers are attacked, innocent civilians are deprived of the life-saving interventions needed for both routine and emergency care. In Aleppo alone, a health care facility is targeted every 17 hours and a health care worker every 60 hours. These alarming statistics make Aleppo one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a health care worker. APHA Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin noted the dire state of the Syrian health care system in a letter to the UN Security Council last December, but the situation has only worsened since then.

According to a recent report in September of this year, there were only 30 doctors serving the estimated 250,000 residents trapped in rebel-held eastern Aleppo. There are currently no more hospitals functioning at full capacity in eastern Aleppo. With the huge upswing of Syrian military activity these past few days, it is likely there are far less doctors or hospitals left. To make matters worse, humanitarian aid to eastern Aleppo has been severely restricted. Since humanitarian operations started over two years ago, the UN has conducted 420 convoys to deliver medical supplies and food to eastern Aleppo however as of late, they have not been able to make their deliveries. Health care cannot exist without health care workers, supplies, and facilities.

International humanitarian law and medical neutrality have been established to protect health care facilities and workers to ensure that they can continue to provide care during armed conflict and not be prosecuted for providing services to protesters or opposition fighters. But when health care facilities and workers are purposefully targeted and humanitarian aid is withheld, there is a clear violation of international humanitarian law that should be punished accordingly as a war crime. Though the violations in Syria are some of the most flagrant, these deliberate attacks on health care facilities and workers, used as a weapon of war, occur in many other parts of the world as well. In Yemen, over 600 health facilities have been targeted since fighting began in 2014. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has gone so far as to call attacks on health care facilities and workers during times of war as the new normal. Additionally, health workers in Bahrain were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and charged with crimes for caring for protesters and documenting police brutality in response to the Arab Spring uprising in 2011.

Although news outlets and humanitarian organizations worldwide have brought a lot of attention to these tragedies, bringing awareness to these atrocities is not enough to stop it. It is the responsibility of the international community to help put an end to such blatant threats to human rights. The UN’s Responsibility to Protect gives permission to the international community to intervene and protect populations when a state fails to prevent and halt genocide and mass atrocities. However, the operationalization of this doctrine has proven to be disappointing. Although most actors in the international community agree that something should be done, they have been unable to agree on exactly what must be done. No-fly zones have been suggested and temporary ceasefires have been adopted to ensure delivery of humanitarian aid but both are merely stopgap measures. These are not enough to put a stop to such unnecessary human suffering and should not be the final solution.  

As the war approaches its sixth year, the future of Aleppo looking bleak, and current estimates of the death toll in Syria surpassing 470,000, the need for for the international community to help put a permanent end to the war could not be more dire. However, given the international community’s long track record of ineffectual measures, it is unclear how they will proceed. One thing is for certain, it’s about time for the international community to ask themselves whether the decisions (or indecisions) they’ve made with Syria and other conflicts have been consistent with the principles of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. Human lives are at stake and from a human rights standpoint, this should take precedence over any personal or state interests.

APHA’s Georges Benjamin writes a letter on health workers in Syria

APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin has written a letter to the members of the UN Security Council to enforce a resolution to end attacks targeting health care workers in Syria. You can read the text below.


Dear United Nations Security Council members:

On behalf of the American Public Health Association, a diverse community of public health professionals who champion the health of all people and communities, I write to call on the United Nations Security Council to enforce resolution 2139 to put an end to the attacks on health workers and facilities in Syria.

In over four and a half years of conflict in Syria, nearly 700 health workers have been killed and more than 300 medical facilities have been attacked. According to well-documented reports, the Syrian government is responsible for over 90 percent of these assaults. The disruption of health services is being used as a weapon of war. This year, by the end of October, attacks on medical facilities in Syria had already surpassed the number of attacks for any other year since the conflict began in 2011.

The attacks have decimated the country’s health system. In Aleppo, only 10 hospitals remain of the 33 hospitals that were functioning in 2010. About 95 percent of doctors have been detained, killed or have fled leaving one doctor for every 7,000 residents. There are shortages of medicine and necessities such as clean water and electricity. Hospitals are overwhelmed with patients needing emergency care for conflict-related injuries and patients are dying from treatable conditions.

In February 2014, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed resolution 2139 demanding that all parties immediately end all forms of violence. The resolution strongly condemned attacks on hospitals and demanded that all parties respect the principle of medical neutrality, and that medical personnel, facilities and transport must be respected and protected. Passing the resolution was a critical first step, but now almost two years have passed since it was adopted and the attacks have continued. We urge the Security Council to take immediate steps to ensure that the resolution translates into meaningful progress to protect health workers and their patients in Syria.

Sincerely,

Georges C. Benjamin, MD
Executive Director