The (non)link between refugees and crime takes on new urgency

The world is currently being forced to confront an unprecedented crisis of forced migration, and the tension in the current public discourse surrounding it is undeniable. For many, the refugee crisis is closely related to terrorism for many reasons, some more legitimate than others. Unfortunately, that association – and the fear that accompanies it – has been opportunistically leveraged by President Donald Trump and others hoping to ride a wave of nativist xenophobia to elected office. This toxic political rhetoric has included twisting data on crime statistics, painting a false perception between refugees and crime – hurting the stance on immigration alongside people’s hopes for a better life. While public attitudes toward asylum seekers have been hotly debated in the U.S. since the election, and reached a fever pitch after Trump’s failed first attempt at a travel ban, Trump’s impulsive decision to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria gives the debate new urgency.

Trump’s comments on Sweden during a campaign-style speech in February led to confusion from both Swedes and non-Swedes alike. Sweden, which welcomed 160,000 foreigners in 2015, was called out by the president after watching a documentary highlighting Sweden’s acceptance of migrants and their crime rates. While he attributed his remarks to a report featured by Fox News the night before, the claim that Sweden had experienced a surge in gun violence and rape following asylum applications in 2015 was spurious. Data shows that Sweden accepted more than 160,000 refugees that year (more than any other country) but experienced no surge in said violence. In fact, while rape rates in Sweden are higher than in other European countries, this is due to a policy change in 2005. Each act of sexual violence now counts for one separate attack as opposed to “one victim, one type of crime, one record.”

While the influx of migrants has been claimed by some to parallel such crimes, there is no relationship between the two trends. Rather, filmmaker Ami Horowitz is facing serious allegations for misconstruing and editing footage of Swedish police officers. Consequently, Trump’s misinterpretation speaks volumes on the importance of fact-checking; he, unfortunately, amplified the stigma surrounding refugees based on a faulty Fox News segment with non-credible references.

Recent U.S. military action in Syria adds insult to injury as inconsistent decision-making creates an incoherent policy toward the Syrian civil war. In rapid succession, U.S.-led coalition killed 30 civilians in Raqqa in an airstrike meant for IS forces. The next week, both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley made clear that the U.S. has no interest in removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. Then, in a stunning change of course, President Trump ordered air strikes against the Shayrat air base in central Syria in response to a chemical attack that killed dozens of Syrian civilians this past week, the first time the U.S. has intervened directly with regime forces. Multiple officials insisted that Trump had been deeply moved by images of Syrian children screaming in pain after exposure to sarin gas – the same children in whose face he vowed boldly to slam the door of American asylum. The hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed.

Many are concerned that the U.S. involvement would only cause further destruction to the region, and for good reason. Continued military action will inevitably prolong Syria’s civil war, displacing civilians in even greater numbers. Will Trump’s new-found sense of compassion and moral outrage drive him to fulfill our moral obligation to receive refugees as our own military actions drive them to flee their homes? Will he disavow his previous statements that falsely painted a correlation between crime and immigration? As leader of the free world, he has the power to ultimately change people’s perceptions of refugees. Instead of misinterpreting the media and encouraging others to close the doors on those fleeing their war-torn homes, he should push for policy to ensure equity for all regardless of who they are. We would only be retrogressing if we allow biased media and ongoing negative attitudes cloud our beliefs on refugees. Now that U.S. military action could be creating more of them, perpetuating such narratives for political gain comes at a grave moral cost. It is only when our leaders have the courage to shift this paradigm that false perceptions can be rewritten and global relationships can be established.

CSIS and Kaiser Family Foundation Event Invitation: The Future of Global Health Financing Amid a Changing Policy Landscape, April 20

All are invited to attend the following event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Future of Global Health Financing Amid a Changing Policy Landscape

Joseph Dieleman
Assistant Professor, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

Tim Evans
Senior Director of Health, Nutrition and Population, World Bank Group

Christoper J.L. Murray
Professor and Director, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

J. Stephen Morrison
Senior Vice President and Director, Global Health Policy Center

Moderated by
Jen Kates
Vice President and Director, Global Health and HIV Policy, Kaiser Family Foundation

Click here to register.

Thursday, April 20, 2017
2:30 pm – 4:00 pm ET

Barbara Jordan Conference Center
Kaiser Family Foundation Office
1330 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005

Global humanitarian crises, new political leadership in the U.S. and elsewhere, and a climate of fiscal austerity are reshaping the landscape for global health financing. In this context, it faces a challenging and uncertain future.

On Thursday, April 20 from 2:30-4 p.m. ET, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a policy briefing to discuss the current state of global health financing and the future landscape, with a panel of leading experts.

Joseph Dieleman, Assistant Professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, will present new findings on financing for global health from IHME’s latest report and two new articles in The Lancet, followed by a discussion with panelists including Tim Evans, Senior Director of Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank Group; J. Stephen Morrison, Senior Vice President and Director of the CSIS Global Health Policy Center; and Christopher J.L. Murray, Professor and Director at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Jen Kates, Vice President and Director of Global Health and HIV Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, will moderate.

This event is co-sponsored by CSIS and the Kaiser Family Foundation. It is made possible by the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A live stream will be available at this link the day of the event: The recording and slides will all be available on this page after the event.

#D4CA Challenge: UN Global Pulse calls for research proposals to analyze business data to combat #climatechange

Note: This was cross-posted to my own blog.

Rose Schneider, chair of the IH Section’s Climate Change & Health Working Group, shared this information about the Data for Climate Action challenge. It’s an initiative by the UN’s Global Pulse to recruit researchers and data scientists to “leverage private big data to identify revolutionary new approaches to climate mitigation and adaptation” – that is, use corporate datasets, which have been de-identified and made available by participating companies, for projects or analyses that “generate innovative climate solutions.” According to the press release:

Data for Climate Action will target three areas relevant to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal on climate action (SDG 13): climate mitigation, climate adaptation, and the linkages between climate change and the broader 2030 Agenda.

The challenge aims to generate original research papers and tools that demonstrate how data-driven innovation can inform on-the-ground solutions and transform efforts to fight climate change. It builds upon the model of data science competitions pioneered by organizations like Kaggle, and company-specific initiatives to share big data for the public good, such as the “Data for Development” challenges hosted by Orange.

Researchers who are selected to participate in Data for Climate Action will have four months to conduct their research. A diverse panel of experts in climate change and data science will evaluate final submissions based on their methodology, relevance, and potential impact. Winners will be announced in November of 2017.

The data being offered includes retail transaction data, social media posts, meteorological and air quality data, and user-generated data on road conditions. Data sets can be combined with each other or with other publicly available datasets like those featured on Data is Plural. Individuals or teams can submit proposals, and the only apparent requirement is that all participants be at least 18 years old.

They’ve apparently extended the deadline from April 10th to the 17th, so any analysts or programmers who aspire to code for the public good still have ten days to get their applications together and apply.

Dr. Mark Strand, IH Section Councilor, Selected as an Associate Editor for CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease Journal

Congratulations to Dr. Mark Strand, IH Section Councilor, for being selected to serve as an Associate Editor for the Center for Disease Control’s journal, Preventing Chronic Disease. The journal has more than 70,000 subscribers and focuses on preventing chronic diseases, promoting health and examining determinants of health and their effect on quality of life, and morbidity and mortality rates across the lifespan.

Dr. Strand is a Professor at North Dakota State University and teaches courses in epidemiology, prevention and management of chronic illness, and global health in the Master of Public Health Program. He also teaches a course in public health for pharmacists in the School of Pharmacy. He has authored more than 50 peer-reviewed articles, with primary research in diabetes prevention and management, evaluation of the Diabetes Prevention Program, comorbid diabetes and depression, metabolic syndrome, and public health education in pharmacy. Dr. Strand earned his bachelor’s degree at Luther College, his master’s degree in cell and developmental biology from the University of Minnesota and his doctorate in health and behavioral science at the University of Colorado at Denver. 

To read more about his appointment, click here.

Take part in #NPHW this week and join the movement to create the healthiest nation in one generation!


Yesterday we kicked off National Public Health Week. And although our focus here in our section is on advocating for international health, it’s just as important that we also remain committed to advancing public health here at home.

As public health professionals, we have a lot of accomplishments to celebrate. We are living much longer than our grandparents and great grandparents, thanks to the amazing work our predecessors have achieved. Public health achievements such as immunizations, motor vehicle safety, safer and healthier foods, family planning, healthier moms and babies, and reduction of tobacco use have largely been responsible for a 25-year increase in life expectancy in the U.S. since 1900.

Unfortunately, for the first time since 1993, the average life expectancy in the U.S. has declined. Even more disappointingly, in many parts of the U.S., life expectancy can vary considerably from the average depending on where you live. This can even happen within the same city. Take for example New Orleans. The highest life expectancy in one neighborhood is 80 years, while in another it’s 55 years. That’s a whopping difference of 25 years!

Health indicators comparing the U.S. to other nations paint a similarly unfavorable picture. Among 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the U.S. ranks 26th in life expectancy. In the same OECD ranking, the US ranks 29th in infant mortality, an indicator often used to measure the health and well-being of a nation. These numbers are disappointing considering how much the U.S. spends on health. The U.S. spends 16.4% on their GDP on health making us the highest spenders among OECD countries. The next highest spenders, the Netherlands and Switzerland, spend only 11.1%. Their life expectancy? Switzerland ranks 2nd and the Netherlands ranks 14th.

So what can we do to change all this? Participate in National Public Health Week this week (and for that matter, every week you can) and figure out how we can work together to ensure this doesn’t become the trend. Help us become the Healthiest Nation by 2030 and join the movement!

  1. BECOME A PARTNER – Show your support for public health and prevention!
  2. SUBMIT AN EVENT – Add your NPHW event to the hundreds of celebrations nationwide.
  3. TAKE ACTION – Take one small step each day for a healthier life.
  4. ATTEND AN EVENT – Join your community to celebrate NPHW.
  5. STEP IT UP – Join the 1 Billion Steps Challenge. Let’s get everyone moving!
  6. JOIN APHA’S TWITTER CHAT APHA will host its seventh annual NPHW Twitter Chat on April 5 at 2 p.m. Join the chat using your Twitter account to participate in the public health conversation during the event. RSVP for the Twitter Chat here:

We all have a role to play. 


Learn more about the different ways we can work together to ensure health for all here.

APHA Component letter to @UNAIDS: South Korea’s #HIV immigration restrictions

After two years, two APHA policy statements (one interim and one permanent), dozens of e-mails (and perhaps just as many drops of blood, sweat, and tears), and a few phone calls, we have finally sent a letter to UNAIDS urging it to revoke its recognition of South Korea’s status as a country without any HIV restrictions – until it actually produces and enforces policies that actually reflect that status.

Heartfelt thanks to Dr. Laura Altobelli, our Section Chair; Mona Bormet, our Advocacy/Policy Committee’s advocacy coordinator; and all of the Components who signed on to this hard-won letter (and the policy proposals that led up to it):

If there is one thing I have learned through this odyssey, it is that the work of advocacy is exhausting. It takes the old adage of “marathon not sprint” to a whole new level. The patience required to work within the boundaries, and according to the rules, of whatever framework you are trying to leverage to produce change can be maddening at times, but I suppose that is the inevitable price we pay to work with others. The larger your advocacy “vehicle” is, the more likely it is to be effective, but the more restrictions you have to work within. Or around, as the case may be.

On a more positive note, we also got a corresponding policy approved for adoption by the World Federation of Public Health Associations at their assembly (which kicked off today!). It will be posted here as soon as it is published, with potentially more letters to follow. Stay tuned.

The full text of the letter, followed by an embedded PDF, is below.

Dear Executive Director Dr. Michel Sidibé:

On behalf of the International Health Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA), we write to notify you of a new APHA policy statement, “Opposition to Immigration Policies Requiring HIV Tests as a Condition of Employment for Foreign Nationals,” which was adopted at the Association’s 2016 Annual Meeting.1 As you may know, APHA was founded in 1872 and is the oldest organization of public health professionals in the world. It has a long-standing commitment to promoting global health and protecting human rights, recognizing that these two go hand-in-hand.

HIV-related travel restrictions are recognized as a violation of human rights and have been well-established as ineffective at reducing the spread of HIV. Such policies further marginalize people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), discourage people from accessing HIV testing and treatment, and reinforce stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes against PLWHA in the general population. According to APHA’s policy statement, “[immigration] policies that mandate HIV testing of [foreign nationals] as a condition of obtaining a visa for employment…have no basis in science and violate migrant workers’ human rights to confidentiality and informed consent to testing, exposing them to exploitation by their employers.”

Increasing awareness of the harms of mandatory testing and accompanying pressure from multilateral institutions and human rights advocates has begun to prompt countries to lift travel bans and change their immigration policies. We recognize that UNAIDS has been instrumental in this effort and laud the organization both in its leadership on this initiative and the progress that it has made. APHA’s policy statement specifically cites the work of the UNAIDS International Task Team on HIV-related Travel Restrictions and notes that “[a]dvocacy efforts using [the Task Team’s findings] have resulted in several countries loosening these restrictions or, in some cases, dropping them entirely: the number was reduced from 59 to 45 countries in 2011 and, as of September 2015, to 35.” APHA’s policy statement calls on UNAIDS and others to “continue to call on all countries that still maintain and/or enforce HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay, or residence to eliminate such restrictions, ensuring that all HIV testing is confidential and voluntary and that counseling and medical care be available to all PLWHA within its borders.” We urge UNAIDS to continue this work to make further progress in the remaining countries that enforce HIV travel restrictions.

The policy statement also recommends that “UNAIDS take steps to ensure that its protocols to research and investigate countries’ HIV-related travel restrictions are sufficiently thorough by monitoring and documenting any reported instances of HIV-related discrimination targeting immigrants, particularly when presented with evidence demonstrating that recognition of a country’s removal of HIV-related travel restrictions is unwarranted, in order to ensure that governments are not able to misrepresent their policies in order to gain undeserved recognition for supporting human rights with regard to HIV/AIDS.”

One such example of misrepresentation of HIV-related immigration policy can be found with the Republic of Korea (ROK), which subjects foreign nationals applying for visas to work or study under several visa categories to mandatory HIV testing.2,3 Recent decisions by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination4 and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea5 both confirm the ongoing existence and enforcement of mandatory testing for E-2 visa applicants and recommend that they be struck down. Unfortunately, despite this discriminatory requirement, ROK representatives declared at the 2012 International AIDS Conference that their government had removed all HIV-related travel restrictions and, as a result, the country was granted “green” (restriction-free) status by UNAIDS6, while other states with HIV-related restrictions similar to those enforced by ROK7 are still classified as “yellow” on this map. This inconsistency in the application of UNAIDS’ assessment criteria could threaten the progress made on reducing HIV-related travel restrictions. We strongly urge UNAIDS to revoke ROK’s status as a country with no HIV-related travel restrictions until it eliminates all mandatory HIV testing policies.

Finally, we express our continued commitment to the UNAIDS goals of reducing HIV transmission, fortifying the rights of all who live with HIV/AIDS, and eliminating stigma and discrimination.


Laura C. Altobelli, DrPH, MPH
Chair, International Health Section

Willi Horner-Johnson, PhD
Chair, Disability Section

Randolph D. Hubach, PhD, MPH
Chair, HIV/AIDS Section

Lea Dooley, MPH, MCHES
Chair, Population, Reproductive, and Sexual Health Section

Gabriel M. Garcia, PhD, MA, MPH
Chair, Asian Pacific Islander Caucus

Titilayo A. Okoror, PhD
Chair, Caucus on Refugee and Immigrant Health

Gabriel Galindo, DrPH, MPH, CHES
Chair, LGBT Caucus of Public Health Professionals

Benjamin Mason Meier, JD, LLM, PhD
Chair, Human Rights Forum

The Relevancy of the United Nations and Multilateralism in an Increasingly Unilateral World

The League of Nations was created after the first World War in order “to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security.” Sadly, the League proved to be ineffective and failed to prevent the second World War. The League was eventually replaced by the United Nations. In 1950, after the second World War, representatives from 50 different countries met in San Francisco to create the United Nations charter which binds its members to commit to maintaining international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, and promote social progress, better living standards, and human rights. The charter was eventually signed by 51 countries and its membership has now grown to include 193 countries.

The United Nations and its extended family of funds, programs and specialized agencies have had countless successes over the years, evident in the 11 Nobel Peace Prizes they have won. They have helped save millions of children’s lives, protected hundreds of world heritage sites like the Galapagos and the Giza Pyramids, and contributed greatly to the reduction of famine. They’ve even eradicated smallpox and helped reduce the emissions of chlorofluorocarbons to protect the ozone. Like any other organization, the United Nations has also experienced their fair share of failures over the years. One of its biggest disappointments was the failure of the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda to stop the genocide of thousands of Tutsis. In addition, a UN peacekeeping force was held responsible for one of the worst outbreaks of cholera after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

As such, critics of the United Nations abound. More recently, they have been under intense scrutiny for failing to put an end to the Syrian conflict and being slow to respond to the Ebola outbreak. Accusations of corruption, inefficiency, waste, bureaucracy and bias have materialized over the years from both developed and developing countries. Although the UN has recognized its mistakes and tried to address them, things have not been getting better. A recent wave of frustrated member countries are currently considering withdrawing from some of the United Nations’ various councils, programs, and funds. The United States has recently been considering quitting the UN Human Rights Council as well as slashing its contributions. Several African nations have also been considering withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, citing bias against Africans.

Amid the criticisms and the frustrations of its member states, the question on the minds of many remains, “Is the United Nations still relevant?” While the values of the United Nations have proved to be timeless, execution has been problematic. Their policies are riddled with too much “what to do” and not enough “how to do it.” Many argue that the United Nations system has ultimately failed to prove its value.

The world has changed a great deal since the founding of the United Nations. Mounting skepticism on globalization and increased focus on politics at the local level has led to the rise of populism in France, Britain, and the United States. Global disasters stemming from climate change, famine, and emerging diseases are in the cards and threaten the world order. While it’s clear that the UN’s current mode of operations has had its disappointing moments, withdrawing from membership or cutting funding are not solutions to the problem. Both measures could throw the world order into chaos.

As such, the most insidious threat to world order lies not in impending famine, climate change, or emerging diseases, but in the increasing dissonance among nations over working together to maintain peace and progress worldwide. Critics favoring unilateralism argue that participating in global peacekeeping and progress takes away from achieving peace and progress at home. That being said, accomplishing peace and progress domestically requires countries to acknowledge the growing interconnectedness between our country and the world around us. The world is becoming more connected, not less. Embracing this perspective allows us to see that collaboration and negotiation with other countries is still the way to maintain peace and achieve progress and prosperity. Multilateralism is still the path forward.

This is a critical moment for the United Nations. A moment for them to restructure, reform, and reinvent. A moment for them to respond more agilely to the needs of a changing world. Change, however, is a long, painful (and expensive) process. A process which needs full buy-in, support, and participation from its members in order to succeed. This is the only way for the United Nations to survive and more importantly, for our world to continue to thrive.