Special call for abstracts on the COVID-19 pandemic for the 2020 APHA Annual Meeting

The International Health Section has put out a special call for abstracts on the COVID-19 pandemic for 2020 APHA Annual Meeting:


We will accept submissions on both research- and program-based work; however, all submissions in response to this call must be directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Abstracts must include the purpose of the work, a description of information and methods used, results, and discussion. As part of the International Health Section program, all submissions should relate to the pandemic, the response, and its effects on health in countries outside the US.

We particularly encourage submissions with the following themes:

–COVID-19 effects on the strength and resiliency of health systems
–COVID-19 among displaced populations** or in conflict settings
–COVID-19 effects on NCDs (mental health, chronic conditions/comorbidities, etc.)
–COVID-19 and human rights (could collaborate with the HR forum on this one)
–COVID-19 and social determinants/marginalized populations
–COVID-19 as a threat to and an opportunity for the integration of medical and public health systems
–COVID-19, globalism, and the goals of global health

The submission deadline for COVID-19 abstracts is 11:59pm (PST) on Friday, May 15. Please submit your abstract under the “COVID-19: Special Call for Abstracts” topic here:

Any abstracts on topics other than COVID-19 will not be accepted.

Please distribute among your networks!

Participate in a short climate and health survey for public health professionals!

The IH Climate Change and Health Working Group requests your participation in this survey, Climate and Health: A Survey for Public Health Professionals. 

This survey is a collaboration between the IH Section and researchers at the University of Miami to assess members’ climate change knowledge, attitudes and behavior as well as member’s expertise, awareness and areas of interest in climate change.  The survey results will allow a comparison with findings of our 2012 IH member survey, Climate Change and Public Health Professionals, a Survey of the International Health Section of APHA.

Please see the survey flyer below for more information and contacts for any questions.

APHA Climate Change Survey Flyer

You may access the survey at the following link:  https://umiami.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_d5BdmxeddfWpZ0V

The survey should take about 10 minutes to complete and is confidential.

Thank you in advance for your participation.

Mental Health and COVID-19

By Elena Schatell MPH (c) MMS (c) and Dr. Heather F. McClintock PhD MSPH MSW

This is the second part of a IH Blog series, Global Mental Health: Burden, Initiatives and Special Topics.

Part II- Special Topics: Mental Health and COVID-19

The past few months have been an overwhelming time of uncertainty, frustration, fear, sadness and grief. At the end of December 2019, the Chinese city of Wuhan reported a cluster of pneumonia-like cases, and just a few days later, Chinese authorities attributed the outbreak to a novel coronavirus. By the end of January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) formally declared the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. In a media briefing on March 11, 2020, the WHO Director-General characterized the outbreak as a pandemic. Two weeks later, in a statement to the press, WHO Regional Director for Europe decided to focus his speech on an increasing topic of concern, mental health, stating “at WHO, we consider the consequences of COVID-19 on our mental health and psychological well-being to be very important.” With countries and communities around the world in voluntary and legally-ordered quarantine, and the number of COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, the mental health implications of the pandemic are of paramount importance.  

Published research on the mental health impact of past global pandemics, such as SARS, MERS, and Ebola, give us insight into the immediate and long-term mental health burden that is to come with the COVID-19 pandemic. A study of the immediate impact of the 2003 SARS outbreak in a teaching hospital found that health care workers felt stigmatized, feared contagion and infecting their friends, family, and co-workers. Another study found that healthcare worker survivors had significantly higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression and posttraumatic symptoms one year after the SARS outbreak, compared to non-health care workers. During the SARS outbreak, suicide spiked among elderly Hong Kong residents and in Toronto, longer durations of quarantine were associated with increased prevalanece of PTSD symptoms. The psychological impact of quarantine is well documented in the literature. A recently published review in the Lancet summarized negative psychological effects and stressors. Psychological effects included post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion, and anger. Stressors identified were frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, inadequate information, financial loss, and stigma. 

There is emerging evidence from China on the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. An online survey conducted in China during the initial phase of the outbreak found that over half of the respondents rated the psychological impact of the outbreak as moderate-to-severe and about a third reported moderate-to-severe anxiety. A subsequent larger, nationwide survey in China found that 35% of respondents reported psychological distress. The effects of social media exposure on mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak was studied in China. This study found a high prevalence of mental health problems, with over 80% of participants reporting frequent exposure to social media.  Higher social media exposure was associated with higher odds of anxiety as well as a combination of depression and anxiety in adjusted models. 

Additional concerning data comes from a Chinese study that focused on the mental health of frontline health care workers. There are numerous factors that put this population at risk for poor mental health. These include the overwhelming workload, non-stop increase in confirmed and suspected cases, rapidly changing protocols, widespread media coverage, depletion of personal protective equipment (PPE), separation from family, and fear of infection. Researchers examined nearly 1,300 healthcare workers in China who were directly involved in the diagnosis, treatment and care of COVID-19 patients. They found that frontline healthcare workers were 50.4% more likely to have depressive symptoms, 44.6% more likely to have anxiety symptoms, 60.8% more likely to experience distress, and three times as likely to have insomnia compared to healthcare workers who were not on the frontline. 

As this pandemic continues additional research will be conducted to understand the burden and impact of mental health issues among community members and healthcare workers. The current evidence indicates that this pandemic is extolling a tremendous burden on mental health and well-being globally. In response to this growing public health need, a multitude of international, national, and local initiatives will or are being implemented. To learn more about some of these initiatives please stay tuned for our next blog post: Part III: Global Mental Health Initiatives and COVID-19.

About the Authors:

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 7.52.50 PMElena Schatell MPH (c) MMS (c)

Elena Schatell is a current student at Arcadia University enrolled in the Dual Master of Public Health/Master of Medical Science in Physician Assistant Program. She aims to promote public health in underserved communities as a future physician assistant. Her current public health interests include access to mental health services, stigma surrounding mental illness, and the relationship between faith and mental health. She has interned at the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) national office in Arlington, Virginia, working closely with the Advocacy and Public Policy team on conducting research on service barriers and state mental health policy. During her time at NAMI, she also authored articles for the Advocate magazine and blog.

McClintock.PictureDr. Heather F. McClintock PhD MSPH MSW

Dr. McClintock is an IH Section Member and Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health, College of Health Sciences at Arcadia University. She earned her Master of Science in Public Health from the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. McClintock received her PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on health behavior and promotion. Her research broadly focuses on the prevention, treatment, and management of chronic disease and disability globally. Recent research aims to understand and reduce the burden of intimate partner violence in Sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to completing her doctorate she served as a Program Officer at the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and a Senior Project Manager in the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Pennsylvania. At the University of Pennsylvania she led several research initiatives that involved improving patient compliance and access to quality healthcare services including the Spectrum of Depression in Later Life Study and Integrating Management for Depression and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Study.

APHA opposes Trump move to cut essential WHO funding

Washington, D.C., April 14, 2020 – The American Public Health Association stands in solidarity with the World Health Organization and denounces the Trump administration’s decision to halt U.S. funding. Ending U.S. contributions to WHO will cripple the world’s response to COVID-19 and could harm the health and lives of thousands of Americans.

“WHO is in a race to treat, test and protect people from the devastation of COVID-19. Its leadership in combatting COVID-19 has been indispensable, irreplaceable and decisive,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, APHA’s executive director.

“Getting ahead of this virus requires a rapid global response and the coordination of multiple countries,” Benjamin said. “It is only with this coordination that we can accelerate the pace of research and generate the critical science-based evidence that is needed to save the lives of people in the U.S. and around the world.

“We must be singularly focused on using all of our assets, including WHO, to get in front of this insidious virus.”

WHO’s work is critical for:

  • Creating a comprehensive research and development agenda to get safe vaccines and effective therapeutics in play. A WHO-led approach allows multiple countries to work together to accelerate the pace of research and development and increase the amount of what can get done.
  • Addressing the next frontier of the pandemic, which will devastate low-resource countries and humanitarian settings. While more than 70% of the world remains underprepared to prevent, detect and respond to such public health threats, WHO has been working with low-income countries for to help them prepare. Strong, effective and functional public health systems within countries are crucial for reducing risks.
  • Leading the U.N. development system’s public health work at the country level. WHO works with vital operational arms of the United Nations, including UNICEF, the World Food Program and UNHCR. Though U.S. assistances is essential to aiding these countries, funding is still insufficient.
  • Supporting and coordinating supply chains for critical public health commodities, such as personal protective equipment and lab kits. WHO is the lead of the U.N. COVID-19 Supply Chain Task Force for the global procurement of pandemic commodities. The U.S. is purchasing its own supplies, but if all countries did so on their own, prices would skyrocket everywhere. Bulk purchasing will help everyone.

“Now is not the time to undermine WHO’s vital work,” Benjamin said. “There will be a time for lessons learned once this pandemic is over. WHO has expressed a full willingness to participate in a thorough review of what has worked and what has not as we have raced to stop this disease, and we support their inclusion.

“Any effort to remove funding from WHO, particularly in this time of crisis, would be a crime against humanity and endanger the health of Americans and people around the world.”


The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We are the only organization that combines a nearly 150-year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health. Learn more at www.apha.org.

Rising to the Emerging Global Health Challenges in 2020

By: Dr Yara Asi

Dr Asi was featured in the most recent Section Connection newsletter. To learn more about Dr. Asi please click here.

An interview with Dr. Aisha Jumaan, founder and president of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, and Dr. Samer Jabbour, professor at the American University of Beirut, co-chair and convener of the ‘Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria: Health in Conflict’, and founding Chair of the Global Alliance on War, Conflict, and Health.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization released their predictions for the urgent health challenges of this new decade. To any public health professional, many of these challenges aren’t new: climate change, conflict, health equity, consumer protections, and infectious disease and epidemics, to name a few. At the most recent APHA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, dozens of panels and presentations covered these very issues. However, because of the interlinkages between all these health threats at the local, national, and global levels, it is not enough to simply be able to name these threats. The real challenge is building the global coalitions with the resources to tackle these complex problems. While the membership of APHA certainly can’t accomplish this alone, the level of expertise within the organization on dealing with these issues, including within the International Health section, provides an excellent foundation for the research, advocacy, and practice that is necessary to tackle these complex risks.

The International Health Section Luncheon at the 2019 Annual Meeting featured two speakers who are working on the leading edge of some of these threats to public health. Dr. Aisha Jumaan, founder and president of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, and Dr. Samer Jabbour, professor at the American University of Beirut, co-chair and convener of the ‘Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria: Health in Conflict’, and founding Chair of the Global Alliance on War, Conflict, and Health, spoke of the challenging conditions that the world’s most vulnerable people face in accessing their most basic health needs. I talked with both of them after the meeting to get their thoughts on international health and what the members of APHA can do to support health practices, advocacy, and research that responds to the needs of fragile populations.

Due to their combined decades of experience, I first asked them what they have learned about international health in their work. Dr. Jabbour first reminds us of the difference in one’s approach to international health depending on their country of origin. As someone living and working in Beirut, to him international health “is not an ‘external’ subject or a field.” He emphasized, however, that the overall goodwill, commitment, and meaningful work happening in international health is vital in reducing global health equities and that this is an important support to count on for the countries that need to make the greatest progress. The importance of the local approach was supported by Dr. Jumaan. “Training 10 professionals outside Yemen and then having them conduct training in Yemen to a higher number of beneficiaries with a small budget have resulted in a multiplicative impact for our work…these local professionals have a better access to the countries we work in and are trusted by the local communities.”

Dr. Jumaan reiterated this perspective when I asked about the largest challenges to international health. She cited the lack of connection between the agencies that provide funding as well as the recipients of much of the funding with the environments where they are actually implementing projects. “We need to engage the beneficiary communities in every step of the way in planning and implementing international health projects.” Of course, many practitioners and researchers in this field agree with this sentiment and have for decades, but without fundamental change in how the major international health organizations operate, it is difficult to imagine these various interests coalescing around the types of widespread solutions needed to deal with the challenges presented by the WHO. Dr. Jumaan found localization efforts to be the most significant change that the international community could make going forward, with powerful institutions and associations doing the work of empowering local professionals to care for their own populations and supplying technical support when necessary.

Dr. Jabbour was clear in his response to what the largest priorities of the international health community must be going forward: “Pay more attention to political determinants of health, particularly war and conflict, contribute more meaningfully to climate change, including through engaging with the younger generations who are now leading the fight, and work towards more equitable economic systems, everywhere.”

What can we do, as members of one of the largest public health associations in the world? Aside from research and advocacy, Dr. Jumaan emphasized the need to provide technical assistance and mentoring to professionals within countries we want to support. The skills of the IH section of APHA could help “develop the skills of these professionals to implement public health projects that address the local needs in a cost-effective way.” Dr. Jabbour saw the strong potential of APHA to serve as a “beacon for public health,” but in terms of tackling the hardest public health problems, he found it vital to “take a hard decision, make the commitment, start talking with partners, draw up plans, and get seriously engaged.”

As the world’s eyes are freshly poised on global public health, we can remember Dr. Jabbour’s directive in our own work. What is the question that no one is asking? Where is the population that needs representation and outreach? How can APHA leverage its considerable institutional and scholarly resources to show solidarity with our fellow public health professionals around the world? We will need these global alliances to tackle the public health threats that are known, like war, climate change, and poverty, and those yet to come, as our global vulnerability to infectious disease is once again being made apparent with the coronavirus. Especially for practitioners and researchers in stable or more developed nations, our colleagues like Dr. Jabbour and Dr. Jumaan that are working on the frontlines of global health emergencies are counting on us for our time, energy, and engagement. As this new decade begins, let us ensure that we rise to these impending challenges and preserve health and well-being for all.