Public Health and Humanitarian Action

Among the greatest challenges to ensuring the health of populations are natural and manmade catastrophes. Tsunamis, hurricanes and tornadoes—some of which are driven by long-term climate change—have displaced millions in recent years. Armed conflicts continue to destroy communities, wreaking havoc on food, sanitation, and supply chains, and propelling survivors into fragile refugee camps and crowded urban areas. Increasingly, humanitarian responders are also asked to promote health systems development in fragile states and post conflict scenarios.

Across all continents, there is a critical need for technically competent public health professionals who understand the global dynamics of acute and complex emergencies, including the continuum from prevention and risk reduction to emergency response, and the transition to development. The Mailman School is internationally renowned for the depth and strength of its training in this field. Our new Certificate builds upon the strengths of the Program on Forced Migration and Health and prepares students to work in natural disasters, complex emergencies, and post-conflict settings. Taking a pragmatic, interdisciplinary, and human rights-based approach, it equips graduates with the skills necessary to gather, analyze, and disseminate knowledge needed to implement health-related programs and systems in humanitarian settings.

Students will learn the most up-to-date needs of international humanitarian organizations and acquire the skills necessary to succeed in complex emergencies, fragile states and post conflict environments. The interdisciplinary education will ensure that our graduates are prepared to lead in the field for many years to come. 

Admissions Eligibility

Public Health and Humanitarian Action is open to Columbia MPH students in the following departments:

Students who select Public Health and Humanitarian Action as their concentration are preferred to have at least one year of full-time health-related work experience. Applications that do not meet this criteria but are otherwise exceptional can be admitted. 

Note that given the required classes, the program may be most compatible for students enrolled in Population & Family Health.

The Competencies for this Certificate are as follows:

  1. Design assessment, monitoring, and evaluation strategies relevant to the goals of humanitarian programs and the constraints within which they operate
  2. Critically assess humanitarian evidence, policy, and practice
  3. Triangulate and use quantitative and qualitative data from different sources to inform policy and practice in complex and humanitarian settings
  4. Communicate effectively with a variety of audiences about public health research, issues, and practice in complex and humanitarian settings
  5. Prioritize human rights and ethics in humanitarian policy and practice

Learn More

Visit the Certificates Database to learn more about core and credit requirements.

Sample Courses

Investigative Methods in Complex Emergencies

The design, implementation and evaluation of health interventions in complex emergencies requires a particular professional orientation and skill set. Throughout this course, students gain practice with and understanding of the complementary roles of qualitative and quantitative approaches and how they can be tailored to emergency settings. By the end of the class, students should be competent in a range of skills including applying complex sampling strategies, designing surveys, leading focus groups and participatory activities with local stakeholders, estimating key epidemiological indicators, and analyzing data and information from diverse sources. Students will develop diverse skills and experiences that they will be able to apply to their future work in a range of complex field settings. 

Public Health and Humanitarian Action

Humanitarian action has come to occupy a central place in world politics and a theory of rights rather than charity drives international assistance and protection. Global events over the past decades, and the uncertainties of climate change in the future,  suggest that the world needs a humanitarian system capable of responding reliably, effectively and efficiently across a full range of emergencies. Whether people are suffering as a result of an earthquake or due to organized violence, the humanitarian response system is expected to reach them in a timely and informed manner. Global wealth suggests that it can; and, global morality says that it should.  

Success of humanitarian action depends upon political, technical, and organizational factors. The practice of public health focuses on improving the technical and organizational capacities, but this course will display that political, moral, and ethical forces are equally essential for alleviating human suffering. Deep problems of political distortion and perennial problems of agency performance and practice continue to compromise global, impartial, and effective humanitarian action.  

This course examines efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and protection in crisis-affected settings. It combines the theoretical with the possible, highlighting constraints to action from the perspective of the humanitarian agency, professional worker in the field, and centers the experiences of those affected by crisis. 

The course examines the principles guiding humanitarian action and how they influence evidence-based decision making, through key public health priorities. We also assess the need for sustainable approaches to humanitarian response due to the protracted nature of most crises, and emerging challenges, including climate change and the need to decolonize the aid sector. Particular attention is paid to human rights and humanitarian protection, including their nature, content, and linkages with public health assistance. Students will be exposed to current trends and debates, sides will be taken and defended, and the class will be enriched by the participation, contributions, and challenges of the students. 

Related Certificates

Related Links