Family News: 2018-2019

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I write this update as the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health (PopFam) welcomes our largest-ever incoming class of 86 students.
Our incoming students speak a total of 21 languages and hail from 14 countries and 16 US states and Washington DC. Their impressive professional backgrounds include working in the Peace Corps in Benin and Cameroon, refugee camps in Serbia and Greece, AmeriCorps in New Jersey and Tennessee, Whole Women’s Health in Minnesota, and serving in para-rescue in the Alaska Air National Guard, among others.
Our students arrive in a challenging context in which reproductive health is under attack. We have witnessed the troubling expansion of the Global Gag Rule as well as proposed regulations to domestic family planning services provided through Title X. This proposed Domestic Gag Rule would prohibit discussion of abortion and severely restrict access to contraception and teen pregnancy prevention programs. States continue to pass Targeted Restriction of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws. The Supreme Court ruled in June to allow so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” to withhold information and misinform patients about abortion. With a new appointment of a Supreme Court Justice under consideration, Roe v. Wade is at risk.
The current threat to public health is not restricted to reproductive health. Most wrenchingly, immigrant families were separated at the border, placing vulnerable children at risk. The Supreme Court upheld a ban on citizens from five Muslim-majority countries, notably Syria, Somalia, Libya, Iran, and Yemen. This ban has directly affected faculty and students who were slated to join PopFam this fall. The EPA announced relaxed rules for carbon emissions from coal plants, yet another rollback of environmental regulations that defies scientists’ and researchers’ recommendations.
These events present an urgent need for our program.
Since my last update, we have hired four new faculty and five staff members with the skills to respond effectively to these global crises. In October, we will launch the new program on Global Health Justice and Governance Program, bringing even more expertise to the institution. Outlined below are other recent departmental highlights.
Here’s to the start of a new year.

Terry McGovern, JD
Harriet and Robert H. Heilbrunn Professor and Chair
Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health


Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)

  • PopFam has been working with partners in southern states to identify means of ensuring access to the full range of reproductive services in the context of the proposed Domestic Gag Rule and the potential reversal of Roe V. Wade.

  • Terry McGovern is engaging in continued research on the impact of religious law and plural legal systems on reproductive health outcomes among women and girls.

  • Lynn Freedman and AMDD are conducting research on maternal abuse and disrespect and the disproportionate negative maternal and neonatal health outcomes among Black mothers in New York City, and across the country.

  • PopFam faculty continue to respond to policies that will harm public health including filing public comments outlining the negative public health impact of the Domestic Gag Rule.

Environmental Health Justice

Dr. Virginia Rauh spoke on PBS Newshour about her research on exposure to the pesticide chlorpyrifos and its adverse impacts on child brain development. Despite backlash from the current EPA administration and other groups such as DowDuPont who insist that chlorpyrifos is safe when used “properly,” Dr. Rauh and other scientists stand firmly with the scientific evidence that there is no safe level of chlorpyrifos.

Child Health

  • The Trauma-Free NYC partnership is continuing to promote trauma-informed practices and policies in NYC by creating public awareness about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and how to address their effects on children, adolescents, and adults.

  • The CPC’s Study of Adolescent Lives after Migration to America (SALaMA), which focuses on the psycho-social well-being of adolescents resettled from conflict-affected Arab-majority countries, has completed its first round of qualitative data collection and is beginning data analysis.

  • Dr. Virginia Rauh of PopFam and Dr. Perzanowski of EHS, in partnership with Dr. Amy Elliott at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center, have been awarded a multi-million-dollar grant by the NIH to continue their work to evaluate the environmental influences on child health (ECHO).

Program on Forced Migration and Health (PFMH)

  • Monette Zard, a human rights lawyer and internationally-recognized expert on human rights, humanitarian aid, and governance is the new director of the PFMH.

  • Dr. Sara Casey has been appointed as Assistant Professor and will continue her longstanding and innovative work in access to sexual and reproductive healthcare in humanitarian settings with the RAISE initiative.

  • Dr. Goleen Samari is coming on board as an Assistant Professor. Dr. Samari, who authored a seminal article on Islamophobia as a public health issue, has done a great deal of research on migration and gender justice in the Middle-East North Africa (MENA) region. Here at PopFam, she will also be working on research on gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

  • PopFam has hired an attorney for Syrian physician Dr. Fouad Fouad; we are committed to doing everything we can to fight the Muslim ban and have him join our faculty as part of PFMH.

  • Terry McGovern has contributed to the Lancet Commission on Migration and Health on laws affecting migrant women and girls’ health.

Health Systems

Dr. Patrick Kachur is planning to expand ARCHeS into a multi-country program, enhance the platform and partners’ ability to reliably measure and improve quality of services, and apply implementation science and a health systems lens to infectious disease and noncommunicable disease program areas.

Faculty News

Dr. Debra Kalmuss is retiring from the Department after over 30 years at PopFam. Dr. Kalmuss, who taught courses in Quantitative Data Analysis and Current Issues in Sexuality, Sexual and Reproductive Health, has conducted ground-breaking research on a variety of sexual and reproductive health topics, including sexual coercion and intimate partner violence, contraceptive and pregnancy resolution decision-making, the consequences of early childbearing, and teen pregnancy prevention.