Apr. 08 2020

A commentary article in the journal Nature Medicine outlines lessons from past epidemics that could help the global community protect the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Displaced populations, including refugees and migrants, are often the first to be stigmatized and unjustly blamed for the spread of disease, yet they are also among the most vulnerable people during a pandemic—to both the virus itself and the measures enacted to control it,” write Monette Zard, director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and co-authors. 

The Program on Forced Migration and Health in the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health, comprises a multi-disciplinary group of academics and practitioners, including physicians, epidemiologists, and lawyers, with special expertise in the humanitarian response, health systems strengthening, and the specific needs of displaced populations. The Program's faculty and alumni are actively engaged in the global COVID-19 response through direct clinical care, medical and public health policy, advocacy, disease surveillance, and coordination of international working groups.

The Nature Medicine commentary draws on the collective experience of the faculty and alumni who are currently deployed in the field engaged in the humanitarian response. The authors aim to share some of the lessons learned from past epidemics to inform a more effective, inclusive COVID-19 response that addresses the needs of the most vulnerable, including refugees and displaced populations.

Co-authors include the following:

• Ling San Lau, first author, is a pediatric physician and senior program officer in the Program on Forced Migration and Health. Her research focuses on improving the health and protecting the rights of vulnerable populations, including children and families affected by conflict, communicable diseases, and forced displacement.

• Goleen Samari, a public health demographer and assistant professor of population and family health at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, whose research centers on the rights of marginalized communities and on addressing health disparities due to migration, gender, and discrimination - both domestically and globally.

• Rachel T. Moresky is a physician and associate professor of population and family health at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. She is the founding director of sidHARTe (Strengthening Emergency Systems) as well as the founding director of the Global Emergency Medicine Fellowship within the New York-Presbyterian, Columbia University Emergency Medicine Department.

• Sara E. Casey is an assistant professor of population and family health at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health as well as the director of the Reproductive Health Access, Information and Services in Emergencies (RAISE) Initiative, a global program collaborating with program partners to identify and respond to challenges to improve contraceptive and abortion-related services in humanitarian settings in Africa and Asia.

• S. Patrick Kachur is a physician and professor of population and family health at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. He leads Advancing Research on Community Health Systems (ARCHeS), which designs and tests health systems interventions at scale and drives evidenced-based improvement of these initiatives.

• Leslie F. Roberts is a professor of population and family health at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, whose research and work center around studies to measure mortality in DR Congo, Iraq, and Zimbabwe, as well as developing methods to document the incidence of rape.

• Monette Zard is the director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health and associate professor of population and family health. Her work focuses on the intersection of the humanitarian, human rights and development sectors. She is an expert on global governance and accountability related to forced migration, specifically regarding the protection of the rights and health of migrants.