Healing and resilience in situations of conflict and displacement

May 10, 2018
A large family walking in a refugee camp.
William Proby
 

IDRC support for the Global Health Institute at the American University of Beirut (AUB) is building local leaders and finding solutions for challenges such as conflict medicine, refugee health, and the growing burden of nutrition and obesity related diseases.

Health challenges in the Middle East and North Africa need a strong response that builds on regional and local leadership and innovations. The Global Health Institute (GHI), newly established in July 2017 at the AUB, is already addressing this need by investing in research, program implementation, and capacity building activities.

Grounded in the local context, the GHI’s three initial programs are breaking new ground on issues of paramount importance to the Middle East and North Africa and other regions — especially in humanitarian emergencies or fragile settings, where governments have a weak capacity to meet people’s basic needs.

Highlights

  • The Global Health Institute (GHI) addresses special health challenges arising in war-afflicted areas;
  • GHI’s research on refugee health explores the conditions faced by displaced populations, including Syrian refugees in Lebanon;
  • The Institute’s focus on nutrition aims to help prevent and manage obesity and related diseases that are on the rise in the region; and
  • The GHI Academy has already delivered e-courses and webinars to 675 students, of which 75% are women.

Three ground-breaking programs

The Conflict Medicine Program is developing comprehensive approaches to treat war injuries amongst civilians and to improve recovery and rehabilitation. Recognizing that the scars of war often go beyond the physical, the program brings the disciplines of epidemiology, history, microbiology, medicine, and anthropology together to improve understanding and address the psychological and social consequences of wounding.

In addition to carrying out research, establishing guidelines, and informing policies related to conflict medicine, the program teaches medical students and health professionals who treat large numbers of war injuries and war-related afflictions.

Reconstructing the war injured patient, a book authored by program director Dr Ghassan Abu-Sitta, raises awareness of what it means to care for victims who suffer not only from war injuries but also from the punishing conditions created by the collapse of infrastructure, including health systems.

The Refugee Health Program explores the impact of protracted crises on the health and well-being of displaced populations and their host communities in developing countries. A policy brief on informal healthcare provision among Syrian refugees (PDF, 216KB) exemplifies the practical impetus and strong policy relevance of the program’s work. Co-authored by program director Dr Fouad M. Fouad, the brief reflects the complex realities of Syrian refugee health professionals working without a permit in Lebanon to provide care to other Syrian refugees. Although their actions ease the strain on Lebanese public services, they experience wage discrimination and fear of being discovered.

The authors’ recommendations include a limited registration system for Syrian doctors to treat their compatriots, and support for education and training initiatives to prevent the Syrian health workforce — which now mostly resides outside of Syria — from losing a generation of experienced practitioners.

The Nutrition and Obesity Related Diseases Program aims to provide culturally sensitive nutrition interventions targeting obesity and related diseases. These conditions are particularly relevant in the region, which is experiencing some of the world’s highest increases in non-communicable diseases. Unprecedented increases in cases of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer are causing more premature deaths and disability.

New knowledge and professional development hub

Sound and innovative solutions rely on strong local leaders. Recognizing this need, the Institute has a dedicated arm to strengthen capacities of researchers and practitioners through its GHI Academy. Launched in November 2017, the Academy delivers regionally relevant and current global health knowledge with the aim of improving practice in the health sector in fragile and humanitarian settings.

To date, the GHI Academy has supported 675 students, of which 75% are women. It uses smart learning methods and platforms. For example, the Academy recently launched the webinar series Global Health and Conflict and plans to launch the Global Health Learning and Development platform with e-courses, webinars, diplomas, and massive open online courses by November 2018.

IDRC is a proud supporter of the AUB’s regional and international leadership on global health issues. Support for the GHI is one example of IDRC’s growing commitment to advancing the field of knowledge related to the refugee situation in the Middle East and North Africa. The GHI grant builds on previous and ongoing IDRC-supported research and research networks across AUB faculties. For example, GHI is a collaborating partner with the Faculty of Health Sciences in the Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria: Health in Conflict.

Learn more about our support for the Global Health Institute.

Listen to an interview with Abu-Sitta on the ecology of war.