Rethinking the Humanitarian Health Response to Violent Conflict


In response to the challenges to humanitarian health provision created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the initiative will prioritize research activities that focus directly on tackling these urgent needs. Two key issues have emerged that speak directly to the broader goals and capacities of this initiative and will therefore serve as key organizing blocks for work going forward: (1) Global Cooperation, Humanitarian Health Delivery, and Pandemic Control and (2) Migrants and COVID-19: A Humanitarian Health Crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border.

The initiative will consist of an ongoing engagement strategy involving domestic and international policy-makers, practitioners, and scholarly audiences, including international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to help define new strategies for the effective provision of essential health services in areas of armed violence. The project includes a special focus on the creation of a transdisciplinary framework capable of integrating insights from global health sciences, international humanitarian law and humanitarian action, and political and security studies.

Primary products will include a series of publications, strategic dialogues, and others actively concerned with the humanitarian health response to violence; along with policy briefs, fieldwork, and surveys, as a means to reach not only a general audience, but also local and field-based humanitarian health providers who may be beyond the reach of targeted project engagement.

The initiative will consist of two major components, each of which will include substantive engagement with a range of actors through convenings, publications, and multimedia products. A cross-cutting Dædalus volume and a final report will synthesize findings from across all three major components of the project. We will also produce tailored resources for selected audiences of particularly relevant stakeholders and policymakers.

Specific activities will include:

The COVID-19 pandemic has both exposed and amplified the lack of cooperative mechanisms and political solidarity to address common global threats. This component of the Rethinking the Humanitarian Health Response to Violent Conflict project examines the impact of COVID-19 on great power relationships. In addition to identifying broader improvements in humanitarian health, this work specifically aims to generate concrete suggestions for how ‘islands of cooperation’ can be built among great powers in order to ensure that the pandemic does not wreak further havoc in the conflict zones where such states are either implicated or tasked with conflict resolution. 

Main objectives are: 

  • Providing a diagnostic of the impact of COVID-19 on power dynamics and existing mechanisms of global cooperation. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated a stunning capacity to bypass national borders and spread across the globe. However, the international response has been to turn inward, insulate sovereign states, restrict international travel and reinforce national borders. The inherent difficulties in closing major land borders and the capacity of the pandemic to spread rapidly have underscored the need for coordinated, regional approaches to the pandemic response. This requirement for regional strategies is particularly important in areas experiencing major migrant flows fleeing political instability and organized violence, for example, on the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Directed at examining the humanitarian implications of COVID-19 response amid unprecedented migration along the US-Mexico border, this component of the Rethinking the Humanitarian Health Response to Violent Conflict project generated new empirical insights regarding the pandemic in border communities. 

Main objectives are: 



Project Chairs
Advisory Group

Donald M. Berwick

Institute for Healthcare Improvement
President Emeritus; Senior Fellow
Academy Member

Louise Henry Bryson

Public Media Group of Southern California
Chair Emerita, Board of Trustees
Academy Member

Li Lu

Himalaya Capital Management LLC/LL Investment Partners
Founder and Chairman
Academy Member

Jane T. Olson

Human Rights Watch
Emerita Chair of the Programs Committee
Academy Member

Deborah F. Rutter

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Academy Member
Project Staff

Islam Qasem

John E. Bryson Director of Science, Engineering, and Technology Programs and Program Director for Global Security and International Affairs

Kathryn Moffat

American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Senior Program Officer for Global Security and International Affairs

Melissa Chan

Program Coordinator for Global Security and International Affairs


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