SECTION CONNECTION An insider's view of the APHA International Health Section

If you ever feel like you’re just one person trying to change something, I promise there are hundreds, thousands, if not millions of people out there who feel the same way as you, who want to make a difference.

Saira O’Mallie

Issue 13 - Spring 2020


  • Message from the Chair
  • IH Section and the COVID-19 Response
  • National Public Health Week
  • Member Spotlight: Dr Yara Asi
  • Rising to the Emerging Global Health Challenges in 2020
  • Committee and Working Group Updates
  • Section Announcements and News
  • Feature Committee: Membership

Message from the Chair

Dear friends and colleagues,

It was so great to connect with many of you at the Annual Meeting. We hope you learned a lot from our sessions and got to know many of your fellow International Health section colleagues. A lot has changed in our world since November and it is my hope that our IH community can serve as a resource for you during these challenging times.

In this issue of Section Connection, you will hear more about the work our section is doing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; learn more about how you can get involved with National Public Health Week; hear about the work that the membership committee does; read an interview with Dr Aisha Jumaan and Dr. Samer Jabbour who presented at our IH luncheon last year; and get up close and personal with IH section member - Dr. Yara Asi.

We will also share updates from the Climate Change and Health Working Group, the International Abortion Working Group, the Membership Committee, the Communications Committee, and the Nominations Committee.

We hope you continue to stay connected and involved with our section.

Sarah Shannon

When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.

Malala Yousafzai

International Health Section and COVID-19

As public health professionals, we play a critical role in the fight against COVID-19. Whether you are a frontline health care worker, a state or local health department epidemiologist, or staying home to stop the spread - we are grateful for everything you do. While our regular section work continues, we are taking specific steps to support the COVID-19 response:

  • We are collaborating with other sections, caucuses, and the international community.
  • We are advocating for policies to support the COVID-19 response.
  • We are sharing reliable information and combating misinformation.

Please visit our COVID-19 page to find the most up to date information on the work we are doing as well as resources specific to the global health community. The page is updated regularly.


If you would like to be involved in the IH section’s COVID-19 response or would like more information, please contact us at ihsection.communications@gmail.com

We need to think upstream and differently so we can improve health rather than just improving the problems that were created by our society in not investing.

Dr. Donald Schwarz

National Public Health Week: April 6-12, 2020

Join APHA in celebrating 25 years of hosting National Public Health Week!

This 25th anniversary is an opportunity to highlight some of the greatest public health successes and to celebrate what makes public health so vital. It's also a time to reflect on important lessons learned and also missed chances to improve health for all. After 25 years of NPHW, there's much to commend, but we know our work isn't done yet. As we look to the future, we're setting goals and working to ensure equity. You'll see all of that in this year's celebrations.

During each day of National Public Health Week, we focus on a particular public health topic. Then, we identify ways each of us can make a difference on that topic. These areas are critical to our future success in creating the healthiest nation, and everyone can do their part to help.

COVID-19 and the NPHW Daily Themes

  • Monday: Mental Health — advocate for and promote emotional well-being
  • Tuesday: Maternal and Child Health — ensure the health of mothers and babies throughout the lifespan
  • Wednesday: Violence Prevention — reduce personal and community violence to improve health
  • Thursday: Environmental Health — help protect and maintain a healthy planet
  • Friday: Education — advocate for quality education and schools
  • Saturday: Healthy Housing — ensure access to affordable and safe housing
  • Sunday: Economics — advocate for economic empowerment as the key to a healthy life

Get Involved!

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams

Member Spotlight: Dr. Yara Asi

Dr Yara Asi

Tell us about yourself (personal biography).

I have a PhD in Public Affairs with a concentration in health services management and research from the University of Central Florida. I had originally planned to go to medical school, but as I was finishing my undergraduate degree, one of my uncles that lives overseas got very ill from an ailment that was treatable, but not in our home country. He had to apply for special permissions to get admitted to a hospital only 45 minutes away from him, a process that took months and that was very taxing on our family. Fortunately, he received the permits and eventually recovered, but this experience brought me out of thinking of health as what happens solely in the exam room (as vital as that is) and more about how health functions in suboptimal structures and systems for reasons that have nothing to do with health care resources.

How did you get interested in public/global health?

I was born in the West Bank, so I have always been exposed to the realities of disparities in health access and outcomes before I really understood what any of that meant. This led me to pursue an interdisciplinary field of study where I could investigate not just global health outcomes, but how they relate to political and economic realities and incentives.

What do you enjoy most about working in public/global health?

One, I just find it fascinating. So much amazing and effective work has already been done, and there is still so much for us to learn. It’s very visceral; these are real problems faced by real people, and the possibility to contribute even a tiny bit to an intervention or policy or piece of outreach that benefits people is motivating. Secondly, as a first-generation American whose family all still lives in a developing country, I feel a sense of responsibility to bring attention to the stories of vulnerable people everywhere. There are endless populations that need the research, advocacy, and support of those with the resources to do this work, and in many contexts, very minor changes can make huge impacts on people’s lives.

How did you get involved with the IH section and what do you enjoy most about being involved with the IH section?

I joined APHA along with several other health-related organizations during my doctoral program, and found the first annual meeting I attended to be one of the best conferences I had been to at that point. I don’t come from a global or international health department, and so it was gratifying to find a bit of community in APHA, especially at sessions affiliated with the IH section. It seemed like the perfect fit for my work, and some of the scholars I admire most are affiliated with the section as well. Since becoming more involved, I’ve enjoyed the connections I’ve made and getting involved with writing for the IH Blog and joining the Palestine Health Justice group as a co-chair.

What advice do you have for others who want to start working in global health?

Care. I tell my students all the time that healthcare is unlike most sectors in that you are dealing with people in a vulnerable state of their lives, sometimes in a literal life or death situation. In those moments, yes you need the knowledge, you need the expertise, you need the resources, but what sets you apart is your ability to see people as more than facts and figures; your ability to see them as people that, but for some random stroke of fate that we can’t control, could have been us or our grandmother or our child. How would we want someone to treat our loved one? It’s not enough to sit in conference rooms and pontificate about these issues. Make a conscious effort to work with and for people- not to work “about” or “at” them. Listen. Think about what questions are really important for your target population. When I tell people what I work on, I get a lot of “Isn’t that discouraging?” or a cynical comment about how the world works. To paraphrase James Baldwin, “You write in order to change the world ... if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” Spend your career looking for that millimeter where you can change the world.

Tell us one fun fact about yourself.

I love to cook! I look up recipes from countries around the world and I make a new dish most nights of the week. I love to travel, but cooking is a much more cost effective way to experience other cultures, and I enjoy introducing new flavors and spices and types of food to my family. My kids are 6 and 4 and they love seeing what I’m going to come up with each night, although their compliments usually sound something like, “This is almost as good as the macaroni and cheese in the blue box!” Harsh, but I’ll take it.

“Put your heart, mind and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” – Swami Sivananda

Rising to the Emerging Global Health Challenges in 2020

An interview with Dr. Aisha Jumaan, founder and president of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, and Dr. Samer Jabbour, professor at the American University of Beirut, co-chair and convener of the 'Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria: Health in Conflict', and founding Chair of the Global Alliance on War, Conflict, and Health.

By: Dr. Yara Asi

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization released their predictions for the urgent health challenges of this new decade. To any public health professional, many of these challenges aren’t new: climate change, conflict, health equity, consumer protections, and infectious disease and epidemics, to name a few. At the most recent APHA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, dozens of panels and presentations covered these very issues. However, because of the interlinkages between all these health threats at the local, national, and global levels, it is not enough to simply be able to name these threats. The real challenge is building the global coalitions with the resources to tackle these complex problems. While the membership of APHA certainly can’t accomplish this alone, the level of expertise within the organization on dealing with these issues, including within the International Health section, provides an excellent foundation for the research, advocacy, and practice that is necessary to tackle these complex risks.

The International Health Section Luncheon at the 2019 Annual Meeting featured two speakers who are working on the leading edge of some of these threats to public health. Dr. Aisha Jumaan, founder and president of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, and Dr. Samer Jabbour, professor at the American University of Beirut, co-chair and convener of the 'Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria: Health in Conflict', and founding Chair of the Global Alliance on War, Conflict, and Health, spoke of the challenging conditions that the world’s most vulnerable people face in accessing their most basic health needs. I talked with both of them after the meeting to get their thoughts on international health and what the members of APHA can do to support health practices, advocacy, and research that responds to the needs of fragile populations.

Due to their combined decades of experience, I first asked them what they have learned about international health in their work. Dr. Jabbour first reminds us of the difference in one’s approach to international health depending on their country of origin. As someone living and working in Beirut, to him international health “is not an ‘external’ subject or a field.” He emphasized, however, that the overall goodwill, commitment, and meaningful work happening in international health is vital in reducing global health equities and that this is an important support to count on for the countries that need to make the greatest progress. The importance of the local approach was supported by Dr. Jumaan. “Training 10 professionals outside Yemen and then having them conduct training in Yemen to a higher number of beneficiaries with a small budget have resulted in a multiplicative impact for our work…these local professionals have a better access to the countries we work in and are trusted by the local communities.”

Dr. Jumaan reiterated this perspective when I asked about the largest challenges to international health. She cited the lack of connection between the agencies that provide funding as well as the recipients of much of the funding with the environments where they are actually implementing projects. “We need to engage the beneficiary communities in every step of the way in planning and implementing international health projects.” Of course, many practitioners and researchers in this field agree with this sentiment and have for decades, but without fundamental change in how the major international health organizations operate, it is difficult to imagine these various interests coalescing around the types of widespread solutions needed to deal with the challenges presented by the WHO. Dr. Jumaan found localization efforts to be the most significant change that the international community could make going forward, with powerful institutions and associations doing the work of empowering local professionals to care for their own populations and supplying technical support when necessary.

Dr. Jabbour was clear in his response to what the largest priorities of the international health community must be going forward: “Pay more attention to political determinants of health, particularly war and conflict, contribute more meaningfully to climate change, including through engaging with the younger generations who are now leading the fight, and work towards more equitable economic systems, everywhere.”

What can we do, as members of one of the largest public health associations in the world? Aside from research and advocacy, Dr. Jumaan emphasized the need to provide technical assistance and mentoring to professionals within countries we want to support. The skills of the IH section of APHA could help “develop the skills of these professionals to implement public health projects that address the local needs in a cost-effective way.” Dr. Jabbour saw the strong potential of APHA to serve as a “beacon for public health,” but in terms of tackling the hardest public health problems, he found it vital to “take a hard decision, make the commitment, start talking with partners, draw up plans, and get seriously engaged.”

As the world’s eyes are freshly poised on global public health, we can remember Dr. Jabbour’s directive in our own work. What is the question that no one is asking? Where is the population that needs representation and outreach? How can APHA leverage its considerable institutional and scholarly resources to show solidarity with our fellow public health professionals around the world? We will need these global alliances to tackle the public health threats that are known, like war, climate change, and poverty, and those yet to come, as our global vulnerability to infectious disease is once again being made apparent with the coronavirus. Especially for practitioners and researchers in stable or more developed nations, our colleagues like Dr. Jabbour and Dr. Jumaan that are working on the frontlines of global health emergencies are counting on us for our time, energy, and engagement. As this new decade begins, let us ensure that we rise to these impending challenges and preserve health and well-being for all.

There can be no real growth without healthy populations. No sustainable development without tackling disease and malnutrition. No international security without assisting crisis-ridden countries. And no hope for the spread of freedom, democracy and human dignity unless we treat health as a basic human right.

Gro Brundtland

Committee and Working Group Updates

Climate Change and Health Working Group: At the APHA 2019 conference, our IH Climate Change and Health Working Group won the Climate Leadership Award. The award requires us to engage students and young professionals to develop a series of essays and actions about their work in climate change at their university or communities related to U.S.or international climate change and health. These essays will be compiled into a virtual workshop to be shared across universities and APHA. Please share the grant announcement with students in your university or organization and encourage them to apply. A small cash award is provided. The deadline is May 15th. If you have any questions, please contact us ihsection.cch@gmail.com.

International Abortion Working Group: Terry McGovern, Chair of the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, submitted written testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ February 5, 2020 hearing, “Unique Challenges Women Face in Global Health.” An excerpt from APHA Policy Statement, “Preventing and Reducing the Harm of the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy in Global Public Health” was submitted. She first described the results of recent multi-country, mixed-methods research conducted by the department, at that time still preliminary and unpublished, which found three primary changes attributed to the implementation of the PLGHA policy:

  • a chilling effect, wherein organizations that comply and those that do not have discontinued participation with each other, often as an over-interpretation of USG requirements, resulting in siloed programs in sexual and reproductive health, duplication of efforts, and reduced ability to support government health policies;
  • disruption of integrated service delivery, previously emphasized by USAID health assistance, both by routine implementation of the policy wherein, for example, an NGO that complies must choose between providing reproductive health services and HIV/AIDS services, or no longer refers women for abortion services, but also by over-interpretation of the policy, wherein NGOs that comply do not refer for any reproductive health services, making women’s access to these essential services much less secure;
  • and loss of funding to foreign NGOs, which in Kenya has resulted in dramatically reduced support to local facilities that cannot meet demand for contraception and safe abortion commodities via GoK MoH support alone, and in Madagascar has forced the largest NGO provider of family planning to shutter facilities and stop providing contraceptives free of charge to poor women.

In conclusion, Professor McGovern described APHA and our policy-making process, and excerpted paragraphs 7-13, 15, and 17 from the APHA policy statement. The full text of APHA Policy 201909, “Preventing and Reducing the Harm of the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy in Global Public Health,” adopted at the November 2019 APHA Annual Meeting, can be found at https://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2020/01/14/preventing-and-reducing-the-harm-of-the-protecting-life-in-global-health-assistance-policy. It was developed by members of the IH and SRH sections’ International Abortion Working Group.

"Health care is vital to all of us some of the time, but public health is vital to all of us all of the time." C. Everett Koop

Section Announcements and News

Membership Survey: It's time for our annual membership engagement survey! This survey is a wonderful way to give anonymous feedback to the Membership Committee so that we can better meet your needs as a section member. If you've been looking to get more involved in the IH Section, this survey also provides a way to sign up for our committees and working groups. The survey is short and should only take about five minutes of your time. If you have any questions, please reach out to the Membership Chair, Hannah Stewart, at hlstewar@usc.edu.

Membership Survey: https://forms.gle/q1Nrs6xyLC5faNvA7

Communications: We would like to welcome back Dr. Heather McClintock as a guest blogger this year. She will be collaborating with Hannah Stewart, our Membership Chair on a blog series titled Global Mental Health: Burden, Initiatives and Special Topics. Their first blog post is up on our website, "An Overview of Global Mental Health."

Nominations: APHA is currently in the process of identifying potential candidates for the below overall APHA leadership positions:

  • President-Elect
  • Speaker of the Governing Council
  • Executive Board member

It is so important that the ballot of candidates for these leadership positions reflect the diversity of the Association in all ways, including gender, race, and ethnicity, as well as public health roles and areas of interest! If you're interested in putting yourself or another forward for the APHA Nominations Committee to consider, please email the Nominations Committee. We can help answer any questions you may have, help with your nomination packet and send in your information before the deadline of April 17th. All the information you need, including position descriptions and nomination forms, are available here: https://www.apha.org/nominations-committee.

Be on the lookout for Section Elections to open in early May! The positions we currently have open are below:

  • 4 Governing Councilor positions
  • 2 Section Councilor positions
  • 1 Student Liaison position
  • 1 Chair-elect position

We also have a few open appointed positions (below). Those interested should reach out to the section Nominating Co-Chairs:

  • Education Board
  • Publications Board
  • Awards Committee Co-Chair
“It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Want to be featured in a future newsletter? Have an idea for a story? Just want to say hi?

Email the Communications Committee with your idea.

Public health is everybody's business.

Get to know the Membership Committee

1. What is the IH section membership committee and what do they do?

Hannah Stewart: The Membership Committee is the team responsible for ensuring that IH Section members are engaged in the section. We maintain the section's membership rosters and help other committees and working groups stay in touch with members. These membership rosters are also used by our team to track trends in membership, including how many members we have, where they work, and what type of APHA membership they have. Each year we also conduct the annual Membership Engagement Survey. This functions as our section's "suggestion box" and guides our committee's initiatives for the next year. It's also a great way to express interest in getting involved with a committee or working group. We're a large, diverse section! Currently, our membership includes over 2100 members from 55 different countries. Our team is here to make sure that each one of them finds value in their IH Section membership.

Jay Nepal: The IH Membership committee manages the membership list to inform activities and engage members. This committee also works to recruit new members, send out welcome letters and plans various member engagement activities throughout the year, such as, including open house meetings and IH awards and reception during the annual meeting and local networking events when possible.

2. Tell us about yourselves.

Hannah Stewart: My name is Hannah, and I'm the current Chair of the Membership Committee. I'm a native Texan but currently live in Los Angeles. I graduated with my MPH in Global Health from the University of Southern California just over a year ago. I am currently a Research Scholar at the Global Environmental Health Lab, where I work on projects related to mental health in Myanmar. I also represent the United States as one of two Executive Committee Delegates to the Global Mental Health Peer Network, an advocacy organization dedicated to rights-based approaches to mental health care. I'm a big fan of Liverpool Football Club, anything Texas-shaped, and my two dogs: Chester & Jango Fett.

Jay Nepal: Originally from Nepal, I am a community health professional in Northern California. With the completion of a master's in global health, I am pursuing my niche in health equity and social justice. Before coming to the U.S., I worked as a program coordinator in a community-based organization in Kathmandu, providing HIV/AIDS prevention services to minority groups and advocating for health and human rights issues. I also led trekking groups in Nepal, including to Khumbu (Everest) region.

3. What is your committee's goal for the next year?

Hannah Stewart: Our committee is currently focused on increasing the engagement of our students and early-career professionals. We want to ensure that the IH Section is a platform for collaboration and professional development so that our new generation of public health leaders are prepared for a rapidly changing global health landscape. As an early-career professional myself, I am really excited to see what these facets of our membership will bring to our section and hope to help foster that over the coming year. The Membership Engagement Survey is now open and we'd love to hear from you: https://forms.gle/q1Nrs6xyLC5faNvA7

Jay Nepal: The membership committee is working hard to attract new members (especially students and early career professionals) to actively engage with the IH section programs and activities throughout the year. Additionally, we would also like to organize/collaborate with more local networking events.

Hannah Stewart, Membership Committee Chair and Jay Nepal, Membership Committee Co-Chair

If you would like more information about volunteering for this committee or any of our other committees, please contact us at ihsection.communications@gmail.com.

We are more capable of turning around our global health crisis than we think.

Kris Carr

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Background photo credits, in order:

Health Screening // Bidan Delima Program coordinators for East Java with marketing workshop materials for midwives in Surabaya, Indonesia. The Bidan Delima Program, a component of the Sustaining Technical Achievements in Reproductive Health/Family Planning (STARH) project, is operated by the Indonesian Midwives Association (IBI) to increase professionalism and standards of practice among private practice midwives, and to encourage women to seek out quality reproductive health services.© 2005 Catherine Harbour, Courtesy of Photoshare // PPE Handover - Nepal // Dr. Pradeep Vaidya // Ketcia Orilius // A Muslim youth ambassador in Lira, Uganda, sensitizes fellow youth in the community around sexual and reproductive health issues. © 2017 Dennis Ssesanga/Marie Stopes Uganda, Courtesy of Photoshare // Ketcia Orilius // //A health care provider takes samples of saliva from a four-year-old child during an oral health checkup for underprivileged children (3-6 years) in the anganwadi center (child- and mother-care center) of a resettlement colony in Chandigarh, India. © 2011 Sonika Raj/Panjab University, Courtesy of Photoshare // SIFPSA mSehat, Courtesy of Photoshare A nursing student in Kocaeli, Turkey, administers eye drops to her grandfather as her grandmother looks on. © 2016 Leyla EMEKTAR, Courtesy of Photoshare