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Responding to Changing Health Needs in Complex Emergencies

Responding to Changing Health Needs in Complex Emergencies, led by Professors Miriam Rabkin and Neil G. Boothby, is a new project of the Columbia Global Policy Initiative. 

By end-2014, nearly 60 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide, the most in recorded history. The Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean regions are displacement epicenters, with nearly 3.8 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. The crisis has critical health implications for Syria and surrounding host countries, and highlights broader issues about changing health needs in complex emergencies worldwide. 

While relief agencies and health organizations traditionally focus on provision of shelter, access to food and water, prevention of infectious diseases, and treatment of acute illnesses, today’s displaced persons (DPs) also need access to a broader range of health services, including management and treatment of non-communicable diseases. Another key difference from many past crises is that, across the region, fewer than ten percent of DPs are in refugee camps, requiring innovative approaches to service delivery in urban settings. 
This project will focus on the specific issue of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, but the work will have broad generalizability. The project aims to influence policy by providing a compelling, evidence-based argument that current frameworks for refugee health are not optimally configured for twenty-first century needs, and that there is an opportunity to enhance health services for displaced persons worldwide. 

In the coming year, the project plans to undertake a situational analysis to identify key policy gaps and opportunities. This project will include a “desk review” of existing data on the burden of disease amongst Syrian DPs, their access to care and treatment services, and systems of care in camp and non-camp settings. Additional activities will include key informant interviews and case studies of innovative chronic care and urban health programs.

Policy Goals

  • Describe gaps between currently available refugee health services and the burden of disease amongst refugees, with a focus on Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon
  • Explore the intersections of refugee health and urban health in the Middle East and Turkey
  • Identify opportunities to better align refugee health services and health needs
  • Generate specific proposals for integration of chronic disease services into refugee health programs, drawing upon experiences and lessons from other public health programs

Support from the Columbia Global Policy Initiative


Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology (in the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs) at the Columbia University Medical Center
Allan Rosenfield Professor of Forced Migration and Health in the Mailman School of Public Health at the Columbia University Medical Center
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