Examining the public health consequences of war in Syria

Six years of civil war in Syria have taken a devastating toll: thousands of lives lost, forced migration at levels unseen since World War II, homes and infrastructure obliterated, health facilities and workers targeted in attacks. Accurately documenting the war’s impact on the civilian population has been an extremely difficult task. To help with this effort, the Lancet convened a commission to examine the war through the lens of public health.

Jennifer Leaning, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is one of three co-chairs named in December to lead the 15-month study, which is hosted by the American University of Beirut (AUB). Leaning, a faculty associate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, spoke to its Epicenter newsletter about the work of the commission in a July 26, 2017 Q&A.

The Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria aims to “stimulate and perhaps require the public health community to take war seriously and study it more, with much more expertise developed around means and methods,” Leaning said. Epidemiology is daunting to practice in an unstable society, where it may be difficult to accurately collect population data and gain access to interview people, Leaning said. She noted, “Health policy crumbles into dust when you’re dealing with the narrow malignant focus of governments at war.”

The commission anticipates publishing its final report in the Lancet in May 2018.

Read Epicenter Q&A: Documenting the “Burden of War” on Syrians

Learn more

No easy answer for health void in Syria (Harvard Gazette Q&A with Jennifer Leaning)

Intensive Care (Harvard Public Health)

Stories from Aleppo: Medical workers under siege (Harvard Chan School news)