Senior Research Fellow
Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine
Brigham and Women's Hospital
Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
My academic focus has centered on exploring the ways in which civilians in war and crises can be protected from the extremes of suffering and assault. A related area of research and policy interest has been to define and apply the concept of human security in pre- and post-conflict settings. I have translated my evolving understanding of these issues into efforts at Harvard to build academic programs that will embed attention to the humanitarian impact of conflict and disaster in productive and stable systems of education and inquiry.
I have undertaken research on protection of civilians by drawing from the fields of human rights, international humanitarian law, and public health to construct a theoretical and policy framework that supports and amplifies the humanitarian enterprise. My basic findings are derived from empirical field investigations and population-based surveys as well as from archival and documentary research in the general area of the humanitarian impact of past major crises and the success or failure of previous efforts to provide humanitarian relief. My research suggests that it may be possible to reduce human suffering in acute and chronic crises by appropriate policy and operational attention to promotion of human dignity, technically and socially adept provision of relief and stability supports, and consistent adherence to international legal norms in war. Major categories of this research include:
a) the management of major disasters (with particular focus on acute medical and public health decision-making in domestic and international settings);
b) the population and environmental effects of the means and methods of war (with particular focus on grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, mass atrocities, genocide, landmines and unexploded ordnance, and weapons of mass destruction); and
c) the demography of forced migration (with particular attention to the 1947 Partition of India—the largest and least explored instance of forced migration in the 20th century—as well as investigations into more recent instances of population displacements in the Balkans, Darfur, and Democratic Republic of Congo).
My second main area of research and policy formulation is on human security. Here my efforts have centered on the definition and application of this concept in countries emerging from major disaster or conflict and in oppressive regimes where early warning of impending conflict may prove useful to the international community. My research and writing on this topic have advanced a psychologically grounded notion of human security, one that extends beyond the provision of core human needs and protection from acute harm to the creation of supports for home, community, and a sense of hope in the future. This work has proved useful to USAID in forming its development strategy for societies in transition and has served as the basis for my assessments of early warning in crisis settings and critiques I have advanced of post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The third area of my work has been to create educational programs and initiatives that will allow my colleagues and me to build an ongoing platform for training the next several generations of researchers, analysts, and practitioners in the field of humanitarian response. Over the past 15 years I have developed a number of new courses in disasters, war, and human rights and have established, with the engagement of others, a certificate training program at the Masters level in humanitarian studies (involving Harvard, MIT, and Tufts). My work with a broad range of civil society organizations and initiatives has given me access to and familiarity with humanitarian and development initiatives around the world. In this past year, with my colleague Michael VanRooyen as co-director, we have set up the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, a university-wide program that brings the faculties and students of Harvard University and the affiliated hospitals into a networked research and training approach to the field of war and disasters. My participation in leadership roles in a variety of programs within the University (Chair of the Executive Committee of the Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, Education Director for the International Emergency Medicine and Health program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Senior Advisor for International and Policy Studies at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study) and in external settings domestically and internationally supports my negotiation across boundaries and disciplines to gather the best possible talent for taking this humanitarian training effort far into the future.
Newnham EA, Dzidic PL, Mergelsberg ELP, Guragain B, Chan EYY, Kim Y, Leaning J, Kayano R, Wright M, Kaththiriarachchi L, Kato H, Osawa T, Gibbs L.
Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 08 24. 17(17). PMID: 32847057
Jawad M, Blanchet K, Leaning J.
J Public Health (Oxf). 2020 08 18. 42(3):e285-e286. PMID: 32633328
Conducting operational research in humanitarian settings: is there a shared path for humanitarians, national public health authorities and academics?
Leresche E, Truppa C, Martin C, Marnicio A, Rossi R, Zmeter C, Harb H, Hamadeh RS, Leaning J.
Confl Health. 2020. 14:25. PMID: 32435274
Newnham EA, Gao X, Tearne J, Guragain B, Jiao F, Ghimire L, Chan EY, Leaning J.
Transcult Psychiatry. 2020 02. 57(1):197-211. PMID: 31852386
Utilization of primary health care services among Syrian refugee and Lebanese women targeted by the ICRC program in Lebanon: a cross-sectional study.
Truppa C, Leresche E, Fuller AF, Marnicio AS, Abisaab J, El Hayek N, Zmeter C, Toma WS, Harb H, Hamadeh RS, Leaning J.
Confl Health. 2019. 13:7. PMID: 30923560
Bhatia A, Mahmud A, Fuller A, Shin R, Rahman A, Shatil T, Sultana M, Morshed KAM, Leaning J, Balsari S.
Health Hum Rights. 2018 Dec. 20(2):105-122. PMID: 30568406
Death and suffering in Eastern Ghouta, Syria: a call for action to protect civilians and health care.
Jabbour S, Fouad FM, Leaning J, McKay D, Nasser R, Rubenstein LS, Sparrow A, Spiegel P, Tarakji A, Waldman R, Hallam R, Mukwege D, Tayara G.
Lancet. 2018 03 03. 391(10123):815-817. PMID: 29496277
Physicians and humanitarians called for the United Nations to investigate attacks against medical facilities in Syria, and for international governments to exert pressure to stop them.
Study estimates a prolonged increase in death rate in Puerto Rico in months following Hurricane Maria
Official death count of 64 likely a substantial underestimate For immediate release: Tuesday, May 29, 2018 Boston, MA – The mortality rate in Puerto Rico rose by 62% [95% confidence interval (CI) 11% to 114%] after Hurricane Maria,…
A Lancet commission is examining the war in Syria through the lens of public health.
March 23, 2017 – The stories told by health workers from Syria were heartbreaking. They spoke of making desperate attempts to save people injured in a chemical attack on a hospital… of struggling to save people’s eyesight after…
Two experts on refugees and humanitarian issues, Jennifer Leaning, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, and Jacqueline Bhabha, research director at the FXB Center, answered your questions during a Facebook Live Q&A on Monday,…