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November 30, 2018

Global Displacement as a Global Health Issue

By Reena Goswami

The Global Health Initiative’s fellowship has granted me the opportunity to engage in dynamic conversations about global health with students from an array of schools and majors at Georgetown. I appreciate that we have stressed the importance of global health’s interdisciplinary nature in our discussions. However, it is imperative to notice that this nature extends beyond the variety of professions global health encompasses. I affirm that any leader working towards social impact or to secure human rights is a global health leader, even when their goals are not explicitly health-centered.

On November 15, Denis McDonough, Obama’s former chief of staff, came to campus to talk about policy solutions to the global refugee crisis. He began by characterizing the magnitude of the issue. Though numbers cannot do it justice, about 40 million refugees have been internally displaced and 25.4 million have been displaced across borders. These numbers will likely increase, especially due to climate change, which is projected to cause more than 104 million refugees to be displaced by 2050. 

McDonough illustrated effective policy solutions through three stories. He spoke about how his experiences in a refugee camp in Jordan led him to commend countries with less resources than the United States that host refugees even when international support is lacking. He affirmed that the United States needs to increase funding to these countries, but he also made it clear that sending resources is not enough. It is also essential to sponsor and resettle more refugees in the United States, as his family did for Vietnamese families in the 1970s. He ended by detailing how more cities need to imitate Minneapolis, Minnesota, which has been inviting to refugees and has empowered figures like Ilhan Omar, who became the first Somali-American elected to the House of Representatives in 2016. McDonough also discussed the need to leverage data to innovate policy in order to relocate refugees to areas with higher job demands.

The refugee crisis is fundamentally a global health issue. Displacement disrupts the most basic layers of human life, including the ability to feel safe. Global health leaders have recognized that refugees are disproportionately affected by health issues. As a result, immigrant and refugee health has become a growing, critical field, one I hope to be involved with in the future. On the other hand, broader policies, such as the ones Denis McDonough advocates for, are also global health policies. Resettling and protecting refugees lessens the burden of the many structural factors that directly correlate with poorer health outcomes. Applying a public health framework when addressing the refugee crisis can create more effective solutions, ones that consider the full scope of the crisis, the causes for it, issues that intersect, and interventions that function at multiple levels, from local communities to high-level policies.

In conclusion, it is important to revise our understanding of who we consider global health leaders. I believe any advocate for human rights is furthering global health and that the field of global health could benefit from more collaboration with these figures. After all, without addressing all human rights violations, health interventions cannot live up to their full potentials.

Reena Goswami (C'19) is an undergraduate studying biology of global health and Spanish and a student fellow with the Global Health Initiative.