Conducting Health Research in Humanitarian Crises

Boy flies a kite, refugee camp in background, after 2010 earthquake in Haiti
Photo courtesy of CDC, CC BY 2.0

Damaged trees and buildings in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew in 2016
Photo by Coralie Giese, CDC, CC BY 2.0

Woman walks through flooded street, water up to her ankles, 2-story wooden buildings on either side of street
Photo courtesy of Dr. Karen Levy

In collaboration with partner NIH Institutes and Centers and key external partner organizations, the Fogarty Center for Global Health Studies (CGHS) is leading a collaboration to convene researchers, humanitarian organizations and policymakers to share learning and strategies on how to conduct global health research in the context of humanitarian crises in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The project seeks to:

  • encourage more, high-priority health research in humanitarian crises
  • increase collaboration between researchers and humanitarian organizations
  • identify strategies to ensure optimal uptake of evidence into policy and practice in humanitarian crisis environments

The project will bring together experts and practitioners across disciplines, disease areas and geographies from research, humanitarian and policymaking communities, including representatives from LMICs. To inform the project, the project team consulted with several key stakeholders and partners, including research institutions, U.S. government agencies, donor agencies and humanitarian organizations. For example, this project will build on the work of several partner organizations, such as the NIH Disaster Research Response (DR2) program and Elrha's Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC), which is funded by the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) and Wellcome Trust. The project will delve into cross-cutting challenges such as methodological barriers, ethical issues, partnership strategies, research capacity building, implementation science and research uptake.


While substantial progress has been made in improving the health of people living in LMICs, the progress is lagging in countries affected by humanitarian crises. Natural disasters affect nearly 160 million people each year, with a disproportionate effect on people in LMICs. Likewise, armed conflict affects more than 170 million people based on recent estimates. Children in LMICs affected by conflict are particularly vulnerable and are twice as likely to die before the age of five than children in similar but stable countries. More than 65 million people are forcibly displaced from their homes, the largest number since World War II. These crises cause severe health issues, as well as disruptions to health systems and access to food, water, sanitation, medicine and security.

More and better research is needed to understand the short- and long-term impact of such crises on health and well-being, and to inform governments, development agencies and humanitarian organizations on how best to respond to humanitarian crises, including acute emergencies, protracted crises and post-conflict reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Conducting research in humanitarian crises, however, is incredibly complex considering the distressed populations, security and ethical concerns, and fragile political, health and social systems. Conducting timely, high-quality, ethical and actionable research in these settings poses myriad challenges as well as opportunities, such as building bridges between humanitarian organizations and research institutions within the afflicted country and globally.

Planning Committee

  • Iman Nuwayhid, American University of Beirut, Co-Chair
  • Brandon Kohrt, George Washington University, Co-Chair
  • Rima Afifi, University of Iowa
  • Grace Akello, Gulu University, Uganda
  • Andrea Beckel-Mitchener, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)/NIH
  • Ananda Galappatti, The Good Practice Group, Sri Lanka
  • Rita Giacaman, Birzeit University, Birzeit, West Bank
  • Anne Harmer, Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC)
  • Rebecca Henry, National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR)/NIH
  • Naoko Kozuki, International Rescue Committee (IRC)
  • Vesna Kutlesic, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)/NIH
  • Adam Levine, Brown University
  • Aubrey Miller, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)/NIH
  • Bayard Roberts, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Barbara Sina, Fogarty International Center (FIC)/NIH
  • Robert Sorenson, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)/NIH
  • Paul Spiegel, Johns Hopkins University
  • Carrie Teicher, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Epicentre


Amit Mistry, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist (Contractor)
Center for Global Health Studies
Fogarty Division of International Science Policy, Planning and Evaluation

Blythe Beecroft, M.S.
Global Health Research and Policy Analyst (Contractor)
Center for Global Health Studies
Fogarty Division of International Science Policy, Planning and Evaluation

Updated February 23, 2018