Newswise — The Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health and The Lancet today published the first issue of the Humanitarian Health Digest, a quarterly bibliography of the latest published, peer-reviewed journal articles on humanitarian health work.

The Digest will provide links to primary research and systematic reviews sourced from a variety of journals, divided into three main categories: conflict and forced migration, natural disasters, and technological disasters like Chernobyl. The Digest debuts at time when the world is facing some of the most dire humanitarian crises in decades, challenging those working in the field to think of new ways to deal with increasingly complex situations.

“The United Nations predicts that more than 128 million people across the world will need humanitarian assistance and protection,” said Paul Spiegel, MD, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health. “Giving humanitarian health workers a resource for the latest learnings in their area of specialization could greatly benefit the people they are trying to help.”

Commentary: support for palliative care in humanitarian emergencies
Each issue of the Digest will also feature original commentary. In the inaugural issue, Spiegel uses one of the articles listed in the Digest as a springboard to discuss the role of palliative care in addressing the health needs of Syrian refugees in Jordan. Palliative care includes pain management and psychosocial support for patients, including social and spiritual aspects. “Palliative care is rarely discussed in humanitarian settings, but it is essential as there is often insufficient funds to provide treatment for cancer and other expensive life-threatening conditions,” writes Spiegel. 

The paper, published February 27, 2018 in the journal Medicine, Conflict and Survival, indicates that palliative care, beyond providing dignity and comfort, is cost-effective compared to curative interventions and reduces the number and length of stay of hospitalizations. Yet funding to Syrian refugees is decreasing, notes Spiegel, creating a need for solutions such as allowing refugees the right to work.

“Just as the need for mental health interventions in humanitarian emergencies has become clearly recognized, the need for palliative care in such settings should also be self-evident,” writes Spiegel. 

Commentary: need for continued assistance for Palestinian refugees
The inaugural issue also includes a commentary published in The Lancet in January 2018 by the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and his colleagues. They note that the agency faces major challenges in upholding its mandate and preserving key services such as education and health care for Palestinian refugees due to funding constraints.

UNRWA provides health and protection services—including keeping schools open and health clinics running--to over 5 million Palestinian refugees and provides more than 9 million patient visits each year.

“We are calling on UN member states and partners to uphold the human rights and future of Palestinian refugees and to rally support and establish new funding alliances to preserve the dignity, health status and the future of Palestinian children and families,” write the authors.

The scope of the Digest
All Lancet articles cited in the Digest will be free to read. For ease of browsing, the list of articles in the Digest will be divided into seven public health-related areas such as communicable disease; non-communicable disease; nutrition and food security; water, sanitation and hygiene; and more. Lastly, the articles in each sub-category will be grouped between research done in low- and middle-income countries and high-income countries.

Just as the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health Center draws upon a variety of disciplines—including epidemiology, demography, emergency and disaster medicine, health systems management, nutrition/food security, environmental engineering, mental health, political science and human rights—so too does the bibliography seek to cover applicable research in those areas. 

“We hope that other journals will follow The Lancet and make peer-reviewed articles free to read so humanitarian health workers can benefit immediately from the lessons learned on the issues they are facing every day in the field,” said Spiegel.

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The Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health is a unique and collaborative Johns Hopkins academic program conducted jointly by the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing. It is hosted at and administered by the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and draws upon a variety of disciplines, including epidemiology, demography, emergency and disaster medicine, health systems management, nutrition/food security, environmental engineering, mental health, political science and human rights. The Center collaborates with a variety of organizations including national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), multilateral and UN organizations, and governmental agencies, as well as other research institutions on field-based research and humanitarian projects.