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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 12, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 30
Center for Public Health and Human Rights Established

A new Center for Public Health and Human Rights has been established by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to examine the impact of human rights violations on the general health of populations. Researchers at the center, which is funded by a grant from the Development Fund for the Open Society, will apply epidemiologic practices and public health tools as a new approach to understanding and measuring the scope of human rights violations.

"Social injustice is a primary cause of many health problems in the world," said Chris Beyrer, director of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights and director of the Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program at the School of Public Health. "The Center for Public Health and Human Rights will use critical evidence-based assessments of the role that repressive laws and social discord play in the health of populations. With this knowledge we can develop public health interventions that take the harms and realities of rights violations into account."

Last week, the school hosted a three-day international seminar, "Public Health and Human Rights in the Era of AIDS," that featured presentations and discussions on human rights abuses, such as the trafficking of women for sale in the sex industry and the rights violations and health threats they face.

According to Beyrer, many human rights organizations are limited in their analyses because they rely on traditional means of documenting abuses, such as monitoring the arrests of journalists, clergy and union leaders along with the closings of newspapers and churches. As an example, he cited the work of Amnesty International during the decades-long civil war in Guatemala; an internal review found that its methods had failed to document an estimated 400,000 deaths of Mayan peasants.

Currently, researchers from the School of Public Health are investigating the role of rights violations in spreading HIV and hepatitis C virus in Russia's sex industry, the health impacts of ethnic cleansing campaigns against minorities in Burma and the health threats among trafficked women and girls in Southeast Asia and among rural blood donors exposed to HIV in China.


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