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The role of the applied epidemiologist in armed conflict

Sharon M McDonnell1*, Paul Bolton2, Nadine Sunderland1, Ben Bellows1, Mark White1 and Eric Noji3

Author Affiliations

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta GA, USA

2 Department of International Health, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston MA, USA

3 Department of Homeland Security, Washington DC, USA

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Emerging Themes in Epidemiology 2004, 1:4  doi:10.1186/1742-7622-1-4

Published: 7 October 2004



Applied epidemiologists are increasingly working in areas of insecurity and active conflict to define the health risks, suggest feasible means to reduce these risks and, monitor the capacity and reconstruction of the public health system. In 2001, The Carter Center and the United States Institute for Peace sponsored a conference within which "Violence and Health" was discussed and a working group on applied epidemiology formed. The group was tasked to describe the skills that are essential to effective functioning in these settings and thereby provide guidance to the applied epidemiology training programs.


We conducted a literature review and consultation of a convenience sample of practitioners of applied epidemiology with experience in conflict areas.

Results and conclusions

The health programs designed to prevent and mitigate conflict are in their early stages of implementation and the evaluation measures for success are still being defined. The practice of epidemiology in conflict must occur within a larger humanitarian and political context to be effective. The skills required extend beyond the normal epidemiological training that focuses on the valid collection and interpretation of data and fall into two general categories: (1) Conducting a thorough assessment of the conflict setting in order to design more effective public health action in conflict settings, and (2) Communicating effectively to guide health program implementation, to advocate for needed policy changes and to facilitate interagency coordination. These are described and illustrated using examples from different countries.