American University of Beirut

Aspiring for peace and justice, FHS gets its hands dirty in a messy world

​“The world is a messy place," explains Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) Dean Iman Nuwayhid, “but we are completely committed—as a faculty—to being engaged in the world as it is." The way Nuwayhid and his colleagues see it, if you care about people and their health, you don't really have a choice. “You can't begin to address public health issues unless you look at them in their broader context," says Nuwayhid. “We don't have all the answers, but we have the will. We're always looking for people to work with who bring a different perspective and can inform our work. What we want are meaningful results and change."

FHS's vision is to be a driver for a set of values—equity, justice, better health, and peace—in the Arab region and beyond. Nuwayhid shakes his head, saying, “We are very aware that this may sound odd—even a bit pretentious. After all, can we claim to be a driver for peace? Is that something we, public health academics, should try to do?" For Nuwayhid and his colleagues at FHS, the answer is obvious: not only is this something they can strive toward, but something they must strive toward. “You can't achieve equity, justice, and better health without peace," he explains. “Living in this part of the world, we know this. We see the evidence every day." Nuwayhid notes that the absence of peace has very real consequences for the health of people, health systems, and healthcare workers. Current armed conflicts around the globe are witnessing a dramatic increase in the number of attacks on health facilities and healthcare workers. In coordination with four governments, FHS organized a side event on “Protecting Health Care in Armed Conflict" at the UN General Assembly in September 2017. More recently, in September 2019, FHS hosted an international conference on “Children in Armed Conflict" organized by the International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health.

FHS researchers are currently focusing on the health of population groups (children, youth, women, workers, refugees, older adults); selected health outcomes (injuries, communicable and non-communicable diseases); risk factors (tobacco, drug use); and environmental issues and their management and impact on health, health systems, health policy, and research ethics. To address the complex web of social, environmental, economic, and political factors that determines the health of individuals and communities, and to transform research into a tool that impacts policy and practice, FHS adopted a 360° systems-network approach. With a focus on teaching and learning, this approach institutionalizes the three critical public health functions of research, practice, and policy translation into the Center for Research on Population and Health (CRPH), the Center for Public Health Practice (CPHP), and the Knowledge to Policy (K2P) Center. Nuwayhid and his colleagues know that the challenges are enormous and that they cannot face them alone, so they partner with colleagues within AUB and across the globe. Their joint research and educational programs in humanitarian engineering with MSFEA and in the Water, Energy, Food, and Health Nexus (WEFRAH) led by FAFS are recent examples. Another example is the joint global MS in global health and sustainable development with EARTH University in Costa Rica that will provide students with opportunities for experiential learning and a chance to develop social entrepreneurship skills in different political and historical contexts. “We cross boundaries, be they geographical, disciplinary, or otherwise," says Nuwayhid.

Established in 1954, FHS is the oldest and leading academic public health institution in the Arab world. Its graduate public health program was accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) in 2006 and reaccredited in 2012. It remains the only accredited program in the Arab region and one of only nine accredited programs internationally. The program received its second reaccreditation from CEPH in January 2020. Modest in size but not in ambition, FHS's impact in Lebanon, the region, and globally has been impressive. It has made an especially important contribution to strengthening the field of public health in the region by offering scholarships to promising undergraduate and graduate students from Lebanon and surrounding countries. FHS has also introduced relevant new programs, such as a BA in health communication, an MS in public health nutrition with FAFS, and a PhD in epidemiology.  

FHS has earned a global reputation. In 2012, FHS edited Public Health in the Arab World, the first academic book on this subject; in 2014, it led a special Lancet issue on health in the Arab world; and in 2016, it was chosen to lead the Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria, the first time that a Lancet commission was led by an institution from the Global South. Emerging from the commission's work was a Global Alliance on War, Conflict and Health that will be launched in May 2020.

Nuwayhid and his colleagues are proud of what they have accomplished. “Our faculty probably attracts more external research funding than any other AUB faculty. What's even more important, though, is that we are doing research that has an immediate impact on people's health," says Nuwayhid. There is no sense of complacency at FHS. “We are self-critical and rather demanding of ourselves," Nuwayhid says, “and while working every day with real people, real communities, and real problems, we never cease to dream and think outside the box. We sense that no matter what we do, there is still a lot that needs to be done."

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