Impact Through A Collective Effort
The Gillings Humanitarian Health Initiative is a fledgling effort to increase our impact with the collective efforts of faculty and students through research; awareness building and education; capacity building and technical support to countries and non-governmental organizations (NGOs); engagement and service projects; and advocacy and influencing of policy and practice.

We at the Gillings School already have activities underway in a number of countries through the efforts of faculty including; leading humanitarian-related programs at multilaterals, advising national governments, researching key threats and possible remediation interventions, as well as providing on-the-ground technical support. But we know we can and must do more - both individually and collectively.

Message from the Gillings Global Advisor

Dr. Aunchalee Palmquist

Palmquist to co-lead HHI

Aunchalee Palmquist, PhD, MA, IBCLC, assistant professor of maternal and child health, has been selected to join Sheila Leatherman, CBE, HonFRCP, professor of global health policy and Gillings global advisor, in co-leading The Humanitarian Health Initiative (HHI) at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

"Aunchalee will participate in the full array of management responsibilities, as well as developing and leading service projects and supporting new learning and academic opportunities,” said Leatherman. “The HHI is thriving, but we can do so much more.”

In the face of fragile health systems, conflict and violence that threaten the health of more than 2 billion people globally, the HHI leverages expertise at the Gillings School to respond directly to humanitarian crises around the world.


We are pleased to announce the Gillings Humanitarian Health Initiative offers several paid Gillings graduate student internships. Each internship works on projects focused on different humanitarian health areas our faculty members are engaged in.

Meet our Gillings Humanitarian Fellow

Dilshad Jaff, MD, MPH is an adjunct associate professor in the maternal and child health department. Dr. Jaff has over 20 years of experience working on complex humanitarian crises in conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa. He speaks four languages (Kurdish, Arabic, English and Farsi) and currently works in a complex emergency setting. As a Fellow, Dr. Jaff will present seminars and lectures; travel, to North Carolina when that becomes possible, to meet with students, faculty and people on campus around humanitarian health issues; provide an internship opportunity; and continue to collaborate and publish papers.

Service Projects

We are pleased to announce the Gillings Humanitarian Health Initiative is now piloting Service Project Awards at a funding level of up to $4000. We anticipate funding approximately 3-5 innovative projects in the first phase (2020-2021) to provide technical assistance to NGOs or other relevant governmental or parastatal organizations which are focused on humanitarian/development needs. Technical assistance and support will be provided largely through volunteer efforts of faculty and students with funding for related required resources. Applications accepted on a rolling basis.

If you are interested in volunteering for upcoming and/or already established service projects, please fill out the Volunteer Interest Form.

Hayley Welgus works with her Save the Children colleagues.

Meet the Humanitarian Health Initiative Interns

The Gillings Humanitarian Health Initiative offered six internships for the 2021 Fall semester. Meet our interns and volunteers and learn about their work and interests.

Alix Boisson

Alix is an PhD student in Health Policy and Management. She is contributing to the WHO quality of health care team, whose Lead Advisor is Professor Leatherman in HPM, supporting the development and operationalization of an action-oriented policy framework and evidence based set of interventions which a UNC team has helped to develop. Alix looks forward to having an active role in supporting both Anglophone and Francophone countries in their efforts to develop and implement national quality standards, policies, and strategies.

Q&A coming soon!

Sara Green

Sara is an MPH Candidate in Global Health. She is working with Martha Carlough from UNC and Rebecca Evans, Resettlement Manager from World Relief Durham working on a project to help develop a health and wellness curriculum for resettled refugees in the Triangle. It involves helping to prepare and execute the health and wellness class and then evaluating its successes and making recommendation for future classes.

Q&A coming soon!

Alaa Hammouda

Alaa is an MPH Candidate in Global Health. Alaa is currently trying to develop a new service project between the Gillings School of Public Health and organizations working with women in the Gaza Strip.

Maggie Holly

Maggie Holly is a PhD Candidate in Health Policy and Management. Maggie works with Professor Sheila Leatherman on various humanitarian health projects.

Mitch Kimber

Mitch is a MPH student in Global Health. His main focus will be on supporting an NGO in Syria as they increase health service offerings at “Health Points” throughout the country. Previously, this NGO focused on community health initiatives, but the team is identifying unmet medical needs, as they recruit health care providers and attempt to enhance health service delivery. The UNC team, led by Professor Leatherman, began by creating a virtual medical record encounter form in order to collect data. With Mitch's clinical background, he will offer clinical perspective when possible. They’ll utilize this data for ongoing program evaluation and quality improvement as well as to create reports for the Ministry of Health, United Nations, and other potential donors. As is the nature of global health and humanitarian work, they’ll remain flexible and adapt to changing needs to serve the NGO the most effective way we can as they continue to expand their services.

Q&A coming soon!

Amy Kryston

Amy is a MPH student in Global Health. She is working with both HHI and the Water Institute at UNC to research WaSH interventions and practices in humanitarian settings. WaSH, or Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene, refers generally to the programs and systems that are set up to ensure basic health services, such as adequate drinking water and proper disposal or storage of human waste. Such services are crucial for survival, but the needs of each setting are variable. Amy is researching cost-effectiveness of different programs, and how to assess the needs based on a variety of social and environmental determinants.

Q&A coming soon!

Mexan Mapouka

Mexan is a MPH student in Applied Epidemiology. He works with Professor Martha Carlough from UNC and Jennifer Morillo, State Refugee Health Coordinator for NC DHHS on qualitative research of the Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy and refusal among resettled refugees in North Carolina. The goal of the research is deepen understanding of vaccine hesitancy and refusal issues more broadly for refugees. Findings may help to provide guidance and recommendation to the Refugee Health and Refugee Assistance Programs working in tandem with community organizations supporting refugees to expand and promote vaccine education and services for local refugee populations.

Q&A coming soon!

Doreen Alumaya

Doreen is a MPH Candidate in Global Health. She is currently volunteering with Professor Sheila Leatherman on the project in Sierra Leone, “Improving Service delivery for Mothers and Children in Sierra Leone”. Working in collaboration with a community-based organization in Sierra Leone, they have developed survey tools, and questionnaires to evaluate programs aimed at increasing service delivery for mothers and children in this community. Although Doreen is not physically present in the field as she used to be in her past works, the impact of this project on the communities has been yet another milestone in her career.

Current Service Projects

Learn about current Humanitarian Health Initiative's Service Projects established in 2020 and undertaken by Gillings School faculty and students.

An international, independent medical humanitarian organization

The organization provides medical assistance to save lives and ease the suffering of people in crisis situations in settings affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare services in globally. The UNC service project is focused on supporting the organization to strengthen its clinical governance framework that provides the guidance, mechanisms and accountability for health care services provided in many countries. The technical assistance specifically includes building the evidence base and practical tools for improving safety, effectiveness, and the experience of care of persons receiving health care.

NGO - Syria

This long-established Syrian NGO responds to the challenges faced by marginalized groups affected by the Syrian Crisis including difficult-to-reach areas, where there are internally displaced and war-afflicted persons living in community centers and collective shelters. SSSD actively intervenes at an individual person, household and community level with specialized programs to alleviate the suffering of IDPs. Programs include health, WaSH, psychosocial support, shelter, social protection, infrastructure, vocational training and livelihood generation, educational programs for children and adults. The UNC service project is supporting the development and operations of health care programs with design of health-related records and data sets to improve patient care and enhance design and expansion of health operations.

NGO - Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world and an expected lifespan of just 52 years. This NGO partners with The Tikonko Chiefdom to advance existing maternal and child health services through community-based solutions including two Birth Homes for Mothers for safe deliveries and a Children’s Health Program. Through outreach motorcycle clinics in eight villages, family planning and antenatal care is provided as well as care for children under age 5. Most common conditions for treatment of children include acute illness, immunizations, arranging hospital care for critically ill children as well as a comprehensive program for moderate and severe malnutrition. The UNC service project includes developing the evidence base and understanding of best practices as well as qualitative assessment to improve access and effectiveness of health services.

Seminar Series

As part of the Humanitarian Health Initiative, the seminar series brings those who work in humanitarian health to the Gillings School to share their experiences in the field.

Safety and Security of Health Care Facilities and Workers in Humanitarian Settings

The Gillings Humanitarian Health Initiative Seminar Series will focus on the safety and security for health care workers and facilities in humanitarian settings. Panelists include Dr. Dilshad Jaff, Gillings Humanitarian Fellow and Adjunct Associate Professor of Maternal and Child Health and Dr. Benjamin Meier, Professor of Global Health Policy and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Watch the Video

Improving Quality of Care in Humanitarian Healthcare: Perspectives from Doctors Without Borders

February 4, 2021

UNC Gillings alumna Anna Freeman, RN, MPH, nurse and quality improvement specialist, shares her humanitarian field experiences and working to build quality systems with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders.

Watch the video

On November 11, 2020, Dr. Dilshad Jaff presented a seminar titled “Perspectives from the Field: Gillings Humanitarian Fellow.” (Recording not available)

Humanitarian Health Initiative Faculty Advisors

Faculty advisors serve in various roles including mentoring interns, providing technical expertise for NGOs and  leading service projects.