This week the Women Leaders in Conflict and Health Initiative held its second event in our lecture series in collaboration with Women in War and International Politics (WIWP) at King’s College London. In this event, Professor Melani Cammett[1], Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs in the Department of Government, Chair of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies and Acting Director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, discussed her research which intersects political science and public health in conflict-affected areas; a nexus which lies at the heart of several global health challenges and opportunities.

Melani, primarily a political scientist, became interested in the role of non-state provision of social welfare in the Middle-East and elsewhere after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. She was interested in access to social welfare services, accountability of providers, the implications on state capacity and more broadly, the intersection of sectarianism and identity politics. Given the difficulties of travelling to Iraq at the time, Melani decided to undertake research in Lebanon. While undertaking qualitative research in health centres across Lebanon, Melani turned her attention to the quality of health services that were being provided. Melani’s current research project, in collaboration with Aytuğ Şaşmaz from the Department of Government at Harvard University, looks at Outgroup Generosity despite Prejudice: Access to Social Services for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon and the motivation of outgroups. This research explores the quality of health care received by both refugees and Lebanese nationals. Through Melani’s (and her local collaborators) research, it was found that the health care Syrian refugees receive in Lebanon was of equal, if not superior, care. This can be partly attributed to the significant numbers of international non-government organisations active in the country, as well as the urgent need to address infectious diseases and other public health implications.

Through Melani’s work we see the intersection of political science and public health and the importance of bridging this divide – blending innovative ideas and enhancing knowledge to develop novel questions and research projects. Furthermore, Melani’s work highlights the importance for women to develop their research interests across disciplines, regardless of their expertise, and to have the confidence to go beyond their comfort zones and raise questions, particularly with regard to conflict-affected populations living in increasingly fragile and contested areas globally.


Kristen Meagher


[1]  Compassionate Communalism: Welfare and Sectarianism in Lebanon (Cornell University Press 2014), The Politics of Non-State Social Welfare (Cornell University Press, 2014), Globalization and Business Politics in North Africa: A Comparative Perspective (Cambridge University Press 2007, 2010)