Health is a human right and the backbone of a prosperous and productive society. In upcoming projects, the Open Hands Initiative will send teams of experienced American physicians to help build capacity of local doctors through knowledge sharing and improving healthcare practices.


"Post-Conflict Colombia and Public Health," a project of the Open Hands Initiative and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in collaboration with the University of Antioquia School of Medicine, is a collaborative academic and cultural exchange program that took place during January 2016 in the United States and Colombia.

Led by professors from both partner institutions, this program provided a unique and comprehensive look at violence, post-conflict, public health, and displaced populations through an interdisciplinary lens. Students in the program learned to apply theoretical concepts and methodologies in assessing the needs of vulnerable populations and formulated approaches to address these needs in a way that is sustainable, scalable, innovative, and measurable. The program was made to highlight the progressive social development initiatives that the civic leadership of Medellin developed in this post-conflict period, including how transportation networks, urban spaces, economic development, and educational initiatives have contributed to the engagement and reintegration of displaced populations into civil society and thus have impacted their health in ways yet to be fully explored and shared with the world.



About the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative

Open Hands Initiative is proud to be working with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), a cross-university initiative at Harvard University. Established in 2005, HHI is a University-wide academic and research inter-faculty initiative that brings an multidisciplinary approach to promoting understanding of humanitarian crisis as a unique contributor to global health problems and to developing evidence-based approaches to humanitarian assistance. HHI's mission is to: 1) Improve the effectiveness of humanitarian strategies for relief, protection, and prevention through evidence-based research; 2) Instill human rights principles and practices in these strategies; and, 3) Educate and train the next generation of humanitarian leaders. As the educational arm of HHI, the Humanitarian Academy at Harvard is dedicated to educating and training current and future generations of humanitarian leaders in the many dimensions of providing aid in acute settings.


About the University of Antioquia

We are honored to have as our collaborator in this project, the University of Antioquia (UdeA), located in Medellín, Colombia. UdeA is not only the oldest public university in Colombia, but one of the biggest and most prestigious research institutions. The University is notable for having the top medical program in the country. UdeA provides critical support and insight for the program, as well as local expertise in public health.


FIELD TRIPS: Students participated in a number of field trips to explore how public spaces affect public health. One such trip was to "UVA de los Sueños", an innovative community space in Medellin for recreation, sports, education, and culture. Students also toured a primary care center in the rural town of Tamesis, Antioquia, where primary care has become an integral component to the community's way of life.

HEALTH FAIR: Faculty and students hosted a health fair in Granizal, a rural community of internally displaced persons. The fair included a first-responders training, a deworming clinic, an educational workshop about technology and health, as well as a census mapping project.

The University of Antioquia's relationship with the community of Granizal afforded students the opportunity to work directly with community members to get first-hand accounts of living outside the purview of government protection and services. Collaborating with community leaders, students developed practical solutions to pressing health issues identified and prioritized by the community. At our closing ceremony, students presented these initiatives to panel of issue experts, public health practitioners, and local policymakers at our Briefing Report.

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This unique exchange brought together 16 carefully selected master’s level students of public health and medicine from the United States and Colombia to serve as student and citizen ambassadors over the course of a three week academic program. Together, they investigated public health issues faced by displaced and vulnerable populations, studied and worked side by side, and learned from each other under the leadership of a world-class faculty.


The group visits and runs a health fair in Granizal, Colombia, one of the largest populations of displaced people in the country. Video by Kelly Fitzsimmons.


The United States has a long history of diplomatic relations with Colombia, a country rich in culture, history, and biodiversity. Colombia is one of the oldest democracies in Latin America as well as paramount to the security, stability, and prosperity of the region. Its over five decades of armed conflict, however, has marred both its public image and resulted in one of the world's most devasting humanitarian crises, internally displacing nearly five million people.

Colombia, however, is much more than its past - it continues to evolve every day. Peace talks between the Government of Colombia and armed forces are currently underway providing an opportunity to capitalize on the social, economic, and political gains made in recent years. While once home to some of the most violent cities in the world, Colombia today now enjoys urban meccas of innovation--a key driver of prosperity and community empowerment. Medellin, the seat of our"Post-Conflict Colombia and Public Health" project, was rated the most innovative "City of the Year" in 2013. With creative urban development initiatives that focus on transportation, health, education, and more, Medellin has transformed into a safer, more prosperous, and more inclusive city than ever before.



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