February 1, 2019
New Health Policy Faculty Joins Department of International Health
Yusra Shawar, PhD, MPH, joins the Department of International Health in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as the newest member of the Department’s experts on global health policy. Trained in public administration and public policy, she applies theory from these disciplines, as well as political science, international relations and sociology, to examine political dynamics in global health governance and health policy processes in low- and middle-income countries. Shawar has a primary appointment in the Department’s Health Systems Program and joint appointment in the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). She is also member of the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health, which is based in the Department.
Shawar finds that power, politics and the interplay between human agency and structural challenges are essential to explaining why unexpected or counterintuitive phenomena often happen in global health. For example, she has led research on how policies with wide-spread support lack significant uptake, such as the World Bank’s resistance to a rights-based approach in its health work despite the organization’s commitment to ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity. She has also published on why highly opposed policies succeed, such as the adoption of sexuality education in socially conservative Mississippi and Nigeria.
Another key area of her work is investigating why some health issues are elevated as political priorities, while others, which may pose a higher burden of disease for instance, remain neglected. Through her research, Shawar has discovered that epistemic communities—the network of technical and knowledge-based experts associated with particular health issues—are often at the center of this counterintuitive phenomenon in global health. Shawar works to shed light on how the internal dynamics of these communities interact with the nature of the issue itself and the political environment to shape a health issue’s place on global and national agendas. She also looks at how these interactions affect the extent to which interventions and policies are implemented. “Examining human and epistemic community dynamics is important, yet often overlooked in studying health policy,” says Shawar. “It is exciting to open up the black box of these scientific communities and identify some of the internal dynamics that have challenged their advocacy efforts. These communities often don’t realize just how much agency they have in successfully advancing their issues or policies through the way they choose to organize themselves, craft their cases to external stakeholders, and maneuver political developments.”
Shawar is currently investigating global and national advocacy challenges faced by those concerned with addressing violence against children and children’s care, with the support of Oak Foundation and Neo Philanthropy, respectively. She is also leading a study examining factors that shape attention to gender-related issues in global health organizations as part of an upcoming Lancet series on gender equality, norms and health.
Prior to joining the Department, Shawar led research examining the role that various epistemic communities have played in shaping global political priority for issues such as rheumatic heart disease, surgery, urban health and early childhood development (ECD). The ECD study was published alongside the recent Lancet series, Early childhood development coming of age: science through the life course, which she was part of. Shawar was also a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice and a lecturer at American University’s School of Public Affairs.
At Hopkins, Shawar is keen to build bridges between the School of Public Health and SAIS, mentor and teach doctoral and master's students, and apply social science theory in order to examine global health challenges and advance social justice and equity. She currently co-teaches the Health Systems seminar for masters and doctoral students. “Dr. Shawar’s expertise on the role of epistemic communities in shaping the global health agenda, as well as in applying other theories to better understand and explain complex health policy processes, consolidates our Program’s teaching and research capacity in this field. Dr. Shawar is a strong analytical thinker and I am looking forward to seeing her future contributions,” says Health Systems Program director, Dr. Sara Bennett.
For more information on Shawar’s background and interests, visit her faculty profile.