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Svea Closser, PhD

  • Associate Professor

Departmental Affiliations

Contact Information

615 N. Wolfe Street
Room E5545
Baltimore, Maryland 21205

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PhD, Emory University, 2008
MPH, Emory University, 2005
BA, Pomona College, 2000


Very broadly, my research explores the question: How does global health policy get made, and what happens on the ground as those policies are implemented in local health systems? I am a medical anthropologist, and my aim in my work is to gain as rich an understanding as possible of the social structures and cultural norms both of health systems and of the communities they serve.

Areas of particular interest include:

• Community Health Workers’ social status and work experiences

• The relationship between global vertical programs and government health systems

• How health systems factors influence vaccine hesitancy

• The culture and politics of disease eradication programs

My core methods are ethnographic, centered around in-depth interviews and participant observation. I enjoy working with epidemiologists and other quantitative researchers; I believe strongly that the well-designed triangulation of ethnographic and quantitative methods is one of the best routes to valid, robust research findings.

Honors and Awards

2018-2020 Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Fellowship, India

2010 Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Prize for the best book project in the area of medicine, Vanderbilt University Press

  • medical anthropology
  • ethnographic methods
  • comparative ethnography
  • health systems
  • community health workers
  • disease eradication
  • vaccination
  • polio
  • vaccine hesitancy
  • human resources for health
  • Pakistan
  • India
  • Nepal
  • Ethiopia

My books include Chasing Polio in Pakistan (Vanderbilt University Press, 2010) and the textbook-readers Understanding and Applying Medical Anthropology, 3rd ed (Routledge, 2016, with Peter Brown) and Foundations of Global Health (Oxford, 2018, also with Peter Brown). Selected journal publications from the last five years are listed below.

  • Closser, Svea, Harriet Napier, Kenneth Maes, Roza Abesha, Hana Gebremariam, Grace Backe, Sarah Fossett, and Yihenew Tesfaye. 2019. “Does Volunteer Community Health Work Empower Women? Evidence from Ethiopia’s Women’s Development Army.” Health Policy and Planning 34(4): 298-306.
  • Closser, Svea, Anat Rosenthal, Judith Justice, Kenneth Maes, Marium Sultan, Sarah Banerji, Hailom Banteyerga Amaha, Ranjani Gopinath, Patricia Omidian, and Laetitia Nyirazinyoye. 2017. “Per Diems in Polio Eradication: Perspectives from Community Health Workers and Officials.” American Journal of Public Health 107(9): 1470-1476.
  • Closser, Svea, Anat Rosenthal, Kenneth Maes, Judith Justice, Kelly Cox, Patricia Omidian, Ismaila Zango, Aminu Mohammed Dukku, Adam Koon, and Laetitia Nyirazinyoye. 2016. “The Global Context of Vaccine Refusals: Insights from a Systematic Comparative Ethnography of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative." Medical Anthropology Quarterly 30 (3): 321-341.
  • Closser, Svea and Erin Finley. 2016. “A New Reflexivity: Why Anthropology Matters in Contemporary Health Research and Practice, and How to Make It Matter More.” American Anthropologist 118(2): 385-390.
  • Closser, Svea, Kelly Cox, Thomas M. Parris, R. Matthew Landis, Judith Justice, Ranjani Gopinath, Kenneth Maes, Hailom Banteyerga Amaha, Ismaila Zango Mohammed, Aminu Mohammed Dukku, Patricia A. Omidian, Emma Varley, Pauley Tedoff, Adam D. Koon, Laetitia Nyirazinyoye, Matthew A. Luck, W. Frank Pont, Jr, Vanessa Neergheen, Anat Rosenthal, Peter Nsubuga, Naveen Thacker, Rashid Jooma and Elizabeth Nuttall. 2014. “The Impact of Polio Eradication on Routine Immunization and Primary Health Care: A Mixed-Methods Study.” Journal of Infectious Diseases 210 (S1): S504–13.