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Global Health Justice Partnership Brings Students to the Front Lines of Public Health Policy, Practice, and Law

Yale Public Health Magazine, Yale Public Health: Fall 2022
by Colin Poitras


From advocating for South African gold miners with occupational lung disease to challenging Connecticut quarantine policies during the 2016 Ebola epidemic, Yale’s Global Health Justice Partnership (GHJP) has been an active voice on pressing global, national, and local health issues for the past decade. 

A joint program of the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) and Yale Law School (YLS), the GHJP offers students the opportunity to work in teams with peers from different disciplines to address critical topics at the inter-section of public health, rights, and justice in the 21st century. 

These projects, overseen by leading faculty from YSPH and YLS, often involve outside partnerships with other universities, nongovernmental organizations, government agencies, and local grassroots organizations as well as policy and advocacy groups around the world. 

The GHJP has collaborated with the New Haven Sex Workers and Allies Network (SWAN), National Association of Community Health Workers, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Reproductive Rights, Public Citizen, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (NYU School of Law), World Medical Association, CREA (India), Black Mamas Matter Alliance, and Haitian Environmental Law Association (Association Hatïenne de Droit de L’Environment) among many other groups and organizations in the U.S. and globally. 

For co-director Gregg Gonsalves, PhD ’17, a YSPH associate professor of epidemiology (microbial diseases), the GHJP’s crossover focus on law, policy, and public health is unique. “It’s not like any program at any other law school or public health school that I’m aware of,” he said. 

Gonsalves, who is also an associate professor of law (adjunct), is one of three leaders of the GHJP. The other co-directors are Law Professor Amy Kapczynski, JD ’03, and Associate Professor of Law (adjunct) and Assistant Clinical Professor of Public Health Alice “Ali” M. Miller, JD. 

We also believe in the importance of deep and ongoing partnerships that allow our students to get ou tside of the classroom.

Amy Kapczynski

A cornerstone of the GHJP is a practicum/clinic course and other project-driven work that teaches students how to engage critically and constructively with the evolving tools of law, policy, and rights in the context of health and human rights. 

“Our student teams are interdisciplinary, joining law and public health students to benefit from their different kinds of expertise, and also to teach students how to appreciate and do work across these silos,” Kapczynski said. “The design of our projects, partnerships, and teaching is organized by principles of health justice work, meaning that we not only aim to influence the structural and political determinants of health, but also aim to build power among the people most affected so that over time they have more say over their circumstances.” 

“Working locally in New Haven and Connecticut has become more and more central to our work over time,” she continued, “because we also believe in the importance of deep and ongoing partnerships that allow our students to get outside of the classroom.” 

As part of its mission, the GHJP seeks to make critical policy interventions and perform crosscutting research that promotes health justice nationally and globally. The partnership produces policy reports and commentaries, organizes conferences and events, and provides research in support of litigation promoting health justice and equity in the U.S., as well as in regional and global forums. It also offers students fellowship opportunities for advanced study. The issues addressed in GHJP policy-oriented projects are often further interrogated in more academic-focused writing as well, by students, fellows, and faculty associated with GHJP. 

Former GHJP clinical fellow Francesca Maviglia, MPH ’20, praised the partnership for helping her become more self-reflexive and critical in her analysis when engaging in health justice issues. 

“The multiple vantage points offered by law, public health, and human rights were particularly useful,” Maviglia said. “A different disciplinary perspective can illuminate repercussions or consequences that are not readily apparent.” She said she will always strive to maintain the rigorous practice she learned at the GHJP in her public health work rather than settle for simple answers. 

Maviglia used her fellowship to advance the health and rights of New Haven sex workers through harm reduction and advocacy. The project resulted in a joint report by the GHJP and the New Haven-based grassroots organization Sex Workers and Allies Network (SWAN) titled “Mistreatment and Missed Opportunities: How Street-Based Sex Workers are Overpoliced and Underserved in New Haven, CT.” The report has been cited by other organizations and advocacy groups, and current projects are continuing from where the SWAN project left off. Current GHJP students are mapping the ability of Connecticut service providers to reach, adequately serve, and ultimately advocate for and with LGBTQ+ and substance-using people in sex work. 

In a separate project in 2019, former GHJP students Rita Gilles, YLS ’20, and Isabel Echarte, YLS ’21, applied innovative legal theories to help hold a landlord accountable for excessive rates of asthma and other health conditions in New Haven’s notorious Church Street South apartment complex. Their efforts contributed to a class-action lawsuit that resulted in a preliminary $18.5 million settlement in the tenants’ favor. 

“The work of the GHJP is not just to be part of efforts for policy change; we are here as a site for networks of students to find each other across disciplines, discover the strengths and challenges of the tools in law and public health, and put them to work together in ways that can be sustained after graduation,” Miller said. “The goal is not just for student projects to have an impact (as they have, both locally and globally) but for students to see themselves and their work as accountable to the movements and collaborating partners with whom we work for the long haul.” 

Other Projects Underway at the GHJP Include: 

Pharma Justice

GHJP undertakes research and advocacy to ensure more integrity and transparency in clinical pharmacology research and to bring about a more just system for the development and distribution of medicines. 

Gender, Sexuality, and Rights

GHJP applies a nuanced, multidisciplinary approach to forge new alliances and provide analytics for new policies. GHJP recently collaborated on a submission to explore the boundaries of “gender-based persecution” under the International Criminal Court, and an amicus to the European Court of Human Rights supporting a challenge to testosterone-based gender regulations in sports for intersex athletes. 

Infectious Disease and Justice

GHJP focuses on key structural factors associated with the transmission and effects of infectious disease, marshaling existing data, and doing new research to support public health and clinical interventions. 

Data for Health Justice

GHJP mobilizes a variety of disciplines from management science to mathematical modeling to investigate key issues in global health justice and their individual and societal impacts, and to shape solutions and interventions. 

Local Health Justice

Because health status tracks other forms of exclusion and privilege, GHJP works in New Haven and Connecticut to improve health in marginalized communities as a means to build power that can have democratizing structural effects, with impacts that redound beyond health. 

Youth Equity Science (YES)

The Youth Equity Science/YES Project is a collaboration between mental health and human rights experts to benefit LGBT youth. YES aims to promote LGBT youth equality, health, and well-being and decrease health and wellness disparities. YES interventions for health justice of LGBTQ youth include interrogation of the status of LGBTQ+ youth in child welfare services, and use of a rights-based approach to end conversion practices globally.