Global health pioneer Sofia Gruskin, J.D., M.I.A., has joined
the Keck School of Medicine of the
University of Southern California (USC) with her appointment as
professor of preventive medicine at the USC Institute for Global Health,
and a joint appointment in the USC
Gould School of Law.
Gruskin, a leading researcher on health and human rights, comes to USC
from the Harvard School of Public Health. Gruskin’s background includes
25 years of academic and policy research in public health, law and
human rights. She will lead the Program on Global Health and Human
Rights at the USC Institute for Global Health.
“Her appointment is the culmination of a concerted search for an
eminent scholar who can promote practical and effective responses to
global public health challenges through the innovative application of
human rights concepts, norms, standards and methods to address
structural barriers,” said Keck School Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, M.D.,
At USC, Gruskin’s research will focus on identifying and addressing
legal, policy and systemic barriers that impede access to public health
services, especially for hard to reach populations.
“We have to recognize that law impacts health and we need to know when
law is harming and when it needs to change,” said Gruskin. “What should
be done to be sure you can access what you need, when you need it, no
matter where you are or who you are? How do we change health systems so
they are supportive of the health and human rights of all populations?”
An associate professor and director of the Program on International
Health and Human Rights in the Harvard School of Public Health for 17
years, Gruskin said she came to USC because the university has the
right people, environment and attitude to support her work.
“What drew me here is the sense that everything is possible,” said the
Los Angeles native. “The work I do bridges many fields, and my team is
multidisciplinary. I am so excited about joining USC because it is a
place that already understands the need for inter-disciplinary efforts
to support global health. This is a critical direction for the future.”
Jonathan Samet, M.D., M.S., director of the USC Institute for Global
Health, noted Gruskin’s pioneering development of numerous tools to
help people whose access to basic public health and medical services is
impeded by laws, policies, practices or societal shame.
“Her lengthy experience in research, training, policy development and
programmatic work with academic institutions, non-governmental
organizations, and governmental organizations around the world will
offer exciting new learning opportunities for USC students,” he said.
Gruskin’s focus on public health, human rights and law emerged during
the early years of the AIDS crisis. Gruskin observed that around the
world a broad range of rights were being restricted in the name of
public health but without proper justification, resulting in widespread
violations of rights with devastating health effects.
After completing a degree in sociology that focused on ethnomethodology
from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Gruskin earned a juris
doctor from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and then went on to
Columbia University to obtain a master’s degree in international
affairs with specialization in public health and human rights.
As one example of the many facets of Gruskin’s research, she supports UNAIDS
Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS) in producing the National
Composite Policy Index, an instrument that collects data from
governments worldwide about their HIV-related laws and policies.
Gruskin and her team analyze how these laws and policies affect key
populations living with and affected by HIV. UNAIDS then uses these
results in collaboration with community groups and NGOs around the
world to push for law reform.
More generally, at USC Gruskin will build on her previous work related
to sexual and reproductive health, child and adolescent health, and
gender-based violence. Partnerships with faculty in the USC Gould
School of Law and other schools at USC are on the horizon. She brings
strong connections to various international organizations including the
, UNAIDS, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA
), Amnesty International
, Merck Company
, Open Society Institute,
as well as universities and local organizations in Brazil, Kenya, South
Africa and Vietnam. An emerging project is a large-scale intervention
on reproductive and sexual rights, sponsored by the World Health
Organization. Gruskin’s team is planning to work with five
countries, testing an intervention designed to overcome the structural
barriers to the use of family planning services.
Gruskin is a member of the Institute of
Committee for the Outcome and Impact Evaluation of
Global HIV/AIDS Programs Implemented Under the Lantos/Hyde Act of 2008
(PEPFAR) and is also a member of the Technical Advisory Group for the
United Nations Global Commission on HIV and the Law. She serves
as an associate editor for The American Journal of
Public Health, Global Public Health,