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Sofia Gruskin, Prominent Researcher on Public Health and Law, Joins Keck School of Medicine of USC

Sofia Gruskin

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., M.B.A. 

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 (the United 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 World Health Organization, UNAIDS, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Amnesty International, Merck Company Foundation, 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 Medicine's 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, and Reproductive Health Matters.
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