Humanitarian Research Program

Evidence and partnerships for best practice in humanitarian action


Our vision is to bring the best and brightest together to work on the most important problems affecting populations in the most challenging circumstances – to help those most in need. Our solutions come from communities and practitioners who live the problems of humanitarian emergencies. We use research expertise to evaluate and scale-up these solutions.

Treating a patient’s immediate needs is one thing, but what about the big picture? We are building evidence and partnerships to maximise the effectiveness of humanitarian action.

Lessons from the frontline of Public Health

Discovering Health Innovations in Humanitarian Settings

The Humanitarian Research Program aims to develop practice-driven, evidence-based solutions to the world’s most complex humanitarian crises.

The Program focuses on conducting implementation research in complex settings to build and utilise evidence to strengthen programs, mobilise policy and economic support for programs and build sustainable capacity for program evaluation.

Program Leader



Our Leadership


Dr Kamalini Lokuge

Humanitarian Research Program (HRP) Leader Kamalini is an ANU Senior Research Fellow and current Research Development Advisor to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)-UK. She has over two decades field experience in public health program delivery and evaluation in a range of crisis situations, including Afghanistan, Darfur, Uganda, Nigeria, Myanmar, South Sudan, Zambia, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. As well as her current work with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), Kamalini has worked as a doctor and medical epidemiologist for international health organisations including the World Health Organisation, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. From 2009-2011, Kamalini was Senior Lecturer, then Director, of the Master of Applied Epidemiology Program at ANU. She was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her humanitarian work in 2010.

Professor Emily Banks

HRP epidemiology and management advisor. Professor Banks is a public health physician and epidemiologist and Head of Epidemiology for Policy and Practice at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, ANU and Chair of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Medicines and Vaccines.

Peter Buth

Pete Buth is HRP’s security and risk management advisor. He is a former Deputy Director of Operations at Médecins Sans Frontières in Amsterdam. Pete has been engaged in humanitarian action since the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. He worked with MSF from 1997 until 2016 in various operations management positions in the field and headquarters. His overseas experience includes postings and management of operations in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Chechnya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen, and is currently a consultant on humanitarian policy and practice.

Dennise Simpson

HRP domestic violence and gender advisor. Dennise has 30 years of experience working to assist women and children live their lives free from violence and abuse. Through her role as Manager of the ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS), Dennise actively sought out and developed partnerships with key criminal justice and child protection agencies in order to provide a coordinated and collaborative criminal justice and community response to domestic violence in the ACT. DVCS gained a reputation of best practice nationally and internationally. Dennise retired in 2012.

Dr Buddhima Lokuge

HRP policy and advocacy advisor. Dr Lokuge is a public health doctor with expertise in the design, implementation and evaluation of public health programs. He is director of the social enterprise Everyvoicecounts and has worked as coordinator of the East Arnhem Scabies Program in the Northern Territory and as head of the Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign in New York.

Our Team

Research School of Population Health / National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health staff

  • Dr Kamalini Lokuge (Program Leader)
  • Prof Emily Banks (Medical epidemiologist)
  • Dr Bianca Calabria (Postdoctoral Fellow)
  • Dr Cathy Day (Anthropologist/Research manager)
  • Prof Cate D’Este (Biostatistician)
  • Dr Jill Guthrie (Epidemiologist)
  • Assoc/Prof Kathyrn Glass (Mathematical modeller)
  • Dr Grace Joshy (Biostatistician)
  • Dr Buddhima Lokuge (Public health doctor)
  • Dr Susana Nery (Epidemiologist)
  • Dr Katherine Thurber (Postdoctoral Fellow)


Doctoral scholars

  • Chatu Yapa: Primary health care in humanitarian emergencies (MSF)
  • Kai Hodgkin: Supporting midwives to support normal birth in Indonesia
  • Sally Carter: Mental health services for children in humanitarian crises
  • Polly Wallace: Randomised controlled trial of preschool-based interventions addressing domestic
  • violence in Sri Lanka
  • Grazia Caleo: (external-London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) Epidemiology of Ebola transmission and control (MSF)



  • Professor Ruth Foxwell (Vistor)
  • Dr Naomi Clarke (Paediatrician/Research Associate)
  • Sam Terry, Lucy Kirk, Catherine Hall, Lorane Gaborit (Tuckwell Scholars)
  • Elizabeth Wilson, Elizabeth Gorrell (MPH)
  • Bradley Carron-Arthur, Jessica Watterson (Visitors)




The Humanitarian Research Program at ANU was founded in 2012 with the aim of building evidence and partnerships to effectively respond to humanitarian crises. HRP combines the strengths of practice-driven research with a strong commitment to service and policy development. Our program leader Dr Kamalini Lokuge, along with HRP experts, have decades of experience developing and implementing systems to respond to humanitarian emergencies. Recognising that much of the resources deployed to such crises are based on a limited evidence base, we use our experience and research expertise to address this gap.

The Program staff and initiatives work at national and international level in collaboration with health practitioners, policymakers, non-governmental organisations, academic institutions and aid agencies in the following domains.

Humanitarian research and evaluation

We are developing, implementing and evaluating interventions that show promise related to:

  • Gender-based violence in Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea
  • The response to the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in West Africa
  • Emergency obstetric care in low-resource settings
  • Lassa fever in West Africa
  • Methods for monitoring and evaluating health programs in complex crises.

Past work of the program includes research and evaluation of primary health and maternal health, gender-based violence, HIV, TB, malaria and mentalhealth programs in a range of low resource and conflict settings.




Humanitarian training

We are training the next generation of humanitarian responders and leaders through a range of partnerships.

How Ebola roared back

Before the 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa was recognised as a global humanitarian and security emergency, experts from the ANU Humanitarian Research Program (HRP) were collaborating with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in at-risk countries. Applying the best tools of field epidemiology combined with effective work and partnership with at-risk communities, HRP experts predicted that in April 2014 the outbreak was not waning but just the calm before the storm. They were widely criticised for being alarmist but this assessment eventual proved correct. The case study was documented by the New York Times which singled out HRP/MSF epidemiologists as some of the few who had correctly predicted the impending catastrophe. What alarmed Dr Kamalini Lokuge, a Doctors Without Borders epidemiologist (seconded from the ANU Humanitarian Program) working in Conakry, was that the patients were coming from all across the city. In April in the staff tent at Donka Hospital, she unfolded a giant city map she had dotted with red, blue and green ink to track cases. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she told her colleagues. “This is going to blow up.”

“What alarmed Dr Kamalini Lokuge, a Doctors Without Borders epidemiologist (seconded from the ANU Humanitarian Program) working in Conakry, was that the patients were coming from all across the city. In April in the staff tent at Donka Hospital, she unfolded a giant city map she had dotted with red, blue and green ink to track cases. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she told her colleagues. “This is going to blow up.”

( New York Times, How Ebola Roared Back, December 2014 



Supporting survivors of gender based violence

Identify needs, gaps and opportunities

Although we are doing more to measure the problem of violence against women and girls, research by the HRP shows that very little still goes into evaluating solutions, especially in low-resource settings. We know how bad the problem is, but we know almost nothing about how best to fix it. And for a problem as complex as gender-based violence, we can’t assume one size fits all. We need not just to measure, but to do, and to learn from doing in every setting.

Evaluation and review

In 2012, the HRP evaluated an MSF clinic for survivors of gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea. Thousands of women and children came each year, demonstrating that when free, quality services are available, many would come. But over 90 per cent of survivors knew the person abusing them; often they lived with them. Our evaluation concluded that medical and psychosocial care was only the initial stage of support required by survivors. More was needed to ensure long-term safety, protection and justice.

Collaborative solutions

Working with PNG staff who’d seen the problem and found their own solutions and partners at ANU and PNG, we established FemiliPNG, a local NGO providing crisis support services. In 2014, FemiliPNG received a $3 million Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Australia (DFAT) grant and has now seen over a thousand clients. HRP evaluation found that key to achieving survivor’s goals is effective, accessible and coordinated services linked to community-based support, referral and advocacy. Building on this, we have started a preschool-based program in Sri Lanka to address domestic violence and alcohol misuse. It’s a randomised controlled trial testing solutions developed by the community, funded by a range of Sri Lankan local partners and DFAT.


Measuring mental distress and access to services in the Kashmir Valley, India




HRP is partnering with:

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the world’s leading independent organisation for medical humanitarian aid, on a joint PhD program and a range of operational research and evaluation projects.

University of Peradeniya researchers and a local NGO, the Peoples Policy Institute in post-conflict Sri Lanka to develop innovative solutions to the issue of domestic violence.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s leading government research body, to advance the development of a vaccine against Lassa fever, a viral illness that affects hundreds of thousands each year in West Africa.

Support us

The Humanitarian Research Program Fund

 “The greatest expertise you can bring to solving a problem is the experience of living that problem.” (Dr Kamalini Lokuge)
Dr Lokuge has learnt that it is the mothers, children, health workers and teachers – those who live the experience – who are best placed to help identify gaps and deliver solutions. The problem that often exists is that these are the voices ignored when aid is delivered, research is undertaken and policies are created. 
The Humanitarian Research Program focuses on bringing these insights to life and giving a voice to those best placed, and with most to benefit, from a solution. 
Your donation will assist Dr Lokuge and her team to work with vulnerable communities to deliver on-the-ground services in places like Guinea, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. 
Your gift today enables the team to link lessons learned in the field with scientific research in order to bring long-term solutions to life.

Updated:  20 September 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director/Page Contact:  Webmaster