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Displacement and Health Research Center logo in green

The Displacement and Health Research Center focuses on studying displacement as a social determinant of health. As forced migration increases at unprecedented rates globally due to conflict, climate change, and raised inequalities, the rates of forced displacement are at all-time high. It is critical to understand the impacts of these trajectories on various health outcomes. Our research centers on equity to guide clinical and public health intervention development and guides policies related to displaced populations. Our lab is the first-of-its-kind at UC San Diego to be composed of refugee, first-generation, immigrant, and other under-represented trainees diversifying the next generation of scientists in health research. We believe in the ethos of “Nothing About Us Without Us” to guide our work and research questions. Our trainees will be future physicians, public health professionals, academics, and social justice advocates devoted to bettering the lives of displaced populations worldwide.

Meet Our Team

Tala Al-Rousan headshotTala Al-Rousan, MD, MPH
Principal Investigator
Tala Al-Rousan, MD, MPH, is an assistant professor of Behavioral Medicine and Epidemiology at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science with an affiliation at the Division of Geriatrics in UC San Diego School of Medicine, Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health at UC San Francisco, and Lown Scholar at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health. She is the founder of the Displacement and Health Research Center.

Globally, Dr. Al-Rousan held several leadership positions as advisor to the Jordanian Minister of Health, World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, Immigrant, Refugee, Migrant Health Branch and the UN - International Organization for Migration and Doctors Without Borders. She co-leads the Center for Lifecourse and Vulnerable Populations Research at the UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute.

Her community-based research and program development primarily focuses on improving the health of displaced populations including immigrant and refugee families, populations displaced due to natural disasters, incarceration, inequality and who experience violations of human rights. She is trained in medicine from Cairo University and was a former Doctor Without Borders physician that served in Jordan, Yemen and Switzerland.

Dr. Al-Rousan grew up in a border town in Jordan, a country of refugees, and cared for refugee and racially diverse patients at Zaatari and Azraq refugee camps and is currently living in the border city of San Diego with the majority of her implementation science projects based in migrant shelters and refugee-majority neighborhoods. She prioritizes mentoring refugees, first-generation, and those who are underrepresented trainees in health sciences.


Rawnaq Behnam headshotRawnaq Behnam
Research Assistant
Rawnaq Behnam is a Master of Public Health candidate and the diversity fellowship recipient at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health. She completed her undergraduate degree at UC San Diego in global health and human rights and migration. Rawnaq grew up in Iraq and was displaced due to the ongoing civil unrest with her family to Turkey then the United States.

Using her own and her family’s lived experience of displacement, Rawnaq wants to build the evidence on interventions and policy solutions that could improve the health and wellbeing of refugees in San Diego and globally. She has a particular interest in sexual and reproductive health research and aspires to be a future physician caring for her community and applying a culturally-competent lens to delivering public health and clinical care for displaced individuals. In the Displacement and Health Research Center, and in collaboration with the UC San Diego Obstetrics and Gynecology Refugee Taskforce, Rawnaq is involved in projects related to gestational hypertension management among refugees as well as gender roles and healthcare management after resettlement. As a certified interpreter, she also manages the lab’s translation services, bridging the language barrier within research spaces.


Student Researchers

Head shot of Noorhan AmaniNoorhan Amani is currently a second year medical student at California Northstate University College of Medicine. She graduated from UC San Diego in 2021 where she majored in human biology and minored in Global Health. Noorhan has an interest in refugee and immigrant health due to her experiences working and volunteering with several free clinics and local community organizations. In the Displacement and Health Research Center, Noorhan is working on a project exploring factors affecting cognitive aging and contributing to dementia among refugees. Following medical school, Noorhan hopes to advocate for improved access to healthcare resources and services for marginalized populations as a physician.


Head shot of Nadine KadriNadine Kadri is currently a second year medical student at Western University of Health Sciences and an alumna of UC Riverside where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology. With a strong passion for advocacy, Nadine is interested in working with disadvantaged and marginalized patients as she hopes to address the disparities and challenges faced by underserved communities. Nadine is deeply committed to advancing cognition and brain health, driven by her personal background of growing up with a brother who has undiagnosed disabilities. She would like to explore interventions that can enhance brain health and advocate for improved support systems for individuals affected by cognitive disabilities.


Head shot of Jasmine KaduthodilJasmine Kaduthodil is a rising second year neuroscience doctoral student at UC San Diego. They graduated from Wellesley College in 2018 where they majored in neuroscience and minored in anthropology. Since graduating, they have worked in Chitwan, Nepal and Boston, working in neuroscience, cognitive health and public health research. Their focus is on neuroepidemiology and understanding community-based interventions that can undercut the impact of trauma on long-term health. With a focused interest on recovery and resilience in vulnerable populations globally, Jasmine is passionate about advocacy and integrating multiple disciplines to address challenges refugees and displaced peoples face.


 Dahlia KakiDahlia Kaki is a medical student at UC San Francisco and an alumna of the Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs. Dahlia has a strong interest in immigrant and border health and has worked on various projects assessing healthcare access for patients without documentation status. She also has an interest in provider motivations, determining which providers work with immigrant populations and how systems can best support them. In the Displacement and Health Research Center, Dahlia is working towards a better understanding cognitive aging in refugee populations, particularly assessing for risk factors along the migration trajectory. Following medical school, Dahlia plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine and critical care and hopes to continue working towards the advancement of healthcare equity and justice in this patient population. 


Head shot of Parwana KhaziParwana Zahra Khazi is a MD/PhD student in UC San Diego School of Medicine's Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). Her interest in working with displaced communities stems from her immediate and extended family’s experiences as refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants from Afghanistan and has been enhanced by her educational trajectory thus far. A biomedical biology, public health, and Spanish studies triple major during her undergraduate time at Santa Clara University and a graduate of the interdepartmental social science master’s program at UCLA, she greatly values interdisciplinary scholarship that overlays theoretical frameworks, research methodologies and analytical approaches from a diverse array of fields. Parwana is excited to continue conducting mixed methods research at the intersection of social medicine, health/immigration policy and global public health in her MD/PhD training and in her future career as a clinician-researcher.


Lana BridiLana Bridi is a medical student at UC San Diego School of Medicine and is interested in addressing health disparities through research and community-based partnerships. Lana grew up in Syria and left the country during the war, witnessing the displacement that happened to her communities. She is passionate about refugee health research because of this personal exposure and experience. Through her work in the Displacement and Health Research Center, she hopes to bring illuminating data to the public health and healthcare fields about the unique health needs of Arab refugees, their experiences, beliefs, and values so providers and public health experts can best serve this marginalized community through a data-informed approach. 


Dina HamidehDina Hamideh is a doctoral student in the UC San Diego and San Diego State University Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health. She offers a background in health behavior, mobile health, and health disparities. Her interests include the influence of behavior and environment on human health, specifically in underserved communities. As a doctoral student, she plans to work in the West Bank and assess the influence of occupation-related violence stress on Palestinian adolescent wellbeing (e.g. mental health and blood pressure). Dina plans to explore a cross-cultural understanding of the community-based healthcare solutions needed to achieve health equity in Palestinian adolescent populations.  


Maryam Aso headshotMaryam Aso is a graduate of San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and a prospective law student. She is an Iraqi immigrant and has a strong interest in policies affecting people who undergo the process of displacement. She is also interested in refugee mental health and access to care. In the Displacement and Health Research Center, Maryam is working on a project to assess how displacement can trigger or exacerbate trauma responses like PTSD and depression and if such experiences can lead to early dementia. She is also working on a project assessing how refugee gender roles differ between home countries and resettlement countries. Following law school, Maryam plans to pursue a career as both a researcher and a district attorney. She hopes to continue working towards the advancement of mental health care access for displaced populations.


Nissma BencheikhNissma Bencheikh is a Doctor of Medicine candidate at UC San Diego School of Medicine. She is an alum of the UC Berkeley with degrees in Business Administration and Molecular and Cell Biology. Nissma’s family moved to Canada from Morocco before moving to the United States. Her research interests in refugee health include access to healthcare, management of non-communicable diseases, and women’s health. In the Displacement and Health Lab, she has been working on social network analysis of hypertension management among refugees and the prevalence of metabolic syndrome. Following medical school, Nissma hopes to continue serving and advocating for vulnerable patient populations throughout her career as a physician.


Carol HafeyCarol Hafey recently graduated from the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health with a concentration in Medicine Sciences and a minor in Sociology. She grew up in San Diego and is interested in helping underserved communities in the area. Carol is interested in advocacy, education, and health equity for vulnerable groups, including refugees, asylees, and migrants. In the Displacement and Health Research Center, Carol is working to understand the healthcare provider’s perspective on treating hypertension in refugees and testing the usability of software that will help providers facilitate self-management of hypertension in refugees and other vulnerable groups from home. Carol is also currently applying for MD/PhD programs and hopes to pursue a career in academic medicine, bringing awareness to health equity in both medicine and research.


Headshot of Xara KhanXara Khan is a sophomore at the UC San Diego. Pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, she is interested in studying the impact of war, forcible displacement and trauma on people of the global south. In the Health and Displacement Research Center, she is a part of a team working on understanding the barriers and facilitators to cognitive healthcare in refugees. After graduating, she plans to continue working on advanced research and rehabilitation for refugee children.



Raghad AljenabiRaghad Aljenabi, BSrecently earned her Bachelor of Science in Social Psychology from UC San Diego. While at UC San Diego, she advocated for culturally competent mental health professionals for minority students through BMP, and she has also brought resources to her community through leadership at I.A.M. Youth Group. Currently, she is interested in how barriers in healthcare influence mental illness disparities in minority communities. Raghad hopes to pursue higher education and help create behavioral health interventions as a researcher and clinical psychologist.


Head shot of Zaid KamalZaid Kamal is an undergraduate student at UC Los Angeles currently studying cognitive science. He is interested in how dementia and cognition play a role in refugee health. After graduating he plans to attend medical school and work to advance Alzheimer's disease research in various communities.




Head shot of Marcos RealMarcos Real, MScompleted his bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a master’s degree in biology at UC San Diego. He is a current first-year medical student at UC San Diego School of Medicine. He is interested in conducting research on refugee and immigrant health, particularly assessing barriers to health within the large immigrant population at the US/Tijuana border. In his spare time, he enjoys surfing, climbing and playing guitar.



Waseem Abdou graduated from the UC Irvine and is pursuing a Doctor of Medicine at UC San Diego.

Mawj Al-Ani obtained her Doctor of Medicine at the University of Cairo and is currently applying for residency programs in the United States.

Behnan Albahsahli, MPH, earned a Master of Public Health from the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego. 

Saryah Alhejazi, MSc, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science and a Master of Science in Clinical Neuroscience from University College London. She hopes to pursue a surgical career, with a particular special interest in neuroscience.

Mina Awad graduated from UC San Diego.

Tarek Hijazi is an osteopathic medical student at Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine in Las Cruces, New Mexico and an alum of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. 

Mehak Kaur, MPH, is an alumna of UC San Diego and recent Master of Public Health graduate from University of Southern California. She wants to pursue a career in public service as an epidemiologist.

Raneem Mokatrin graduated from the UCLA and is pursuing an Doctor of Medicine at UC San Diego.

Purity Mwendwa, PhD, is a Fulbright Visiting Scholar in the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems at University College Dublin in Ireland where she obtained a Doctor of Philosophy in Global Health. 

Zaid Salameh graduated from UC Riverside and is pursuing a Master of Public Health at Columbia University. 

Current Projects

Climate and Migration

The intricate links between climate change, displacement and health have become increasingly apparent as the impacts of a warming planet unfold. Climate change exacerbates existing health vulnerabilities and creates new ones, often leading to population displacement. Extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires, not only displace communities but also result in injuries, fatalities and mental health distress. Displaced populations often face overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in temporary shelters or refugee camps, which increase the risk of infectious diseases like diarrheal illnesses, respiratory infections  and vector-borne diseases. Moreover, forced migration can disrupt access to healthcare services, leaving individuals without essential medical support and exacerbating pre-existing health conditions. The loss of livelihoods and displacement from traditional lands can also lead to food insecurity and malnutrition. Additionally, climate-induced displacement often has profound psychosocial impacts, including increased stress, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Recognizing the complex interplay between climate change, displacement and health is crucial for developing effective policies and interventions that address the multiple dimensions of this pressing global challenge. Syria respresents an example of a complex scenario where conflict, extreme drought and economic collapse existed simultaneously.

About this project
Becuase the majority of Syrian refugees have stopped in multiple countries at different points in time, the primary goal of this study was to restrospectively quantify the negative climatic exposures (i.e, dust, pollutants, etc.) using google earth data and examine associations with cardiovascular health of Syrian refugees resettled in San Diego. In collaboration with researchers from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, this study will be the first of its kind to connect the dots between exposures to different climate change factorscan impact health among migrants.

Hypertension Self-management Interventions in Refugees Living in San Diego (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

Once resettled, refugees have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and poor health outcomes, particularly uncontrolled hypertension. Literature shows that foreign-born patients are less likely to be aware of their hypertension due to poor health literacy, disparities in healthcare access, and other daily life stressors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named hypertension a priority health condition among most refugees arriving in the United States including Somalis, Syrians, and Iraqis with adjusted rates often exceeding those of the general US population. In San Diego, specifically, this is a major public health issue highlighted by the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency as a top health concern in this population.

About this project
This study aims to assess the feasibility of a hypertension self-management trial in the refugee population living in San Diego. Our goal is to gather data on patients, their social networks, and their clinicians in preparation for a future clinical trial using at-home monitoring as a means to reduce rates of uncontrolled hypertension in this highly affected population. This preliminary data will assist in the development of a larger-scale program for self-management of hypertension in at-risk groups, including refugee patients.

Perceptions Towards Dementia Risk and Care Among Arab Refugees in San Diego 

The prevalence of mild cognitive impairment and dementia is higher among many racial and ethnic minorities than in the general United States population; however, prevalence among Arab-Americans is unknown. As rates of forced migration increase, many Arab-Americans now enter the US as refugees and most are aging in exile. This poses new challenges in geriatric care, particularly in the realm of dementia care. Exposures throughout the migration trajectory are often listed as risk factors for physical and mental ill-health.

 These social determinants of health, such as socioeconomic status, physical and mental ill-health, discrimination, cultural barriers, and limited healthcare access are prevalent among refugee groups and may increase their risk of cognitive aging. While the refugee health field has been growing, few studies specifically examine the prevalence of dementia and the dementia care needs in Arab refugees and there is currently no consensus on evidence-based clinical practice for assessing dementia in this ethnic and racial minority group. Unfortunately, this results in largely undiagnosed cognitive impairment and dementia among Arab refugees. While dementia has been declared one of the major public health challenges of the century, there has been no formal evaluation of the interplay between the refugee experience and cognitive aging and there is a paucity of data examining barriers and facilitators to dementia diagnosis and care in Arab refugee populations.

About the Project
This exploratory study will investigate the perspectives of Arab refugees in San Diego on migration-related factors that may affect their cognitive function and collect preliminary data on providers’ perspectives on barriers and facilitators to dementia diagnosis and care in this refugee population. This data will help elucidate a better picture of cognitive aging in this Arab refugee group and provide directionality for future research on this topic.


Brain Health of Displaced Populations (UC San Francisco ARCH Network)


Forced migration is a social determinant of health, and has been at an all-time high since World War II. In 2020, several hundred camps and settlements existed worldwide, housing more than 15 million refugees and internally displaced people. Refugee camps, like other spaces of marginalization and exception, have “containment” as their core function. Qualitative research has documented such similarities between both the incarcerated and refugee populations in younger adults. However, older adults constitute a growing proportion of the refugee population and are one of the most marginalized and least studied groups of refugees. They are also at higher risk of developing chronic health conditions, including cognitive impairment. We aim to use the “site of resilience” theory to explore resilience in formerly encamped refugees, and test whether a reentry program framework (e.g. leveraging refugee spirituality) may be feasible for supporting this vulnerable population.

About the Project
This study aims to describe distinct encampment-related factors and their role in cognition of Arab, East African and Afghan refugees in San Diego. This study will also examine the role of resilience and determine the feasibility of using Goffman’s Theory of institutionalization to create a framework, as a potential public health intervention for older refugees’ integration. As the country embraces the idea of immigration reform and a science-driven approach to public health, this study will be the first to characterize the role of encampment on the aging of Arab refugees, as it offers scientific insights on how to better integrate with victims of forced migration.

Affiliations, Partners, and Funding

Contact Us

If you are interested in working with our lab or joining one of our studies please contact Rawnaq Behnam at or our principal investigator Dr. Tala Al-Rousan 

Twitter: @dhrescenter