Health programs are often implemented in conflict zones in hopes of ‘winning hearts and minds’ and preserving the peace. We find no scientific evidence for this policy but hypothesize that programs to mitigate health problems have a role in keeping the peace in conflict states. The evidence for our theory to date is anecdotal.
We carefully examined hundreds of conflicts in a robust international database (NAVCO 2.0) for the presence of health programs by warring parties and were unable to demonstrate a statistical correlation between the presence of a health program and the subsequent peaceful resolution of conflict. Using this empirical analysis and the Global Burden of Disease (GBD), a comprehensive international database of health conditions, we performed a matched case-control analysis of the association between the GBD prevalence of 254 different health conditions and NAVCO database conflict status. We identified 14 countries with new-onset conflict as our cases and 42 similar countries without conflict during the same year as our controls.
None of the 254 common health conditions had changes in prevalence that correlated with the subsequent conflict status of that nation.
We were unable to show that any of the health conditions we analyzed is a predictive ‘leading indicator’ of conflict. Without such an association or causal link, the role of health programs in reducing conflict and violence remains unconvincing and ambiguous. We believe this work is a novel insight into ways the international community might reliably mitigate conflict and should provoke more research on this topic.