I am a medical anthropologist whose research focuses on the interaction between global health policy and discourse and local health systems.
Currently, I am co-PI of a National Science Foundation-funded project in rural Amhara, Ethiopia. Our focus is on local, materially-impoverished volunteers who serve the rural health system of one of the poorest countries in the world, as well as on the Ethiopian and transnational health officials who rely on and organize these volunteers. Our research goals are to understand how and why global health projects justify the use of volunteer labor in the context of historically unprecedented funding for global health, and how the well-being of volunteers is affected by their service.
Previously, I was the PI of a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that explored the effects of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative on Primary Health Care and routine immunization. This project involved field research in seven countries (Nepal, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Angola). Information on this study and our findings is available at our study website,
Since 2005, I have been studying the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a 20 year, 9 billion dollar project aiming to eliminate poliovirus from the world forever—a goal that thus far has proved elusive. My book, Chasing Polio in Pakistan (Vanderbilt University Press, 2010) explores why eradication is so difficult in Pakistan, one of the last countries with endemic polio.
Along with Peter Brown, I am editor of the textbook Understanding and Applying Medical Anthropology (Left Coast Press, 2015).
Recent Articles (asterisks indicate Middlebury student coauthors):
Closser, Svea, Anat Rosenthal, Kenneth Maes, Judith Justice, Kelly Cox, Patricia Omidian, Ismaila Zango, Aminu Mohammed Dukku, Adam Koon, and Laetitia Nyirazinyoye. “The Global Context of Vaccine Refusals: Insights from a Systematic Comparative Ethnography of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative." Medical Anthropology Quarterly, forthcoming.
Closser, Svea. 2015.“Pakistan’s Lady Health Worker Labor Movement and the Moral Economy of Heroism.” Annals of Anthropological Practice 39 (1): 16-28.
Maes, Kenneth, Svea Closser, Ethan Vorel*, and Yihenew Tesfaye. 2015. "Using Community Health Workers: Discipline and Hierarchy in Ethiopia's Women's Development Army." Annals of Anthropological Practice 39 (1): 42-57.
Closser, Svea, Kelly Cox, Thomas M. Parris, R. Matthew Landis, Judith Justice, Ranjani Gopinath, Kenneth Maes, Hailom Banteyerga Amaha, Ismaila Zango Mohammed, Aminu Mohammed Dukku, Patricia A. Omidian, Emma Varley, Pauley Tedoff, Adam D. Koon, Laetitia Nyirazinyoye, Matthew A. Luck, W. Frank Pont, Jr, Vanessa Neergheen*, Anat Rosenthal, Peter Nsubuga, Naveen Thacker, Rashid Jooma and Elizabeth Nuttall*. 2014. “The Impact of Polio Eradication on Routine Immunization and Primary Health Care: A Mixed-Methods Study.” Journal of Infectious Diseases 210 (S1): S504–13. http://jid.oxfordjournals.org/content/210/suppl_1/S504.full
Maes, Kenneth, Svea Closser and Ippolytos Kalofonos. 2014. “Listening to Community Health Workers: How Ethnographic Research can Inform Positive Relationships between CHWs, Health Institutions, and Communities.” American Journal of Public Health, 104(5): e5-e9.
Mounier-Jack, Sandra, Ulla K Griffiths, Svea Closser, Helen Burchett and Bruno Marchal. 2014. “Measuring the Health Systems Impact of Disease Control Programs: Critical Assessment of the WHO Building Blocks Framework.” BMC Public Health 14: 278. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/278
Closser, Svea and Rashid Jooma. 2013. “Why We Must Provide Better Support for Pakistan's Female Frontline Health Workers.” PLOS Medicine 10(10): e1001528.