USC leans into addressing health inequalities with the hire of global health and human rights leader Jonathan Cohen

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LOS ANGELES — The University of Southern California (USC) is pleased to announce the appointment of Jonathan Cohen as Director of Policy Engagement for the USC Institute on Inequalities in Global Health (IIGH) and Clinical Professor for the Division of Disease Prevention, Policy and Global Health at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. In this newly created position, Cohen will work to strengthen the Institute’s contributions to US federal policy, private sector engagement, and health and human rights efforts broadly. Together with IIGH Director Sofia Gruskin, he will produce a flagship oral history project documenting the contributions of human rights frameworks and advocacy to the modern history of public health.

“Jonathan Cohen is a highly esteemed global health leader who brings more than 20 years of experience advancing global health and human rights for the most marginalized around the world,” said IIGH Director Sofia Gruskin. “Jonathan’s commitment to social inclusion and the public good in health policy and practice aligns with our values at IIGH, as well as our mission to work across disciplines to address the disparities, inequalities and broad determinants of health that impact our world. We are thrilled to welcome him to our team.”

Until recently, Cohen was part of the senior leadership of the Open Society Foundations, directing the philanthropy’s $39M global health portfolio and chairing its leadership committee responsible for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. He co-led Open Society’s emergency response to COVID-19, directing over $25M to efforts to protect vulnerable groups and advocate for equity in access to diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. 

“Jonathan Cohen has been an extraordinary leader in public health,” said Mark Malloch-Brown, President of the Open Society Foundations. “He pursued Open Society’s mission of ensuring that public health was inclusive of rights for all. His vision and energy led us to a strong involvement in justice-based public health issues, and will make an ideal fit for USC’s interdisciplinary approach to tackling inequalities and the greatest public health challenges of our time.”

As Public Health Program Director at Open Society, Cohen led efforts to make the private sector more accountable to health outcomes. In addition to overseeing a grant-making strategy to strengthen transparency and accountability in health governance, he co-developed a pilot program to deploy program-related investments to advance equitable access to essential medicines. He will bring this experience to USC as the university grows its efforts to address inequality in its global health work. 

“At this historic moment for global health, I am inspired by USC’s commitment to fighting inequality, both in the city of Los Angeles and around the world,” said Cohen. “Viruses may cause diseases, but inequalities cause pandemics.”

Cohen first established a global reputation for his work on HIV and AIDS as a researcher for Human Rights Watch. He co-chaired the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Human Rights Reference Group, and served on the UNAIDS Advisory Group from 2019-2021. As the inaugural director of Open Society’s Law and Health Initiative, he designed programs to integrate legal services into health care, helped modernize the field of health law in the former Soviet Union, and directed unrestricted funding to HIV and human rights organizations throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

A sought-after commentator and lecturer on a range of health and rights issues, Cohen is the author of dozens of peer-reviewed articles, reports, and editorials. He is the original co-author of the Health and Rights Resource Guide, now in its fifth volume, which applies the international human rights framework to patient care, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, harm reduction, palliative care, children’s health, minority health, LGBTI health, disability, and access to medicines. A native of Canada, Cohen was co-editor-in-chief of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law Review and a law clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada. He is married to Brian A. Kates, an award-winning film and television editor and member of the Motion Picture Academy.

The University of Southern California Institute on Inequalities in Global Health works with partners at USC and around the world to address health-related disparities and inequalities, taking a multidisciplinary approach to advance the evidence base, train the next generation of leaders, and inform public policy. University-wide and driven by excellence in research, education and action, the Institute works across disciplines to address the disparities, inequalities and broad determinants of health that impact our world. Learn more at


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