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Infectious Diseases, Zimbabwe, Students with Disabilities: RAND Weekly Recap

February 14, 2020

This week, we discuss policies that punish pregnant women for substance abuse; how Zimbabwe has changed since Mugabe was toppled; the U.S. response to infections diseases; post-deployment reintegration practices for U.S. federal civilians; supporting students with disabilities; and how to avoid escalation with Iran.

Sleeping baby with adult hand holding baby's hand, photo by Amax Photo/Getty Images

Photo by Amax Photo/Getty Images

Punishing Pregnant Women for Substance Use Has Unintended Consequences

About half of all U.S. states have policies that punish women for substance use during pregnancy. According to a recent RAND study, such policies don't help infants or their mothers. In fact, states that have adopted this approach had higher rates of babies born with drug withdrawal symptoms.

This is likely because punitive policies can push women away from the health care system, says lead author and pediatrician Dr. Laura Faherty. A better approach may be to focus on women's behavioral health needs and on improving access to family planning and substance use disorder treatment. Every pregnant woman “deserves to get the help she needs so that she and her infant have the best possible chance to thrive,” says Faherty.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa is escorted by a guard of honour as he arrives for Independence Day celebrations in Harare, Zimbabwe, April 18, 2019, photo by Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa is escorted by an honor guard at Independence Day celebrations in Harare, Zimbabwe, April 18, 2019

Photo by Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Zimbabwe After Mugabe

In 2017, a military coup toppled Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe after 37 years in power. Mugabe's successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, promised “a new Zimbabwe.” Has he delivered? New research by RAND's Alexander Noyes finds that Mnangagwa has fallen short both politically and economically. And Zimbabwe is now in a downward spiral. To help the southern African country realize its tremendous potential—built on rich natural resources and one of the continent's most educated populations—the United States and other international actors could offer support.

Hospital staff wear protective gear to protect them from an Ebola virus infection in the emergency department of Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, New York, October 8, 2014, photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

Staff at Bellevue Hospital wear gear to protect them from an Ebola virus infection, New York City, October 8, 2014

Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

Does the U.S. Need to Improve Its Response to Infectious Diseases?

The death toll of the coronavirus continued to grow this week. As global health authorities address the outbreak, it's important to remember that this crisis is just one part of a broad public health preparedness challenge facing countries all over the world. A new RAND report examines this larger issue. In particular, the authors identify ways that the United States might strengthen its system of care for infectious diseases. They find that a more formalized system would be beneficial. Also, financial sustainability is critical to responding to rare but serious infectious threats.

A saluting soldier and a civilian man in an airport, images by ViewApart and MariaArefyeva/Getty Images; design by Rick Penn-Kraus/RAND Corporation

Images by ViewApart and MariaArefyeva/Getty Images; design by Rick Penn-Kraus/RAND Corporation

Supporting Civilians After Deployment

Over the past two decades, the United States has deployed an unprecedented number of federal government civilians to Iraq and Afghanistan. They perform a wide variety of tasks—from administrative support to diplomatic functions. As more civilians are deployed, increasing numbers are exposed to high-threat environments and high levels of stress. What can be done to ensure that these individuals receive the support they need to reintegrate after returning home?

Educator listens during a parent-teacher conference, photo by SDI Productions/Getty Images

Photo by SDI Productions/Getty Images

Principals Say They Need More Support to Help Students with Disabilities

Principals play a critical role in supporting America's 6.7 million students with disabilities. But do they have what they need to help these students succeed? RAND conducted a nationally representative survey of principals to find out. Only 12 percent of respondents said that they felt completely prepared to support the needs of students with disabilities when they began working as principals. Notably, those leading schools with more students of color reported having less-sufficient access to support.

How to Avoid Escalation with Iran

Following the U.S. killing of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani last month, Tehran attacked two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. This isn't likely to be the end of Iran's response, says RAND's Ariane Tabatabai. In fact, the regime could challenge the United States in a number of different ways, such as interfering in U.S. elections or using proxy groups to target American interests in the Middle East. To avoid escalation and lay the groundwork for future talks, Washington could be clearer in its messaging to Tehran, she says.

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