India | Semester Abroad | Public Health Policy | Hindi | Delhi | NGOs

India: Public Health, Policy Advocacy, and Community

Explore the links between public health, policy advocacy, and community, with a focus on women, children, tribal communities, and other marginalized and vulnerable populations in India.

This program studies the relationship between public health and community in a field-study context. You will analyze specific case studies that illuminate the problems, prospects, and potential methods of promoting health. Policy advocacy efforts for realization of the right to health on the national and international levels will also be examined, along with relevant public health schemes and programs.

Major topics of study include:

  • Social determinants of health (poverty, oppression, caste, and hierarchy) and health equity and social justice
  • The scourge of malnutrition, failure of the health system, and response of the community 
  • The political economy of health (globalization, the WTO, the IMF, and World Bank)
  • Regional and grassroots approaches to improving access to healthcare
  • “Health” and its relationship to human fulfillment
  • Status of reproductive and child health

Meet the program’s academic director.

My experiences with SIT taught me the importance of meaningful cultural exchange and direct immersion. By engaging in the complexities and rewards of everyday life in local communities, I evolved a truer and deeper appreciation of India. This reflection left me with an insatiable desire to continue broadening my global perspective, which I am hugely obliged to be able to do through a Fulbright fellowship. In truth, my journey as an English teaching assistant in Malaysia is an attempt to honor and grow what I learned through SIT about the transformative power of cross-cultural understanding.

Poonam Daryani, Scripps College

Exploring New Delhi

students visiting pharmacy in India

The program is based in New Delhi, India’s central hub for policymakers and organizations active in both health and human rights. Greater New Delhi is home to more than three hundred international and more than a thousand local NGOs actively involved in the health and development sector. The National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Women, and other rights-focused organizations are headquartered in New Delhi. You will be encouraged to utilize the city’s many academic institutions and resources, including its excellent libraries, to advance your learning.

New Delhi has an extensive public transportation system, many parks and green spaces such as Lodhi gardens, sports facilities, and dozens of historical monuments and cultural associations. The city sees itself as both cosmopolitan and distinctively representative of its ancient roots.

Thematic seminar on health and human rights

Field excursions are an integral part of the program. You will visit rural and tribal communities, NGO headquarters, academic and research institutes, and hospitals in urban and rural sites across northern India; lectures will be held onsite.

The program’s thematic seminar includes lectures by nationally prominent academics and experts in the fields of health and human rights. Lectures address issues such as:

  • International principles of public health and human rights
  • Public health systems in India: traditional, Ayurveda, homeopathy, Unani, and allopathy
  • Malnourishment
  • Issues and challenges pertaining to mental health
  • Major debilitating diseases such as TB, malaria, and polio
  • Reproductive health and HIV/AIDS
  • Privatization of medical education
  • Health tourism

Workshop with an Indian NGO

You will spend one week of the semester working with a local organization or individual actively working for public health and positive change in India. This will give you the chance to examine health related work firsthand and to have practical experience in the field in preparation for the Independent Study Project.

Possible workshop sites include:

During the workshop, you will integrate fieldwork techniques — such as formal and informal interviewing and participant observation — as part of the process of understanding health and human rights. You will work individually or in a group of three or four.

Learning Hindi

You will receive instruction in standard Khari Boli Hindi. The four-credit course emphasizes speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction. You will be expected to practice your language skills outside the classroom by using Hindi in daily life, particularly with host families and during the workshop.

Independent Study Project

student interviewing local residents for undergraduate research projectDuring the final month of the semester, you will work on an Independent Study Project (ISP) to critically examine a topic, situation, or community relevant to the topic of health and human rights in India. The ISP is conducted in North India or in another approved location appropriate to the project.

Sample topic areas for the ISP include:

  • International, national, and regional responses to epidemics and pandemics
  • Health equity and disability
  • Major public health challenges of diseases such as TB, malaria, and polio
  • Access to reproductive and children’s health
  • Incentive strategies and health outcomes production
  • Health financing
  • Impact of globalization on public health
  • Health planning and management
  • Privatization of medical education

You will be matched with an ISP advisor who will work with you on the design, implementation, and evaluation of the research project. ISP advisors include professors of public health; environment, health, and human rights activists; health policy planners and advocates; and healthcare professionals.

Access virtual library guide.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.

The India: Public Health, Policy Advocacy, and Community program studies the relationship between public health and the community in a field-study context. Students analyze specific case studies that illuminate the problems, prospects, and potential methods of promoting health. Policy advocacy efforts for the right to health on the national and international levels are also examined, along with relevant best health practices including the international bill of rights.

The program includes five credit-bearing courses:

  • Two thematic seminars that incorporate educational excursions and a one-week workshop
  • Hindi intensive language course: beginning and intermediate levels
  • Field Methods and Ethics
  • Independent Study Project

The program facilitates experiential learning and the values of active global citizenship for all students.

The following syllabi are either from a recent session of this program or for an upcoming session. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Capacity Building, NGOs, and Healthcare Delivery – syllabus
(ASIA3010 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
During this course, students explore Indians’ access to and reliance on public healthcare services from the hands-on perspective of involvement in an NGO or other health-related organization. Through active participation in a week-long, healthcare-related workshop, students are able to examine systems of healthcare and investigate the realities of the delivery of public health services in India. Students also learn about NGOs’ role in educating the community on health schemes and programs as well as actively engaging government on public policy issues.
Politics and Economies of Public Health – syllabus
(ASIA3020 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
This course explores the theoretical link between access to and reliance on Indian healthcare services and the conceptions of the right to health of individuals and communities in an Indian social context. Questions raised include: • What does the term “right to health” mean to Indians? • Who are the key actors in determining who is granted the right to health? • How do gender, caste, and poverty affect access to healthcare in India? • How are policies framed and communities engaged to improve access to healthcare in India?
Beginning Hindi – syllabus
(HIND1000-1500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Intermediate Hindi – syllabus
(HIND2000-2500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Emphasis is on speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction. Students acquire a solid foundation in standard Khari Boli Hindi to enable interaction with speakers of Hindi in North India and all over the world. It is expected that students will take the opportunity to make rapid progress in both speaking and listening comprehension by using Hindi outside of class as much as possible, particularly with homestay family members. Although we expect that dedicated students will acquire a strong, functional ability to communicate in Hindi, students wishing to interact substantively with Hindi speakers should nevertheless expect extensive collaboration with a translator for their Independent Study Project (ISP). Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students are placed in beginning or intermediate classes.
Field Methods and Ethics in Social Science and Health – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
A course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experiences. Introduction to the Independent Study Project. Material includes cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; project selection and refinement; appropriate methodologies; field study ethics and the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review Policy; developing contacts and finding resources; developing skills in observation and interviewing; gathering, organizing, and communicating data; and maintaining a work journal. The Field Methods and Ethics course examines public health indicators and helps students understand why some indicators are selected or important. The course includes helping students understand how and why studies are conducted in health and human rights; considerations for conducting such studies, including human subjects and ethical issues central to the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review Policy; and how students can use public health or human rights data to acquire a better understanding of what is happening in the target society or community. The concepts and skills introduced in Field Methods and Ethics unite and reinforce all other program components and are put to the test through the execution and successful completion of an Independent Study Project (ISP). Students are expected to develop competence in the following areas: self-orientation in a new environment, ethical comportment appropriate for researchers working with human subjects, and methodological approaches to anthropology fieldwork. Workshop Conducted with a partner organization, the workshop is linked with the Capacity Building, NGOs, and Healthcare Delivery seminar; however, it also provides important and additional field experience to complement the Field Methods and Ethics course.
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 120 hours)
Conducted in North India or in another appropriate location. Sample topic areas: international, national, and regional responses to epidemics and pandemics; health equity and disability; major public health challenges of diseases such as TB, malaria, and polio; access to reproductive and children’s health; incentive strategies and health outcomes production; health financing; impact of globalization on public health; health planning and management; privatization of medical education.

Field excursions are an integral part of the India: Public Health, Policy Advocacy, and Community program. You will visit rural and tribal communities, NGO headquarters, academic and research institutes, and hospitals in urban and rural sites across northern India; lectures will be held onsite.

Local meeting in India

Most excursions are to underprivileged areas and aim to provide a better understanding of how caste- and gender-based oppression affects the lives of the poor in otherwise thriving India. Excursion destinations may include Dharamsala, Jamkhed, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Nainital, Varanasi (Benares), Satoli, and Bahraich.

Excursions provide you with wonderful opportunities to interact with community leaders and victims of health inequalities. You will learn firsthand about the struggle to survive and challenges in acquiring adequate healthcare.

As part of the excursions, you will participate in health awareness and healthcare work implemented by partner NGOs.


The visit to Bahraich orients you to the three levels of healthcare delivery in India. During the Bahraich excursion you will visit and observe all levels of public healthcare delivery institutions: sub-centers, primary health centers, community health centers (primary level), and secondary-level district hospitals and women’s hospitals. You will also get opportunities to interact with doctors, paramedic staff, patients, village health workers, women, children, and community leaders in forest villages on the Nepal border.

The Bahraich excursion includes visits to the following healthcare facilities:

  • District government civil and women’s hospitals
  • A community health center
  • A primary health center 
  • A health sub-center in a small hamlet nearby



The main objective of the visit to Udaipur is to introduce you to the catalytic role of NGOs in connecting people with health services. After the adoption of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in India, the role of NGOs has expanded dramatically. NGOs also work as research and policy advocacy organizations in the public health sector.

The excursion to Udaipur focuses on the health issues of marginalized groups in India. You will be exposed to remote tribal populations and their healthcare needs and concerns.

The excursion to Udaipur incorporates visits to the following NGOs:

  • Seva Mandir (Udaipur)
    The visit will start with an introductory session at Seva Mandir’s campus in Udaipur. Seva Mandir staff will brief you about the organization’s core values, challenges in addressing public health issues, and their areas of work, including their role in promoting pre- and postnatal care in remote locations. You will then visit remote locations in tribal areas of Udaipur district. The organization has trained traditional birth attendants in remote villages. You will get to meet and interact with traditional birth attendants (TBAs) and accredited social health activists (ASHA) at village level. You will also visit malnutrition treatment corner (MTC) in the Udaipur-based medical school to understand issues and challenges.


  • KIRAN Centre
    This organization was founded in September 1990 by a small group of individuals from various social, cultural, and religious backgrounds. It is a center for children and youth with conditions such as polio, cerebral palsy, rickets, and hearing impairments. The center provides education, skills, vocational training, and physical rehabilitation. Kiran literally means “ray of light.”

Jamkhed (Maharashtra)

  • The Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP) Jamkhed, Ahmad Nagar, Maharashtra
    CRHP has been working among the rural poor and marginalized in Jamkhed, Ahmed Nagar District, Maharashtra, for more than 37 years. It is considered the best community health project in India. By partnering with village communities and expanding upon local knowledge and resources, the project aims to effectively meet the immediate and long-term needs of underprivileged groups, especially women. Guided by the values of compassion, justice, respect, and trust, CRHP works to empower people, families, and communities, regardless of caste, race, or religion, through integrated efforts in health and development.

Dr. Azim Khan, Academic Director

Azim KhanDr. Azim Khan has been working as an academic director since spring 2008. He is an academic by training, with a zeal for social activism. He received his doctorate from Aligarh Muslim University in India. His doctoral thesis focused on sex-selective abortions and the effectiveness of prenatal diagnostic techniques (regulation and prevention of misuse) legislation in India. He earned an MA in human rights from the University of London in 2005, an LLM (Master of Laws) in 1997 from Aligarh Muslim University, and an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) with distinction in constitutional law, from the University of Lucknow in 1994.

Dr. Khan received the prestigious Ford Foundation International Fellowship for human rights in 2003 for academic excellence, leadership, and commitment to community. He has worked with various colleges and universities in India and the US for almost 16 years, teaching human rights, public health, and development. Dr. Khan’s previous experiences in these fields include working as a consultant and researcher with several NGOs and international organizations, including UN OHCHR and UN CERD on a pro bono basis. He was a major contributor and leading person in drafting the UN CERD shadow report (2006) on India. Dr. Khan has previously been affiliated with SIT as a facilitator of the World Learning and Ford Foundation Leadership for Social Justice (LSJ) program in Washington, DC. In 2007, he was awarded a Scholar of Peace fellowship by the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his research in Gujarat. More recently, he worked as a media specialist in the South Asia bureau of the US government. Dr. Khan occasionally contributes to newspapers and academic journals on contemporary issues in India. He has also been a host of a popular weekly show for ETV on contemporary social justice and human rights issues.

Dr. Khan is a co-founder of several public health, education, and development organizations and is widely respected in civil society for his contributions as an academic and practitioner.

Dr. Jayanti Singh, Senior Faculty

Jayanti Singh

Dr. Jayanti Singh is a medical doctor and is currently associated with the Intensified Malaria Control Project II and other programs related to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. She provides monitoring and evaluation support for the seven northeastern states of India as part of her work with the Global Fund. Previously, Dr. Singh designed and executed a midline assessment study of the impact of nurses’ training on holistic care for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHAs) for India’s national AIDS control program.

Dr. Singh worked for UNICEF’s polio eradication program for four years. She dealt with the challenges of a varied population — including an influx of laborers — and tenuous infrastructure in the state of Uttar Pradesh. She represented UNICEF’s polio eradication program during the 2009 annual meeting of the US Fund for UNICEF in New York. Prior to joining UNICEF, Dr. Singh was in charge of surveillance and operations with the World Health Organization’s national polio surveillance project in India. As deputy director of immunization for PATH, she organized Japanese encephalitis immunization campaigns in close coordination with the Indian government. Dr. Singh served as the in-house physician for the national Indian women’s soccer team during the Asian Championship in 2000.

Dr. Rajeev Bijalwan

Dr. Rajeev Bijalwan is a public health professional from the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in India. He has extensive experience working with health programs and on public health issues. He is very knowledgeable about traditional medicine and global public health issues and challenges. His specialization is in the area of health policy, planning, and program management.

Dr. Bijalwan has an undergraduate degree in Ayurveda and a master's degree in international health management and development from the University of Birmingham, UK. Since September 2008, he has been vice president of the Global Education and Health Forum. He has worked on multiple research studies, some of which have been published. His primary interests lie in the areas of traditional healthcare, public health, institutional development, and health policy planning. He has been invited to various forums and to serve on various committees as an expert.

Dr. Bijalwan has assisted the state government in the planning of various interventions under the National Rural Health Mission and is supporting the state in developing future interventions under the Urban Health Mission. At present, he is working as a public health consultant with the Himalayan Institute of Hospital Trust, a graduate medical college and hospital at Dehradun in Uttarakhand.

Abid Siraj, Academic Coordinator

Abid Siraj

Abid has been working in public health for several years. He holds a master’s degree in social work, with a specialization in reproductive and child health. His diverse knowledge about public health in India, his vast network of connections, and his everlasting patience and smiling face are wonderful additions to the SIT program. Abid assists the academic director with lectures and excursions and helps students develop their Independent Study Project research proposals.

Abid previously worked for a USAID-funded project on the role of local self-government in the promotion of reproductive and child health. He served as project coordinator of another USAID-funded project, the Community-Based Distribution Project of Family Planning Methods. He was part of a pioneering team that implemented a flagship public health program for the Government of India’s National Rural Health Mission in Rajasthan. Abid was also involved with one of UNICEF’s largest communications and social mobilization initiatives, the intensive immunization of pulse polio, which took place in Uttar Pradesh. He has also been a visiting faculty member for SIT Study Abroad programs.

Bhavna Singh, Co-Director of Language Studies

Bhava Singh

Bhavna has been working with SIT Study Abroad since spring 2004 as senior Hindi faculty. Bhavna and Goutam Merh together form the critical lead team that inspires students to speak and dream in Hindi starting in the earliest days of the program. Her stunning elocution inspires students, and her strong commitment to each student never goes unnoticed. She holds a BA from Lucknow University and recently completed a postgraduate diploma in rural development, with a specialization in public health in India.

Bhavna previously conducted weeklong Hindi language workshops for Japanese and Canadian students. She is fluent in English, Hindi, Rajasthani, Avadhi, and Nepalese. Outside of teaching hours, she is an excellent athlete and Kathak dancer.

Goutam Merh, Co-Director of Language Studies

Goutam Merh

Goutam earned a master’s degree from Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India, in 1989. He has been teaching Hindi for more than 12 years for various American study abroad programs in India. He also has worked with Antioch University’s Buddhist studies program in Bodh Gaya, India, and for On-Site Language Service’s International Language Learning program. Before joining the Health and Human Rights program, Goutam worked with the India: Sustainable Development and Social Change program, SIT’s program located in Jaipur, where he was senior Hindi faculty and excursion coordinator for two years. He has a keen sense of humor that keeps the classrooms lively, and he is extraordinarily helpful to students during excursions and field studies.

Goutam, who is fluent in Hindi, Bangala, Gujarati, Bhojpuri, Brij, and English, is an expert on Indian culture and development issues.

Ms. Archna Merh, Senior Language Faculty and Student Affairs Coordinator

Archna Merh Archna Merh has been teaching with SIT Study Abroad programs in India since the fall of 2008, most recently with the India: Sustainable Development and Social Change program based in Jaipur. She holds a master’s degree in English literature and a bachelor's in education (BEd) from Rajasthan University. She has taught for various American study abroad programs for more than 12 years. She is also affiliated with On-Site Language Services Inc., an international program based in the US. Ms. Merh has in-depth knowledge of Indian cultures and traditions. She is fluent in Hindi, Gujarati, and English. She actively assists her students with cross-cultural learning in class and during excursions. With her extroverted nature, Ms. Merh is a great resource and source of support for students. Her favorite pastimes include dancing, reading, and traveling.

Meenu Bhambhani, Lecturer

Meenu Bhambhani is well known in India as a disability rights and social justice activist. She is head of global corporate social responsibility for Mphasis, which is based in Bengluru. Meenu has previously been an Independent Study Project advisor for SIT Study Abroad students, and a lecturer. In 2009, Meenu was awarded the prestigious NCPEDP-Shell Helen Keller Award. As a disability activist she has promoted employment for persons with disabilities, and she has been recognized as a role model for persons with disabilities.

homestay familyBy living with Indian host families, you will have an excellent opportunity to practice language skills and share daily life, including many memorable meals. You may also experience special cultural activities, including religious ceremonies and weddings.

New Delhi

You will live with a carefully selected homestay family in New Delhi for approximately nine weeks. Families are typically middle class and of various sizes and religious backgrounds. A majority of host families have multiple generations living under one roof and are typically located in residential neighborhoods where transportation, shopping, and Internet resources are easily accessible. Most homestay families are at a distance of 20 minutes’ commute by Delhi Metro — known for its punctuality and comfort. The program center is located a walkable distance from the metro station.

In addition to providing unique living experiences, homestay families are trained by program staff to understand SIT program policies and procedures with regard to student health and safety. Furthermore, the program has a policy of putting two students of the same gender in one home. Two students living in one home and traveling to and from program activities together helps enhance the safety of students. In the event of an emergency, families are equipped to respond. Over the course of the semester, the homestay coordinator and academic director will check in regularly with you and your homestay family.

Rural homestay

Some of the students opting for rural workshops have an opportunity to live for a week with local Himalayan communities in the remote villages of the Nainital district in Uttarakhand state.

Other accommodations include NGO guest houses, hostels, educational institutions, or small hotels.

A diversity of students representing different colleges, universities, and majors study abroad on this program. Many of them have gone on to do amazing things that connect back to their experience abroad with SIT. Learn what some of them are now doing.

Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:

  • Co-Founder, Broad Street Maps, Seattle, Washington
  • Fulbright Nehru Fellow conducting research on the rehabilitation of drug-addicted youth, India 
  • Boren Fellow studying Hindi and conducting independent research on sanitation, infection, and nutrition, India
  • MD and MPH students at Yale University and Johns Hopkins University

Program Dates: Fall 2016

Program Arrival Date:  Aug 28, 2016

Program Departure Date:    Dec 10, 2016

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Jun 1, 2016


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $14,755

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers
  • Field Methods and Ethics course on research methods and Human Subjects Review
  • Intensive language instruction in Hindi
  • All educational excursions, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food) 
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $4,220

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (New Delhi), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay. 
  • All homestays (nine weeks in New Delhi and one week in a remote Himalayan village)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $ 211

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $ 100

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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