South Africa | Study Abroad | Community Health | Public Policy | Zulu

South Africa: Community Health and Social Policy

Examine community-based health concerns from a South African perspective, exploring the roles of the South African state, the media, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) mobilizing existing assets on a community level.

This program focuses on topics such as health communication strategies, prenatal care, access to healthcare, and health education. You will consider how various health paradigms — ranging from biomedical to holistic — and health policies have achieved mixed results in addressing the healthcare needs of South African people.

Major topics of study include:

  • Healthcare delivery in rural South Africa, including the practice of prevention and promotion of healthcare
  • The role of the media in promoting, communicating, or influencing health issues in South Africa
  • The ways in which specific health issues in South Africa are being targeted or addressed
  • Rural health and social justice
  • The pharmaceutical industry
  • Traditional healing

Examine community healthcare concerns from a South African perspective.

The program explores the ways health issues are studied, communicated, and addressed, emphasizing the role of research, the influence of media, the roles of the state and private enterprise, and the agency of community members.

Johannesburg and Cape Town

Fall semesters start in Johannesburg and spring semesters start in Cape Town to take advantage of weather conditions. Highlights of the program’s time in Johannesburg include a guided tour of the Constitutional Court Precinct, a visit to the Voortrekker Monument, and a three-day wildlife experience on the banks of the crocodile river in Kruger National Park

Highlights of the program’s time in Cape Town include a Cape Point tour including Boulders Beach penguin colony, a hike up Table Mountain, and a visit to an ostrich farm.

Student with public health worker in South AfricaDurban as Program Base

In Durban, health services range from traditional healers to state-of-the-art hospitals. The city faces public health challenges of immense proportions, and it lies near the epicenter of southern Africa’s HIV pandemic. Cultural views on health and varying levels of wealth and education influence access to and acceptance of public health services.

In this context, you will be challenged to articulate Durban and South Africa’s health complexities in a balanced way. You will learn how to be critical consumers of medical research papers and media reports on health. You will also be encouraged to think more broadly about the perceived dichotomy between Western and traditional medical practices and to appreciate the importance of acceptability and accessibility.

Community Health and Social Policy Lecture Series

Through the program’s community health and social policy lecture series, you will learn about a selected range of diseases, prevention programs, and health interventions. Lecturers include academics, healthcare workers, and researchers. Regular discussion and reflection sessions will help you assimilate multiple viewpoints and articulate complex understandings. The course is divided into modules on approaches and practices of community health, emphasizing how each informs the other.

isiZulu Language Instruction

You will receive 45 class hours of language instruction in isiZulu, focusing on beginning speaking and comprehension skills. You will also have the opportunity to practice isiZulu with host family members during the homestays.

Independent Study Project

For four weeks, you will conduct original research on a topic of particular interest to you that is relevant in the context of South Africa. The Independent Study Project (ISP) is conducted in Durban or in another approved location appropriate to the project. You will choose between a research- or practicum-based Independent Study Project. Practicum options include observation in community health organizations or on a community-based social-science study project. Ethical health research can be done by students who develop relationships of trust in a community, but access to medical facilities is only possible on a volunteer practicum basis with no research permissible.

Sample topic areas for the ISP include:

  • Community inventory of prenatal healthcare assets
  • Sociological consequences of HIV/AIDS
  • The discourse of public health education campaigns
  • Sustainable development and healthcare 
  • Local attitudes about access to healthcare facilities
  • The role of indigenous healing practices in contemporary South Africa
  • Music and its effects on HIV-positive South Africans
  • Mental health issues and available healthcare
  • Reproductive health in rural South Africa
  • A historical review of food security and nutrition programs in a community-based NGO
  • African refugees’ and asylum seekers’ access to health services
  • Analysis of the proposed National Health Insurance scheme

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Browse this program's Independent Study Projects/Undergraduate Research

Through the interdisciplinary coursework in this program, students examine contemporary public health issues in South Africa through a multidisciplinary lens, while analyzing the historical, political, economic, cultural, and geographic forces that shape the history of public health interventions in South Africa. Through the Social and Community Health Research Methods seminar, students learn to be critical consumers of medical research papers and media reports on health, to gather primary data on health issues through questioning and observation, and to conduct ethical, culturally appropriate research in preparation for the Independent Study Project (ISP). Through language study and homestays, students gain a unique window into the culture and insights into community healthcare.

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. 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.

Approaches to Community Health in South Africa – syllabus
(IPBH3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
An interdisciplinary course conducted in English. Students gain exposure to essential social, historical, and political features of South Africa to provide a common frame of reference to engage with the program theme. Through lectures from academics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, readings, and selected site visits, students critically examine topics related to health promotion and provision, including the pharmaceutical industry, traditional healing, rural health and social justice, and the role of the media in promoting, communicating, or influencing health issues in South Africa.
The Practice and Provision of Community Health in South Africa – syllabus
(IPBH3005 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Through a combination of lectures, practicum experience, appropriate readings, and site visits in urban and rural locales, students examine the practice of prevention and promotion of healthcare, come to understand healthcare delivery in rural South Africa, and examine and assess specific health issues in South Africa and how they are being targeted or addressed.
isiZulu – syllabus
(ZULU1000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
The emphasis is on beginning speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction. Practice with host family members during the homestays augments formal instruction.
Social and Community Health Research Methods – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
A course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience, providing students with core tools in public health research. 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 field journal.
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 120 hours)
Conducted in Durban or in another approved location appropriate to the project. Sample topic areas: sociological consequences of HIV/AIDS; a historical review of food security and nutrition programs in a community-based NGO; public health education campaigns; African refugees' and asylum seekers' access to health services; analysis of the proposed National Health Insurance scheme; sustainable development and healthcare; local attitudes about access to healthcare facilities; indigenous healing practices.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Student group visiting hospital in South AfricaDurban Hospitals or Clinics

You will visit a number of hospitals or clinics in Durban, in small groups. This is an opportunity to directly observe the varying quality of healthcare facilities, invariably noting the great work done by dedicated health workers who provide the best service they can, often in difficult circumstances.

Special Needs Schools

The South African apartheid government set up a number of special needs schools for whites only. Most of these schools have since been transformed into multiracial schools, but the number of schools remains insufficient.

The current government wants to move toward inclusion, closing specialized schools and having students attend regular schools. You will consider the resources, challenges, and benefits associated with special needs schools and discuss the cost-benefit of special education. For comparison, you will also visit a traditional school.

Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)

You will visit a number of NGOs that deliver health services in spaces that government does not. You will consider the challenges governments can face in delivering services on a small scale in holistic ways.

In the past, NGOs like The Valley Trust provided primary healthcare to black communities that the apartheid government neglected and oppressed; presently, these NGOs continue to provide services working in tandem with government and funders in areas that are difficult to operate in. Other NGOs, including Onevoice, work in government schools to complement the life skills programs in the curriculum and make an impact regarding behavioral changes necessitated by the HIV epidemic.  

zed mcgladderyZed McGladdery, Academic Director

Zed McGladdery received his BProc in law from the University of Natal, a higher diploma in education (postgraduate) from the University of South Africa, and an honors degree in African studies at the University of Cape Town. Born in Zimbabwe, and having lived in South Africa for twenty years, he has experienced the change from colonialism to democracy firsthand and is deeply invested in the subcontinent. His teaching experience includes courses on "street law" for homeless orphans, high school English (as a first and second language), and accounting and business economics. Zed also served as deputy principal at a socioeconomically disadvantaged school at Simon's Town, South Africa. His education abroad publications focus on host-student interactions in study abroad and teaching racialization, and he has presented at the International Education South Africa Conference. Zed recently volunteered with African Health Placements, a nonprofit that places medical practitioners in underserved communities, assisting with their orientation program. Zed worked with the SIT Cape Town program from 1995 to 2006 and has served as the academic director of the SIT Community Health and Social Policy program since fall 2006.

Clive Bruzas, PhD, Academic Coordinator

Dr. Clive Bruzas has a PhD in policy and development studies and an MComm in community, higher education, and service partnerships from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He also has a certificate in primary healthcare service management from the University of the Witwatersrand. Until recently, he was senior manager of the monitoring, evaluation, and research division at The Valley Trust, one of South Africa’s oldest NGOs. During his nearly 28 years at The Valley Trust, he gained extensive experience in health promotion, community development, food security, and organizational development and was active in several partnership programs with institutions of higher education both provincially and nationally. Foremost among these was the Community, Higher Education, and Service Partnership Program, which aimed “to support South African higher education institutions to engage in the development of historically disadvantaged communities through the development of appropriate institutional policies, strategies, organizational structures, and accredited mainstream academic programmes.” He is particularly passionate about qualitative inquiry, with a focus on the use of arts-based approaches; environmental issues; and the often-neglected role that NGOs can play in knowledge creation and sharing.

Lecturers for this program typically include:

Professor Andy Gray

Professor Andy Gray is a pharmacist whose research interests include policy analysis (the development and implementation of national drug policies), rational medicines use (in the elderly and in relation to antimicrobial use), and the application of highly active antiretroviral therapy in resource-constrained settings. He is a senior lecturer in the Department of Therapeutics and Medicines Management, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, in Durban. He is also consultant pharmacist for the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa.
Professor Gray is a fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa, a past president of the South African Association of Hospital and Institutional Pharmacists, and current president of the Hospital Pharmacy Section of the International Pharmaceutical Federation.

Additionally, he has been appointed to the Scheduling and Naming Expert Committee of the South African Medicines Control Council. He has been a temporary advisor to the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines and has been appointed as a member of the WHO Expert Panel on Drug Policies and Management. He is currently a trustee of LIFELab, the East Coast Biotechnology Regional Innovation Centre Trust.

Widely published, Professor Gray has served as a reviewer for the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice, Social Science and Medicine, South African Family Practice, International Journal of Infectious Diseases, Pharmacy World and Science, Health Research Policy and Systems, Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, and the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, as well as for the Health Systems Trust, National Research Foundation, and Medical Research Council. He has also been a member of the editorial committee of the South African Health Review. He has been actively involved in the development and assessment of medicines and other health-related law in South Africa.

Ms. Zandile Wanda-Mthembu

Zandile Wanda-Mthembu obtained a bachelor’s in social science in psychology and a master’s in sociology, research, and policy studies from the University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg campus). Zandile is now working on her PhD in public health. She has also completed certificate courses in good clinical practice, basic and advanced counseling, ethics and clinical trials, first aid, and basic facilitation skills.

Zandile has extensive work experience in the fields of TB, HIV, and AIDS. She has worked for the UKZN International Office as a short-term programs coordinator as well as for the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) as the VCT and post-test support services coordinator. Previously, she also worked for BroadReach Healthcare International as the KZN regional coordinator on the ART Programme and the KZN Provincial Department of Health where she was employed as the provincial TB advocacy, communications, and social mobilization manager. In this role, Zandile utilized research methods to identify the gaps in knowledge, attitudes, and practices that hindered the success of the TB program; out of that experience, she developed a provincial TB communications strategy. She later worked as the life-skills director for PeacePlayers International where she developed HIV-specific curricula for children and young adults. Zandile has also worked as a senior assessor for PEPFAR-funded projects in South Africa. Currently, she is working with the Office of the Presidency, evaluating the effectiveness of public health and social development initiatives.

Zandile’s academic interests include the social aspects of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Originally from Pietermaritzburg, KZN, Zandile is married to Nhlanhla Mthembu and has two children, Sibahle and Siphesihle.

Professor Yunus Moosa, PhD

Yunus Moosa is an associate professor, chief specialist, and head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He obtained his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. He trained in clinical infectious diseases and obtained a PhD in immunology and microbiology at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. His research interests include immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome, smear negative tuberculosis, and anti-retroviral drug resistance.

Professor Indres Moodley, PhD

Professor Moodley is the director of the Health Outcomes Research Unit based in the Department of Community Health at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal. Prior to joining the Department of Community Health, he was involved in drug discovery research in London, Paris, and various institutions in the United States. In 1995, he was appointed as chair and head of the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at the Medical School, University of the Witwatersrand. In 2000, he was invited to join the Pharmacia Corporation in South Africa as director of health economics and later also jointly held the position of medical affairs director.

Pranitha Maharaj, PhD

Dr. Pranitha Maharaj is a senior lecturer at the School of Development Studies and the academic coordinator of the master’s in population studies program. She holds a doctorate in epidemiology and population health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom. Before joining the School of Development Studies she was a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.

Since joining the School of Development Studies, she has assumed principal managerial responsibility for the South African leg of a three-year, multi-country study funded by the World Health Organization (WHO), which included a period of extensive fieldwork, community outreach activities, and widespread dissemination of results. The rich qualitative and quantitative data emanating from the WHO project formed the basis for her PhD studies and a number of subsequent research outputs.

Over the past few years she has also successfully managed to secure additional research funding from a number of organizations including South African Netherlands Partnership for Development (SANPAD), International Centre for Research on Women, Mellon Foundation, WHO, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Dr. Maharaj has managed to accumulate many years of teaching experience at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level and has also successfully supervised 20 master’s dissertations. In addition, she has been requested to examine a number of master’s and doctoral dissertations at various universities in South Africa. In 2007 she was awarded the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship to carry out scholarly work in Europe. As part of the scholarship, she spent three months teaching at Linkoping University in Sweden.

Dr. Maharaj’s research focuses mainly on the area of sexual and reproductive health, especially HIV/AIDS and family planning. She is currently involved in a number of research projects in this area and has published numerous scientific articles in local and international peer-reviewed journals, abstracts, research reports, and chapters in books.

Stephen Knight, PhD

Dr. Stephen Knight is a public health medicine physician and senior lecturer in the discipline of public health medicine at the School of Nursing in Public Health, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal. After graduating from the University of Witwatersrand with a BSc (Med) and an MB and BCh in 1976, he worked for 10 years as a clinician and hospital manager in rural settings in KwaZulu-Natal (Charles Johnson Hospital, Nqutu & Bethesda Hospital, Ubombo), during which time he completed diplomas in tropical medicine and hygiene, public health, and primary healthcare education at Wits University. His specialist training as a public health medicine physician (FCPHM (SA) 1993) was completed in Durban, after which he was appointed medical director of the Amatikulu Primary Health Training Centre and Nyoni and public health medicine physician at the Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital, Durban. He was seconded to the medical school in 1998 to develop the Master of Public Health programme and became a senior lecturer in the department in 2003.

His academic interests include epidemiology and infectious disease control, climate and health and public health education. He is an executive member of the Public Health Association of South Africa and the College of Public Health Medicine (SA).

Steve Reid, PhD

Steve Reid is a family physician with extensive experience in clinical practice, education, and research in the field of rural health in South Africa. As a conscientious objector to military service in the 1980s at Bethesda Hospital in north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal, he was involved in community initiatives in health in the Bethesda health ward and completed his master’s thesis in family medicine on the topic of the community involvement of rural clinic nurses. Moving back to Durban after 10 years, he established a vocational training program for rural doctors at McCord Hospital. He then took up the position of director of a research unit called the Centre for Health and Social Studies (CHESS) at the University of Natal and, with his team, pursued a number of training and operational research projects in rural districts around KwaZulu-Natal focused on strengthening the district health system.

In 2001 the center was re-named the Centre for Rural Health, and Steve was appointed associate professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, with responsibility for community-based education and rural health. He teaches undergraduate and postgraduate students in public health, family medicine, and health promotion around the theme of Community-Oriented Primary Care (COPC). He has published extensively on the issue of compulsory community service and is currently involved in numerous research projects in the field of rural health, including medical education, human resources for health, and HIV and AIDS. As director of the Centre for Rural Health, he led and facilitated numerous projects in health systems in rural areas, including in management support, use of information, anti-retroviral provision, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, recruitment and retention of staff, and primary healthcare. He completed a PhD in education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on the topic of education for rural medical practice.

In January 2010, he took up the post of Glaxo-Wellcome Chair of Primary Health Care at the University of Cape Town. As custodians of the faculty’s lead theme of PHC, the unit is involved in teaching and research around this theme. He plans to extend this role to support UCT medical and health science graduates to become more relevant and appropriately skilled in Africa.

Professor Nceba Gqaleni, PhD

Professor Nceba Gqaleni trained as a biochemist at the former University of Natal. He obtained his doctorate at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland in 1996. His area of research was on applied or environmental microbiology. He is a National Research Foundation rated researcher with an interest in mycotoxins and indoor air quality, particularly bioaerosols and aeroallergens. He is currently leader of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Medical School’s traditional medicine program and has been appointed chair of its indigenous healthcare systems research program, funded by the Department of Science and Technology and administered by the National Research Foundation. 

Professor Gqaleni has also held various positions within the faculty, including director of the Doris Duke Medical Research Institute, acting dean, and deputy dean. He has served on various national and international bodies, including on the Presidential Task Team on African Traditional Medicine; the Expert Committee on the bio-prospecting program in South Africa under the National Department of Science and Technology; and the WHO African Regional Office’s committee on traditional medicine. He has also been chair of the Traditional Medicines Research Platform.

I felt truly at home in South Africa, and I cannot thank my friends and family enough for their immediate and all-embracing hospitality and love during my time with them. They opened up to me the way I hoped they would, and we were able to learn from each other in innumerable ways.

Margaret Variano, Tulane University

Homestay mothers in Cato Manor, South Africa

Living with South African families is one of the most important and meaningful aspects of the program. In the homestays, you will learn more about the issues facing Zulu South Africans and develop relationships across lines of nation, class, and/or ethnicity. You will consider the need for health interventions for the majority of South Africans who cannot afford private healthcare and also consider the issue of healthcare accessibility and acceptability.

The main homestay is a five-week stay with isiZulu-speaking families in or close to the township of Cato Manor, near Durban, and within sight of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Families have been hosting SIT students in this community for more than ten years and take pride in ensuring that students are safe and welcome. During these weeks, you will have time to establish relationships of trust and learn the joys and struggles of living in a community facing multiple challenges.

Homestay in South Africa

You will also experience three additional short (three-night) homestays in the rural areas of Umthwalume, Nzinga, and Sandanezwe. You will stay in pairs with a variety of families. The homestay site of Umthwalume, near Hibberdene on the southern coast, is particularly picturesque, with cattle grazing on the slopes near the Indian Ocean. Here, you will experience the realities associated with high unemployment in an area where chiefs (Indunas) still hold sway over the clan. Nzinga and Sandanezwe are remote rural areas quite far from the nearest hospital, raising interesting questions about healthcare access for its residents.

The program also offers a three-night homestay excursion to Chatsworth where you will stay among South Africans of Indian origin.

Other accommodations during the program include hostels, private homes, 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:

  • Program Coordinator, Unite for Sight, New Haven, Connecticut
  • Graduate Student (Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner),Boston College, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Fulbright Scholar in South Africa

Joel Burt-Miller, a senior at Brandeis University and 2015 alumnus, has received a 2016 Fulbright grant to teach English in India.

Program Dates: Fall 2016

Program Arrival Date:  Aug 22, 2016

Program Departure Date:    Dec 4, 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:   May 15, 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: $15,940

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Approaches to Community Health in South Africa
    • The Practice and Provision of Community Health in South Africa
  • Social and Community Health Research Methods seminar on research methods, field study ethics, and Human Subjects Review
  • Intensive language instruction in isiZulu
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Johannesburg and several areas in urban and rural KwaZulu-Natal, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $2,810

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 (Durban), 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 (including five weeks in Durban and three short rural and suburban homestays)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly or 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: $ 88

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $ 50

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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