Madagascar | Summer Abroad | Traditional Medicine | Public Health

Madagascar: Traditional Medicine and Healthcare Systems (Summer)

Examine how historical circumstances, geography, and demographics shape and inform the delivery of traditional and allopathic healthcare systems in Madagascar.

In this program, students learn firsthand about forms of treatment, methods of diagnosis, questions of access, and the education and training of healthcare professionals in urban and rural areas of Madagascar. From discussions with leading academics and allopathic doctors, students explore the complexity of current debates over alternative and allopathic healthcare practices, not only in Madagascar, but globally.

Major topics of study include:

  • Current healthcare models in Madagascar and debate the social and political dimensions of healthcare delivery
  • Postcolonial history and contemporary Malagasy politics as applied to healthcare policy and delivery
  • The strong links between global healthcare challenges and economic, social, environmental, and political factors
  • Ethnobotany, home and folk remedies, and the extent to which health beliefs are grounded in cultural and religious practices of local communities
I came to Madagascar on this program expecting to learn the names of medicinal plants and understand the mechanisms behind their efficacy, but instead I learned so much more than that. I’ve learned about the communal, spiritual, and traditional aspects of health. I learned that one cannot separate these pivotal things from medicine.

Shenna Bannish, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Students meeting with Madagascar’s Minister of Public Health, Dr Johanita Ndahimananjara.Communities in Madagascar, the world's fourth-largest island, have a vibrant engagement with plant-based medicine and, today, traditional medicine remains widely practiced throughout the country. Based in the capital city of Antananarivo, students explore healthcare in both urban and rural areas to discover how cultural, economic, and political dimensions and physical geographies provide the necessary context for understanding varied Malagasy approaches to healthcare. 

Through lectures, educational excursions, and deep cultural interaction, students examine topics including:

  • Malagasy cultural assumptions and practices 
  • Ethical issues in healthcare delivery 
  • Post-colonial history and contemporary Malagasy politics as applied to healthcare policy and delivery

Antananarivo and Beyond

Commonly referred to as "Tana," Madagascar's capital is a sprawling, labyrinthine city of more than three million people, although at times it can feel much smaller. The city boasts an interesting mix of nineteenth century Malagasy and more recent European influences, evident in the city's layout, architecture, economy, attitude, and atmosphere. Madagascar's capital is a beautiful city built on hills, with distinct neighborhoods, bustling open-air markets, intriguing paths, and seemingly endless staircases that wind their way among the hills.

The program also includes time in provincial areas, allowing students to view the varied facets of Malagasy society and culture through multiple lenses. In the rural town of Andasibe, a 150 km drive from Tana, students engage with local residents, including traditional healers and allopathic medical doctors, at rural public hospitals in non-clinical settings. In Andasibe students learn more about ethnobotany, home and folk remedies, and the extent to which health beliefs are grounded in traditional religion.

Malagasy lectures at Rova Ambohimanga.Heterogeneous Communities and Natural Environment

The present-day Malagasy people are extremely heterogeneous due to their diverse roots: their ancestors arrived on the island from various parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Today, the Malagasy have been categorized into 18 official ethnic groups, but many distinctions between various groups remain unclear or subject to debate. 

Madagascar is also well known for its exceptional ecological diversity: the island is home to extraordinary flora and fauna much of which is unique to this country and plays a distinctive role in traditional healthcare practices.  

Use French and Learn Malagasy

All students will receive intensive instruction in Malagasy, and students with a background in French will have many opportunities to apply their French language skills while in Tana. (Note: There is no language prerequisite for the program.) 

I’ve come out of this program with field experience and methodology training in anthropology (medical and cultural) and language skills. I’ve also gained a deeper understanding of the complexities of healthcare and can now evaluate medicine and human interactions with the environment through several new lenses.

 Margaret Broughton, Eastern Kentucky University


None, although students with a background in French will have many opportunities to use their French language skills.

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The Social and Political Dimensions of Health and the Healthcare Practice in Madagascar seminars are conducted in English and provide an introduction to the cultural, political, and socioeconomic contexts of healthcare as well as healthcare practices in Madagascar. University professors and experts in relevant fields will teach the classes. Students will visit rural and urban allopathic healthcare centers, herbalist markets, schools of medicine, and medical research institutions as well as other historically, culturally, and thematically relevant sites. 

Coursework in Malagasy language provides students with the foundational and essential tools required for daily use. Students with a background in French will have many opportunities to apply their language skills in Antananarivo.

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.

Social and Political Dimensions of Health – syllabus
(IPBH3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
This course provides an introduction to the cultural, political, and socioeconomic contexts of healthcare in Madagascar, allowing students to understand Malagasy cultural assumptions and practices as they relate to healthcare. The course will also explore the role of post-colonial and contemporary Malagasy politics as applied to healthcare policy and delivery, and introduce students to major economic activities in the formal and informal sectors as they relate to healthcare and access to health systems.
Malagasy – syllabus coming soon
(MALA1003 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Emphasis on beginning speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field-based instruction. In addition to a focus on oral proficiency, the course integrates the program theme of traditional medicine and healthcare systems with Malagasy language learning. Formal instruction is augmented by language practice with host families during homestays.
Healthcare Practice in Madagascar – syllabus
(IPBH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
This course is an examination of healthcare practices in urban and rural settings to understand traditional and allopathic healthcare approaches. Students will explore ethical issues in healthcare delivery and the roles of healthcare delivery professionals and informal healthcare practice in overall healthcare issues in the different systems.

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

The juxtaposition of contrasting healthcare structures seen in visits to traditional and allopathic doctors and also both types of practitioners in both urban and rural environments gave us the big picture of healthcare practices in this country.

Melissa Delia, University of Pittsburgh 

Students listening to a traditional medicine vendor at the market in Antananarivo.Educational excursions provide you with deeper insight into the many facets of healthcare delivery in Madagascar. This includes the relationship between cultural beliefs and health delivery; national health policies and their implementation via existing government structures such as ministries and schools; nutrition and sanitation challenges; and the proliferation of non-formal education mechanisms (such as folktales, stories, and taboos) in healthcare practices. You may:

  • Experience the sublime sunset at the Avenue of Baobabs during an excursion to the southwestern coastal town of Morondava.
  • Visit the World Heritage site of Tsingy de Bemaraha in Bekopaka in search of the sacred Hasina plant.
  • Take a nature walk in the National Park at Andasibe to learn about natural remedies (medicinal plants) and simultaneously observe lemurs including the Indri indri, the largest lemur in the world.

At every step of the program, students examine current healthcare models and debate the social and political dimensions of healthcare delivery. This is achieved through thoughtful engagement with Malagasy values and perspectives in both rural and urban settings such as allopathic healthcare centers, local herbalist markets, the University of Antananarivo Pharmacology Department, the Institut Malgache de Recherche Appliqué, a traditional medicine research center, and the Societé de Transformation Malgache et d'Exportation.

The healers and families and doctors who welcomed my fellow students and me into their lives made it possible for me to feel that I now have a deeper understanding of not only healthcare practice in Madagascar but the broader implications of healthcare systems around the globe.

Simone Jacobs. Stanford University

Nat QuansahNat Quansah, PhD, Academic Director

A botanist by training and an ethnobotanist by profession, Dr. Quansah has a PhD in pteridology from the University of London, Goldsmiths College, and an MSc in botany, a BSc Honors, and a diploma in education from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. Dr. Quansah's background includes cutting-edge work in ethnobotany and healthcare, for which he was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2000. He has worked in various cross-cultural contexts researching, advising, and lecturing on a wide range of issues including integrated healthcare, traditional medicine, biological and cultural diversity conservation, sustainable resource use, and rural development. He has developed an integrated healthcare system approach to healthcare development and bio-cultural diversity conservation. His work has consistently involved local and international public education through radio and television documentaries and popular/scientific publications. His recent publications include the volume Nature's Gift to Humanity: Natural Remedies for Selected Common Health Problems (2012) and the article “Maternal Mortality: The need to work with traditional birth attendants to offset the problem” (2012). In addition to serving as academic director for Madagascar: Traditional Medicine and Healthcare Systems, he served as academic director for Tanzania: Zanzibar—Coastal Ecology and Natural Resource Management during the spring 2013, fall 2013, and spring 2014 semesters. Dr. Quansah has been a lecturer with SIT's Madagascar: Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management program since its inception and also served as the academic director for the program in spring 2008. 

View Dr. Quansah's Research

Patricia RandrianavonyPatricia Randrianavony, PhD, Head of the Department of Animal Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Antananarivo; Program Assistant

As program assistant, Patricia Randrianavony coordinates and oversees various aspects of the program logistics, assists in academic coordination, and provides overall program support. A pharmacologist and aesthetician, Patricia is also a lecturer and researcher at the Laboratoire de Pharmacologie Générale, de Pharmacocinétique et de Cosmétologie at the University of Antananarivo, where she earned a DEA and a PhD in pharmacology. A recipient of the Prince Bernhard Scholarship for Nature Conservation in 1993, Patricia has worked with diverse rural communities in Madagascar and Uganda on health and conservation issues. She has participated in many local and international conferences and workshops on traditional medical systems and biodiversity conservation. She served as an advisor to Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda when it was developing a pharmacology laboratory and rural health-care program. Patricia has served as an occasional advisor to SIT Study Abroad students whose ISPs involved laboratory investigation of medicinal plants used in traditional medicine. Her published works include “Integrated Health Care and Biodiversity Conservation in the Manongarivo Special Reserve Area, Madagascar” (1995) and “Nature’s Gift to Humanity: Natural Remedies for Selected Common Health Problems” (2012).

Fana RandimbivololonaProfessor Fana Randimbivololona, Academic Assistant/Coordinator and Lecturer

Fana Randimbivololona assists the program’s academic director in the academic aspects of the semester. A pharmacologist and pharmacokineticist, Fana also teaches standardization techniques of traditional remedies. He holds a PhD in pharmaceutics application from the Ecole de Pharmacie at the Université Catholique de Louvain en Woluwé in Brussels, Belgium. As a senior lecturer and researcher at the University of Antananarivo, Fana established and is current director of the Laboratoire de Pharmacologie Générale, de Pharmacocinétique et de Cosmétologie. He is responsible for the postgraduate program of the Département de Physiologie Animale et Pharmacologie. He has served as the general director and secretary general of Madagascar’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and has participated in many local and international conferences and workshops on traditional medical systems and pharmacology. His published works include “Anti-Inflammatory Activities of Buddleia axillaris (Loganiaceae)” (1999). 

José Narcisse Randria, MD, Program Medical Doctor and Lecturer

José Narcisse Randria is a medical doctor and researcher at the Centre National d’Application des Recherches Pharmaceutique in the Département d’Expérimentation Clinique of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. A practicing medical officer, José holds an MD from the School of Medicine and a DEA in pharmacology from the Département de Physiologie Animale et Pharmacologie, Faculty of Science, both at the University of Antananarivo. He is currently carrying out research on the toxicology and pharmacology of two Malagasy medicinal plants used in traditional medicine.

Martine Razanadraibe, Urban Homestay Coordinator

Martine Razanadraibe is responsible for coordinating the program’s urban homestays. She has lived in Ivandry for more than 35 years and is the wife of the former president of Fokontany of Ivandry. A retired social worker, Martine still works on a voluntary basis with the Ministry of Health and the Red Cross Society on health-related issues involving mothers and children, such as vaccination and HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.

Lucie Razafindramiadana, Rural Homestay Coordinator

Lucie Razafindramiadana coordinates the program’s rural homestays. A native of Andasibe, Lucie holds a General Certificate in English Language and has taught English at CEG, a public college located there. She is also an environmental tour guide and a member of Mitsinjo, a local NGO involved in rural development and local environmental and conservation activities.

Other lecturers for this program include: 

Professor Bernadin Victor Rabarijaona

Bernadin Victor Rabarijaona teaches Malagasy social and cultural anthropology with respect to traditional medicine. Bernadin is a senior lecturer and researcher at the Facultés des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines, Département des Lettres et Langues Malgache, at the University of Antananarivo, where he was responsible for setting up the department’s anthropology laboratory. He has been a consultant to the SIT National Identity and Social Change program since 1992 and serves as an ISP advisor to SIT Study Abroad students. His publications include,“Pole d’excellence: Contes, mythes et traditions populaires Ile Maurice” (2006),“Guide Gallimard” (2006),“Madagascar rubrique” (2007), and “Religion traditionnelle” (2008). 

Dr. Herlyne Ramihantaniarivo

Herlyne Ramihantaniarivo lectures on topics such as access to health care, health-care funding, and poverty and its relation to health care. A practicing physician, Herlyne is Director General at the Ministry of Public Health, Focal Point of Madagascar for Global Funds, and coordinator of Project CURE since 2009. In addition to her MD from the University of Antananarivo School of Medicine, she earned an MPH in health management from the University of Hawaii. She is the founder and president of the Association Zahana, which is involved in rural development programs, including the provision of potable water. She is a member of the Cercle Chrétien de la Santé and the East-West Center Alumni-Hawaii. Herlyne’s presentations at national and international conferences and workshops include, “Use of Traditional Medicine in Reproductive Health Disorders.” 

Nata Bozy

Nata Bozy is a traditional healer who specializes in mother and child health. During the rural homestay period, Nata teaches the use of plants and massage techniques for the prevention and treatment of diseases. 


Telovavy is a traditional healer and a reninjaza (traditional birth attendant). A native of Andasibe II, she is known for her use of medicinal plants in the prevention and treatment of diseases as well as her involvement in maternal health issues in the Andasibe- Moramanga commune. She lectures on the use of medicinal plants in traditional medicine.

I was extremely overwhelmed with the hospitality of my Tana family; they did anything and everything for me and were so kind

Lindsay Barter, University of Florida 

SIT student meeting her homestay family in Tana.Antananarivo (Tana)

Students experience contemporary Malagasy perspectives and cultural values through a three-and-a-half-week homestay in Tana with a middle income family. In Madagascar's capital city, students will be exposed to an array of urban issues and will witness the influence of globalization and other international forces, including the media, business, and capitalism, on middle-class Malagasy life.  

During the homestay, students observe the importance of family in Malagasy culture and witness firsthand the concept of ancestor veneration and its importance in everyday lives.  

Through cultural experiences within their homestay, students gain an understanding of the deep connections urban Malagasy have to their ancestral villages. The importance of clan in Malagasy culture becomes evident, and the homestay highlights the manner in which these identifications affect society and politics in Madagascar today.  


Students will spend ten days in rural Andasibe, located in the center-east of Madagascar. Through direct immersion in a rural environment, students are exposed to the challenges facing Malagasy rural families and communities, including access to healthcare, education, and government services. During this part of the program, students also have the chance to engage with Malagasy peers, master’s students of the Pharmacology Department. Together, the students travel and have activities such as lectures; discussions with medical doctors, traditional medicine healers, and specialists; and visits to health centers and public and private parks. 

In Andasibe, students experience the concept of village interconnectedness and witness Malagasy social responsibilities in a rural setting.

Program Dates: Summer 2017

Program Arrival Date:  Jun 13, 2017

Program Departure Date:    Jul 27, 2017

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:   Apr 1, 2017

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: $7,500

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who instruct students in:
    • The Madagascar healthcare system in both urban and rural areas and the effect of geography as well as cultural, economic, and political dimensions on health delivery
    • Malagasy cultural assumptions and practices
    • Ethical issues in healthcare delivery
    • Post-colonial and contemporary Malagasy politics as applied to healthcare policy and delivery
    • Traditional medicine practices in Madagascar
    • Basic introduction to everyday spoken Malagasy
  • All educational excursions to locations such as rural and urban allopathic healthcare centers, local herbalist markets, the University of Antananarivo's School of Medicine, the University of Antananarivo Faculty of Science's Pharmacology Department, Institut Malgache de Recherche Appliqué, SoTraMex (Societé de Transformation Malgache et d'Exportation), and Homeopharma (homeopathy, phytotherapy, and aromatherapy)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $1,475

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period.
  • All homestays (three and a half weeks in Antananarivo and 10 days in rural Andasibe)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered 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.

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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