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Brazil: Public Health, Race, and Human Rights

Brazil: Public Health, Race, and Human Rights

Investigate healthcare policy and delivery systems among disadvantaged groups in the Brazilian state of Bahia. Study how public health interacts with race and human rights.

This program provides an in-depth exploration of healthcare policies in Brazil — how these policies are constructed and implemented and their resulting impacts on different groups and communities. Students also study traditional Afro-Brazilian healing practices, especially those rooted in the Candomblé spiritual belief system. Students learn from physicians and nurses, government health officials, political activists, NGO representatives, urban and rural residents, herbalists, and Candomblé healers.

Major topics of study include:

  • The Brazilian national healthcare system
  • Public health planning and practice
  • Health concepts and practices of Afro-Brazilian groups
  • Human rights and healthcare in Brazil
  • Economic, structural, and ideological determinants of public health

drums in BrazilThe program examines Brazil's healthcare policies and allows students to observe through firsthand experience how these policies are put into practice, who is affected (and who is left out), and what the impacts of these policies look like. Students visit communities that emerged as part of the African diaspora and other communities in rural areas. Each program component broadens students' understanding of the healthcare needs and realities of Brazil's historically marginalized peoples and the implications of various approaches to healthcare provision.

Live in Salvador, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While in Salvador, students attend classes at the program base and live with a host family. Salvador was Brazil's first capital city and the former center of the Portuguese colonial empire. In 1985, the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historical importance, cultural vibrancy, and aesthetic appeal. Read more about Salvador’s UNESCO designation. Today, Salvador is home to Brazil's largest Afro-Brazilian population.

Gain very different perspectives on healthcare in Brazil’s northeast.

By visiting a variety of healthcare facilities, including hospitals, Family Health Programs (PSFs), clinics, and Candomblé temples, students gain insight into different types of healthcare and the intricacies that surround each system. Students learn about the decision-making processes that draw patients to these facilities and how the centers strategize and adapt to meet the changing needs of their growing communities.

Visit quilombo communities.

Students visit at least two quilombos — urban and rural communities founded by former slaves — to meet with community members and participate in community welfare projects. The more than 1,000 quilombos in the northeast region of Brazil have been historically isolated and excluded from mainstream Brazilian society. Students gain firsthand exposure to communities facing extremely poor living conditions and very limited healthcare access.

ItaparicaExperience contrasting homestay communities.

Students have both urban and rural homestays to learn what daily life is like for average Brazilians living in a city compared to rural areas. Through these diverse living experiences, students witness the challenges and solutions facing different Brazilian communities in relation to issues of race, healthcare, and human rights.

Independent Study Project

Students spend the final four weeks of the semester engaged in an Independent Study Project (ISP). Students conduct their projects in Salvador or, with program approval, another area in the Brazilian northeast. Engaging in primary research, students critically examine a topic related to public policy and community welfare in Brazil. Sample ISP topic areas include:

  • Factors affecting human health in a quilombo community
  • Psychiatric illness and community outreach
  • The empowerment of women
  • Pre- and post-natal care
  • Healing in the Candomblé tradition
  • Brazilian HIV/AIDS policy and programs
  • The health situation of adolescent mothers and their offspring


None, although a background in Portuguese, Spanish, or another Romance language is highly recommended.

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The interdisciplinary coursework in the Brazil: Public Health, Race, and Human Rights program explores the various aspects influencing public health planning and practice in Brazil, including historical, social, economic, religious, and ideological factors. Students might attend lectures by government health workers, political activists, researchers, doctors, and/or nurses on topics ranging from domestic violence and family health, to Afro-Brazilian dance and culture. Students use the knowledge they gain through coursework and field study to complete an Independent Study Project on a topic of their choosing.

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.

Public Health and Race in Brazil – syllabus
(IPBH 3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
This course focuses on public healthcare issues as well as community welfare policies and realities. Students examine the Brazilian national healthcare system along with alternative healthcare practices, focusing more specifically on the northeast region of Brazil. Students observe firsthand the functioning of the healthcare system at the local level. They critically engage the Brazilian model for public health, the Sistema Único de Saúde, and analyze key Brazilian national health programs focused on Afro-Brazilian health issues. Students also study health concepts and practices used by Afro-Brazilian groups, considering the connection between healing and spiritual beliefs and examining how this plays out in alternative treatments for a range of illnesses including psychiatric/mental health issues. Finally, students explore issues of economics and access as they relate to both state-sponsored and alternative methods of health treatment. This course is conducted in English and Portuguese (with interpretation).

Human Rights and Healthcare in Brazil – syllabus
(IPBH 3005 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
The United Nations decrees that quality healthcare is a human right. In this seminar, students examine how access to this right is gained or not gained among diverse Brazilian populations, focusing in particular on the African descendant population and indigenous people as two of the nation’s most clearly marginalized groups. After studying racial, religious, and regional diversity in Brazil, students explore how social determinants affect the health of Brazil’s diverse populace. They examine Brazil’s health profile and learn how to analyze the economic, structural, and ideological determinants of public health planning and practices in Brazil. The course is conducted in English and Portuguese (with interpretation).

Intensive Language Study: Portuguese for the Health Sciences I – syllabus
(PORT 1000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Intensive Language Study: Portuguese for the Health Sciences II – syllabus
(PORT 1500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Intensive Language Study: Portuguese for the Health Sciences III – syllabus
(PORT 2000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
In this course, students build their speaking, reading, and writing skills through classroom and field instruction. They learn the terms and expressions needed to conduct field research, to discuss health-related topics, and to interact in settings connected to the program’s themes. Students are placed in small classes based on an in-country evaluation that tests both written and oral proficiency. Guided self-instruction is available to students who test out of the available courses.

Public Health Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(IPBH 3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
In this research methods course designed to prepare students for the Independent Study Project, students learn how to organize and conduct a research project. Through lectures, readings, and field activities, students study and practice a range of methods appropriate for health-related research. They examine the ethical issues surrounding field research related to health issues and medicine and are guided through the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review process, which forms a core component of the course. By the end of the course students will have chosen a research topic, selected appropriate methods, and written a solid proposal for an Independent Study Project related to the program themes. The course is conducted in English and Portuguese (with interpretation).

Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR 3000 / 4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted in Salvador, elsewhere in the state of Bahia, or in another approved location in the Brazilian northeast appropriate to the project, the Independent Study Project offers students the opportunity to conduct field research on a topic of their choice within the program’s thematic parameters. The project integrates learning from the various components of the program and culminates in a final presentation and formal research paper. Sample topic areas: the health of adolescent mothers and their offspring; Afro-Brazilian health issues; factors affecting well-being in a quilombo community; healing in the Candomblé tradition; drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs in Salvador and rural areas; Brazilian AIDS policy; empowerment of women.

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

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

Shadowing the health officials and seeing exactly what they did really opened my mind and let me see what life really is as a health professional. The fact that we got firsthand experience with the world of public health was invaluable.

Program alum

street in BrazilEducational excursions are an integral part of the program, complementing classroom learning and thematic coursework. Visits to underprivileged areas give students a deeper understanding of how historical oppression affects the lives of the poor in Brazil today.

Topics raised during excursions include:

  • Racial inequality and politics in Brazil
  • Historical oppression and social exclusion of Afro-Brazilians
  • Political mobilization, racial democracy, and identity
  • Health, environmental, and social justice
  • Alternative and public healthcare options and outcomes
  • Social determinants of health

During excursions, students interact with community leaders and residents to get their perspectives on the challenges of providing equitable and high-quality care to communities that face unique challenges. Students also interact with professionals in healthcare-related areas of work.

Students also have excursions to federal, state, and municipal health facilities and Afro-Brazilian religious centers, as well as to the Irmandade da Boa Morte, a religious sisterhood founded in the nineteenth century by former slaves, in Cachoeira.

Terreiro de Candomblé

A terreiro (temple) de Candomblé is a shrine or temple for the parishioners of Candomblé, one of the most widespread Afro-Brazilian belief systems and practices in contemporary Brazil. In Candomblé, health is integrated into the notion of a mystic universe, and the human body is not separate from the spirit of life. Candomblé helps to promote the healing process, which often takes place in the terreiro. In a country where most of the poor have limited access to institutionalized health facilities, the terreiro functions as an important place for health treatment and other types of support. During the excursion to a terreiro de Candomblé, students speak with priests, priestesses, and parishioners about their beliefs and experiences.

family in BrazilIlha de Maré (Tide Island)

Located at the northern end of the Bahia de Todos os Santos (The Bay of All Saints), Ilha de Maré is home to a quilombo community, and it is the ancestral home of the program's current academic director, Damiana de Miranda. Although the island is not far in distance from the city of Salvador, the history and living conditions of its residents differ greatly from that of the mainland population. Until recently, the island was fairly isolated, making it an ideal place to observe and participate in the life of an Afro-Brazilian community. The island has no roads or cars, and in the township of Praia Grande some residents still communicate in African languages during religious activities. (This occurs not only in Ilha de Mare, but also in Salvador.)

Traveling by boat, students spend a day on Ilha de Maré learning about issues related to the health status of its inhabitants. They also study the environmental problems affecting the community, particularly local fishermen. During this excursion, students experience and discuss how social exclusion — understood as lack of access to health services, formal education, transportation, potable water, and employment — interacts and impacts the life of Afro-Brazilians.


The program has a four-day excursion to Cachoeira. Students stay in a rural area, where they visit public health services, educational institutions, and traditional healers; they also have the chance to talk with area residents. 

Southern City of Ilhéus
The program’s one-week excursion to the southern region of Bahia exposes students to different aspects of Brazil’s healthcare system, with an emphasis on primary healthcare. Students shadow health professionals, primarily community health agents, and undertake community visits and interviews. The main goal of the experience is to understand the day-to-day operations and activities of the health facilities.

Gabriela Ventura, MBA, Academic Director

Gabriela VenturaGabriela Ventura is a Brazilian and American citizen with an MBA in project management from the Escola Superior de Administração, Marketing e Comunicação, in Brazil, and she is an MA candidate in socio-cultural anthropology at Columbia University. Her MBA project proposed a bilingual course for technical schools in Campinas, São Paulo, aiming to train and equip business administration technicians for the global market. She earned her BA in cultural anthropology and French from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. Gabriela has worked as a program coordinator for SIT Latin America and Africa programs, led Experiment in International Living high school programs in Morocco and France, and is an alumna of SIT programs in both Madagascar and France. She has worked professionally as a high school history teacher in international schools in São Paulo and has also acted as a Portuguese translator. 

Paula Santos, International Program Specialist

Paula Santos is an expert in international educational support and brings with her a vast range of contacts in the state of Bahia, which range from governmental organizations to universities, from cultural agencies to civil society organizations. She has worked with SIT Study Abroad programs in Brazil for more than 20 years, organizing and coordinating race and gender seminars, identifying partner NGOs for visits and service learning opportunities, organizing and advising students on their Independent Study Projects, and providing translation for SIT classes. Paula is also a lecturer on women's issues in Bahia.

Dr. Andreia Beatriz Silva dos Santos, Academic Coordinator, Health and Medicine

Dr. Andreia Beatriz Silva dos Santos joins SIT with a strong background in the medical and healthcare field, with a special focus on family and public health. She holds a medical degree from Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz-Ilhéus/Bahia (UESC) as well as a master’s degree in public health from the Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana (UESC) and is completing her doctorate in public health from the Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA). She has coordinated and supervised various initiatives, particularly in Bahia, including programs for basic health services for underserved communities. Her most recent publications discuss the right to equal healthcare as well as institutional racism as it relates to public health. She will support the program with fieldwork training classes, and she will review Independent Study Project (ISP) proposals and support in advising and grading the ISPs as well.

Bira Silva, Language Coordinator

Bira Silva is a teacher of English and Portuguese and has traveled extensively to the US. For more than 36 years, Silva worked at the Brazilian-American Cultural Association (ACBEU) in Salvador, Bahia, where he taught several courses, including TOEFL exam preparation and a class on American culture. He has taught Portuguese to students in the Brown-in-Bahia Program, a cooperative agreement between Brown University and ACBEU, and to American physicians from The University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell studying at Hospital das Clínicas in Salvador, Bahia. He has also taught English and English medical terminology to Brazilian doctors planning to study at Cornell. Additionally, Bira has been an instructor of English at Elder Creek Elementary School in Sacramento, California; Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, California; and City College of San Francisco.

Lecturers for this program typically include:

Professor Climene Laura de Camargo, PhD

Professor Climene Laura de Camargo obtained a BA in nursing from the Faculdade Adventista de Enfermagem in 1975, a master’s degree in nursing from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in 1990, and a doctorate in public health from the Universidade de São Paulo in 1996. Additionally, she obtained a postdoctoral degree from the Université René Descartes-Sorbonne, Paris, France, in 2009.

Presently, she is an associate professor at the Universidade Federal da Bahia’s Nursing School in Bahia, Brazil. She is a specialist in pediatric nursing and also works as a consultant and educator on issues related to health education, violence, and Afro-Brazilian healthcare. Professor Climene is the academic director of the Nascer Project, a research project she created at the Universidade Federal da Bahia where she has participated in several research studies. In addition, she is a member of the Afro-Brazilian Health Program, created by the Brazilian Ministry of Health to improve Afro-Brazilians’ access to the National Health System. She has taught classes for SIT students on the Brazilian health program since 2006.

Students in the Brazil: Public Health, Race, and Human Rights program have several different homestay experiences, which help them gain a comprehensive picture of the socioeconomic differences comprising Brazilian daily life. Host families provide a safe and welcoming environment, allowing students to experience the different facets of Brazilian home life firsthand. Many students consider the homestay experience to be one of the most meaningful parts of the program.

Urban Homestay in Salvador

During the first seven weeks of the semester, students live with host families in Salvador, where they experience urban culture in the northeast, practice their Portuguese language skills, and learn about their host family's experience with the Brazilian healthcare system. Students are welcomed as members of their host family and integrated into the family's everyday life.

Students live in different socioeconomic neighborhoods — some underprivileged, some middle class. When possible, students are placed with homestay families that match their interests.

homestay community in BrazilRural Homestays in Cachoeira and Remanso

Students also have a four-day homestay in Cachoeira and a seven-day homestay in Remanso.

During the excursion to Cachoeira, located in the Recôncavo Region of Bahia, a two-hour drive from Salvador, students have a short rural homestay experience in Alecrim, the rural area of Cachoeira. Most of the host families are small agricultural producers, mainly of cassava, okra, tropical fruits, and vegetables. For four days, students live with their host families while learning about the day-to-day cultural life and social determinants of health in this area.

In Remanso, students participate in a rural homestay in a quilombo located outside the city of Lençóis, in the Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina. For seven days, students learn about the intersections between physical environments and health.

Other accommodations on the program could include hostels, private homes, or small hotels.

Program Dates: Fall 2015

Program Start Date:  Aug 31, 2015

Program End Date:    Dec 13, 2015

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 1, 2015


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: $15,955

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Health, society, and culture
    • Public health, community welfare, and social justice
    • Brazilian public health policies
    • Alternate health practices
  • Public Health Field Study Seminar on research methods and Human Subjects Review
  • Intensive language instruction in Portuguese
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Ilha de Maré (Tide Island), Santo Amaro (Movement of Landless Rural Workers), and Ilheus/Itabuna (Costa do Cacau), including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food) 
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board:$3,020

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 (Salvador), 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 (seven weeks in Salvador, three days living with host families in a quilombo community on Maré Island, and a short stay with an MST community. 
  • 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: $400

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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SIT was founded as the School for International Training and has been known as SIT Study Abroad and SIT Graduate Institute since 2007. SIT is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. (NEASC) through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

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