South Africa: Community Health and Social Policy

Key Features

Examine community healthcare concerns from a South African perspective.

Community Health Worker with a student on her rounds in rural KwaZulu-Natal

The program explores the ways that 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.

Orientation in Johannesburg, Marloth Park, and Durban
The program begins with a day in Johannesburg and then moves to a quiet venue on the banks of the Crocodile River in Marloth Park. Highlights of the orientation include:

  • A guided tour of the Constitutional Court Precinct and the Voortrekker Monument
  • A drop off exploration of Durban City Centre

Durban 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, students are challenged to articulate Durban and South Africa’s health complexities in a balanced way. Students learn how to be critical consumers of medical research papers and media reports on health. They are also 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, students learn about a selected range of diseases, prevention programs, and health interventions. Lecturers include academics, healthcare workers, and researchers. Regular discussion and reflection sessions help students to 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
Students receive 45 class hours of language instruction in isiZulu, focusing on beginning speaking and comprehension skills. Students also have the opportunity to practice isiZulu with host family members during the homestays.

Independent Study Project
For four weeks, students conduct original research on a topic of particular interest to them 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. Students 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 service
  • Analysis of the proposed National Health Insurance scheme


Costs Dates



Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Durban

Language Study: isiZulu

Prerequisites: None

View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)


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