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South Africa

Community Health and Social Policy

Examine community-based health in South Africa, exploring the roles of the state, the media, and nongovernmental organizations in mobilizing community assets.

At a Glance





Language of Study


Courses taught in



Sep 6 – Dec 19

Online Component

Sep 6 – Sep 8

On Site Component

Sep 11 – Dec 9

Online Component

Dec 13 – Dec 19

Program Countries

South Africa

Program Base


Critical Global Issue of Study

Global Health & Well-being

Global Health & Well-being Icon

Development & Inequality

Development & Inequality Icon


Please note that SIT will make every effort to maintain its programs as described. To respond to emergent situations, like COVID-19, however, SIT may have to change or cancel programs.

The legacy of apartheid has left a large section of South Africa poorly educated and struggling with systemic poverty. Despite the country’s progressive policies, racial and gender inequalities still have adverse effects on health outcomes. You’ll examine a range of health services across Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria, and other areas to gain a deeper understanding of how traditional healers, the state, the media, nongovernmental organizations, and state-of-the-art hospitals address health challenges. Learn and practice the isiZulu language and travel from city to village to learn about health communication strategies, health education, and prenatal care. As part of a lecture series, you’ll hear from academics, healthcare workers, and researchers. Stay with a variety of homestay families and witness firsthand how different communities face obstacles to healthcare access. During the program, visit Boulders Beach penguin colony; see wildlife in Kruger National Park; and journey to Cape Point, Africa’s most southwesterly tip.


  • Network with NGOs, academics, healthcare workers and healthcare researchers.
  • Compare health services across Durban, Cape Town, Pretoria, and Johannesburg.
  • Enjoy three days of orientation while you observe wildlife along the banks of Crocodile River.
  • Build your résumé with a customized internship or Independent Study Project.




Durban Hospitals or Clinics

Visit hospitals and clinics in Durban in small groups to observe the varied quality of healthcare facilities, as well as the frequently heroic work of dedicated health professionals who aim to provide the best service they can, often under difficult circumstances.

Special-Needs Schools

South Africa’s apartheid government established special-needs schools for whites only. Most of these have since been transformed into multiracial schools, but the new schools are still insufficient in the face of increasing demand. The government wants to move toward inclusion, closing specialized schools and having students attend regular schools. Survey resources, challenges, and benefits associated with special-needs schools, and discuss the costs and benefits of special education.

Nongovernmental Organizations

Visit NGOs that deliver health services in areas that are challenging for the government, particularly when offered on a small scale and in holistic ways. In the past, NGOs like The Valley Trust offered healthcare to black communities neglected by the apartheid government. Today, these NGOs offer services in tandem with the government and other funders in operationally challenging areas. Other NGOs, including OneVoice, work in government schools to complement life-skills programs and respond to the HIV epidemic.

Please note that SIT will make every effort to maintain its programs as described. To respond to emergent situations, however, SIT may have to change or cancel programs.



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.

The following syllabi are representative of 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.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Key Topics

  • Healthcare access, promotion, and prevention in rural South Africa
  • Use of media campaigns to influence health outcomes
  • Civil society, laws and social policies ensuring the right to health
  • Mixed methodologies: Narratives making epidemiology accessible
  • The inclusion of traditional healing in the health system
  • Ethics of Independent Study Project or internship in South Africa

Approaches to Community Health in South Africa

Approaches to Community Health in South Africa – syllabus
(IPBH3000 / 3 credits)

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.

Social Determinants of Health in South Africa

Social Determinants of Health in South Africa – syllabus
(IPBH3005 / 3 credits)

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
(ZULU1003 / 3 credits)

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.

Research Methods and Ethics

Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits)

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.

Course Options

In addition to taking the above courses, students will also need to enroll in one of the following two courses:

Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits)

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.

Sample ISP topic areas:

  • Narratives of people living with HIV/AIDS
  • Health worker attitudes toward traditional healing
  • 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

Browse this program’s Independent Study Projects and undergraduate research.


Internship and Seminar
Internship and Seminar – syllabus
(ITRN3000 / 4 credits)

This seminar consists of a four-week internship with a local community organization, research organization, business, or international NGO. The aim of the internship is to enable the student to gain valuable work experience and to enhance their skills in an international work environment. Students will complete an internship and submit a paper in which they process their learning experience on the job, analyze an issue important to the organization, and/or design a socially responsible solution to a problem identified by the organization. A focus will be on linking internship learning with the program’s critical global issue focus and overall program theme.

Sample internships:

  • Working at a rural or urban hospital or a community health center or clinic
    The program has established relationships with a number of hospitals and clinics in and around Durban. To work at a hospital or clinic, you must be pre-med.
  • Supporting children and families at Blue Roof Wellness Centre
    The Blue Roof Wellness Centre was designed and built by Keep a Child Alive’s co-founder Alicia Keys. It provides a beautiful, peaceful setting for children and families to visit and access comprehensive HIV treatment, care, testing, and counseling; psychosocial and adherence support; TB and cervical cancer screening; and hot meals.
  • Providing health services and hospice care to patients with cancer and HIV/AIDS at Chatsworth Hospice
    Situated in the predominantly Indian area of Chatsworth, the Hospice Association was formally launched in 1992, where it was resolved that services would be provided free of charge to cancer patients at all stages of the disease. In 2006, the services of the Hospice were extended to HIV/AIDS patients. From 2015, in accordance with the World Health Organization’s re-definition of palliative care, these services are available to all patients at the terminal stage of their illnesses for non-dispensing palliative care treatment only. All services remain cost free to patients and their families.


Cato Manor

Embark on a five-week homestay with isiZulu-speaking families in and around the township of Cato Manor near Durban and near the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Study the challenges facing Zulu South Africans and develop relationships across national, class, and/or ethnic lines. Families have been hosting SIT students for more than a decade and take pride in ensuring that students feel welcome and safe.

Nzinga and Sandanezwe

Take three short, overnight homestays to rural Nzinga and Sandanezwe, where you will see how access to healthcare remains difficult for many residents, and the picturesque region of Umthwalume, near Hibberdene on the southern coast, where you’ll see cattle grazing on slopes along the Indian Ocean. Here, you will witness the realities of unemployment in a community where the chiefs (Indunas) still hold sway.

Other Accommodations

Other accommodations include hostels, private homes, or small hotels.

Career Paths

Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:

  • Program coordinator at Unite for Sight, New Haven, CT

  • Graduate student preparing to be a women’s health nurse practitioner at Boston College, Boston, MA

  • Fulbright scholar in South Africa

Faculty & Staff

South Africa: Community Health and Social Policy

Zed McGladdery, BProc
Academic Director
Clive Bruzas, PhD
Academic Coordinator
Thando Mhlongo
Isizulu Language Instructor & Student Coordinator
Thula Majubana
Homestay Coordinator, Logistics Coordinator, and isiZulu Language Instructor
Chris McGladdery, PhD
Research Methods Lecturer

Discover the Possibilities

  • Cost & Scholarships

    SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.

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    Prepare for an accessible educational experience with SIT Study Abroad! In-country conditions and resources vary by site. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact for more information.

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