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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



Aug 27 – Dec 9

Program Countries

South Africa

Program Base


Critical Global Issue of Study

Global Health & Well-being

Development & Inequality

Development & Inequality Icon


The legacy of apartheid has left the majority of South Africans struggling with systemic poverty, which has inevitable impacts on health and wellness. Learn new ways of seeing and being as you engage with communities through localized and global perspectives, thanks to community partnerships that have been nurtured over decades. You will learn and practice the isiZulu language and travel from city to village to appreciate the importance of context. As part of a lecture series, you’ll hear from academics, healthcare workers, and researchers. Stay with diverse homestay families and witness how different communities confront obstacles to healthcare access. During the program, enjoy the Durban beachfront; see wildlife in Kruger Park; visit Boulders Beach penguin colony, and journey to Cape Point, Africa’s most southwesterly tip.


  • Network with NGOs, academics, healthcare workers and healthcare researchers.
  • Compare health services in urban, peri-urban and rural communities.
  • Enjoy the warm Indian Ocean and hike in the Drakensberg mountains.
  • Observe Africa’s Big 5 along the banks of the Crocodile River.
  • Build your résumé with a customized internship or Independent Study Project.



program map


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.


Program Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the program, students will be able to: 

  • Describe how the principles of primary healthcare policies are applied. 
  • Identify health outcomes that can be improved by addressing their social determinants. 
  • Explain the conditions in which integration of traditional health into a modern health system will improve outcomes. 
  • Evaluate the role of scientific methods in refining medical practice. 
  • Practice a community-centered approach to health promotion and intervention design. 
  • Engage in simple conversation with a native isiZulu speaker. 
  • Articulate systemic injustices that render segments of a population more vulnerable to illness, injury, and mental unwellness. 
  • Analyze the benefits and pitfalls of African traditional and western biomedical approaches. 

Read more about Program Learning Outcomes.


Access virtual library guide.

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
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  • Use of media campaigns to influence health outcomes
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  • Civil society, laws and social policies ensuring the right to health
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  • Mixed methodologies: Narratives making epidemiology accessible
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  • The inclusion of traditional healing in the health system
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  • 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)

Students contemplate the pillars and principles of primary health care, casting a critical eye on health promotion, disease prevention, and curative interventions with a focus on coronavirus, HIV, and tuberculosis. Through lectures from academics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, readings, and selected site visits, students critically examine topics including traditional healing, rural health and social justice, and the role of the media in promoting health 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, course readings, and practical experience, this course explores the pervasive effects of a history of racialized under-development and exploitation, then moves on to analyze the systems and policies that have been applied to redress inequities and improve health outcomes. The course is taught through facilitated engagement with local communities, schools, clinics and non-government organizations, and lectures by local experts on health, education, gender and law.


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)

This course provides students with the necessary methodological and conceptual tools needed for independent learning in an unfamiliar setting . Through a combination of formal classes and field-based learning, students will develop the knowledge and skills to undertake primary research. The course covers a variety of mixed methodological tools typical of research in the area of public health, including evidence-based, ethnographical, and qualitative research, and basic epidemiology and statistical analyses. The course also introduces a number of non-traditional methods including narrative inquiry, photovoice, art and body-mapping.

Independent Study Project or Internship

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 four-week homestay with isiZulu-speaking families in the township of Cato Manor near the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Experience 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.


Drive two hours to the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains and enjoy a three-night homestay in rural Nzinga, where you will see how access to healthcare remains difficult for many residents. Here, you will witness the realities of rural 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 bio link
Zed McGladdery, BProc
Academic Director
Chris McGladdery, PhD bio link
Chris McGladdery, PhD
Research Methods Lecturer

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