Undergraduate Opportunities - Organization for Tropical Studies

Global Health Issues Summer Program in South Africa

  • Global Health Issues Summer Program in South Africa

Program Details

Where: South Africa

When: Summer 2015: Session 1:May 26 - June 25
Session 2:July 5 - August 4

Duration 4 weeks

Acreditation Duke University

Language: English

Deadline: May 1, 2015


Global Health Issues Summer Program in South Africa Overview



This course integrates classroom and field instruction to introduce students to the fundamental principles of South African medicine and public health systems.  Students will study topics including infectious diseases, epidemiology, virology and zoonosis, sexual health and reproductive issues, environmental health (vector ecology, water quality, waste management, entomology, toxicology), global health issues (emerging tropical diseases), and traditional and alternative medicine. Students will study current techniques and concerns in South African medicine and public health, analyze the impact of climate change for human health, and analyze the social and economic determinants that contribute to the expanding impact of infectious diseases. Students will learn firsthand about South Africa’s health care system, from the primary care in rural communities to large urban systems.


Visits will include primary health care facilities in rural areas including a homestay in a Venda community in Hamakuya (west of Kruger National Park). Students will also stay at the Wits Rural Facility, which is a community, supported in part by Witwatersrand University (an OTS consortium institution).  Located just west of Kruger National Park, the community is a model for studies on health care delivery and sustainability. In addition, students will have the opportunity to interview doctors and patients, analyze quarantine programs, conduct field research in biological and environmental areas relevant to human health, and learn how to document a disease-related case study.



Program Philosophy

The program will focus on three major themes: primary health care in South Africa, the impact of HIV/AIDS, and the role of traditional healers. South Africa is described as an emerging third world economy, and is characterized as a blend of first world and third world societies. It is thus the ideal place to study the dynamics of the three major themes in different settings where we will assess the difference in public health issues in deep rural, peri-urban and urban communities.


As part of the program, students will be expected to attend lectures and field trips and engage in independent studies. Lectures, which will be provided by the course coordinator and experts, will be conducted in the field as much as possible to provide the best in-field training. Furthermore, site visits have been arranged to best compliment the lecture material so that students get the best possible practical experience to support the theory.

Students will work in groups to design and formulate a research project, carry out the field research for three days, analyze the data, and prepare a scientific report. The students will then deliver their results at the end of the program at a research symposium.

Specific goals

  1. Provide the participants with an introduction to South Africa’s primary health care system: priorities, strategies and efficacy.
  2. Help the participants understand more about the South African environment and its unique challenges, including diseases, cultural medicinal practices, and the growing concerns associated with international travel and globalization (including climate change impacts on health).
  3. Provide students with practical experience by visiting local hospitals, clinics, out-patient clinics, and possibly orphanages and mental health clinics.
  4. Study conceptual issues underlying current South African medicine and public health policies.
  5. Gain exposure to medical staff and experts in medicine and public health.
  6. Study key health-related issues faced by medical practitioners in rural versus urban areas (e.g., TB, stress-related illnesses, prenatal care, and childbirth).
  7. Learn about the role of non-governmental organizations in supporting the national health care scheme.


Sites visited:


The program begins in the urban setting of Johannesburg (“Jozi”)—the commercial heart and the cultural melting pot of South Africa. Our short stay includes a visit to the Apartheid and Hector Peterson museums to gain some cultural perspective on your visit to South Africa, and the University of the Witwatersrand for your initial lectures on primary health care. Given the city’s reputation, we will be staying in backpacker style accommodation (six to a room) in a safe part of the city and traveling to the various sites by bus.

Wits Rural Facility

The trip from “Jozi” to Wits Rural Facility will take you through rural South Africa as we drop off the Drakensberg Escarpment down into the lowveld.  We will stop for a break in a town along the way to pick up snacks, film, cash, and other personal items.  Wits Rural Facility is located in a nature reserve on the outskirts of the Kruger National Park.  We have arranged a diverse and interesting program with several activities involving the local community (visits to clinics and a hospital, field trips to talk with community leaders about water management and the community economy) and a visit to see Rosie and the group of traditional healers at Vukuzenzele (“Rise up and do it for yourself”).  From Wits Rural Facility we will also visit the Blyde River Canyon and take a boat ride on the Blyde River. 

Wits Rural Facility is a peaceful camp, located out in the bushveld near the town of Acornhoek and has dormitory style accommodation with communal bathrooms.  It has a quiet relaxed atmosphere and there are no shopping areas nearby.  There is space to run, play soccer, Frisbee or volleyball or simply to go for a quiet walk by yourself. You will also visit the Kruger National Park during your stay at WRF.


The next leg of the summer forms an integral component of the deep rural leg of the program. Tsulu Camp, HaMakuya lies just outside of Kruger National Park. Situated in the Venda district in the north of the country, HaMakuya offers the opportunity to become immersed in the rich culture of the Venda people. During this period, the group will interact closely with host families during a 3-day homestay, spend time experiencing what life is like as a rural person in South Africa, learn more about rural medical programs, and about the interaction between people and parks (e.g., the conflict between elephants and farmers and economic spinoffs of tourism derived from conservation areas). It is here that you will first start to engage in your independent research.


The final leg of the Global Health course is spent at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park. Skukuza is the largest camp and home of the administrative headquarters for Kruger. The head office of OTS in South Africa is also in Skukuza.

While here you will be analysing and writing up your research papers and this is where you will present your results. You will also have the opportunity to visit clinics and hospitals in Nelspruit, the provincial capital of the Mpumalanga province.

In your free time you will also be able to enjoy some of the activities Kruger has to offer including plenty of time spent on early morning game drives.



Coordinator: Amber Abrams, M.Phil.

Co-Coordinator: James van Hasselt, M.D.

Application Deadline: Extended to May 1st, 2015

Tuition and Financial Aid

Program Costs

Tuition: $4,136
Program Fee: $2,380
Transcript Fee: $40

The OTS program fee covers room and board.. Non-Duke students will also be charged a lifetime transcript fee of $40. International travel, independent travel, incidentals, and personal spending are not covered.

OTS is committed to providing opportunities to all eligible students interested in participating in our programs. We make scholarship applications available to students upon acceptance into an OTS program and offer limited funding on a rolling basis. Applicants attending institutions that are members of the OTS consortium colleges and universities have priority, but all qualified applications will be considered. We have dedicated a substantial amount of funding to provide partial scholarships to students who need financial support. APPLY EARLY!!!

Application Process


This program is open to all undergraduate students in good academic standing and who have completed at least one semester of college-level biology. Graduating seniors are also eligible if they can stay enrolled at their home institution through the completion of the OTS program.

OTS selects participants on a rolling basis. Please apply early to be considered. Applications will no longer be accepted after the program is filled, even if that is before the application deadline.

If you are interested in a summer for which the deadline has already passed, please contact a member of the OTS Enrollment Management Team for availability.

Organization for Tropical Studies Enrollment Management Duke University
Box 90630
Durham, NC 27708-0630
Tel. (919) 684-5155
Fax. (919) 684-5661
E-mail:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Accommodations & Meals

Meals are provided by our caterers, Shadreck Hlatshwayo and company who refer to themselves as AggyShadow Catering Company. The food is fantastic, regularly cited as one of the highlights of the program, and we warn you in advance about the possibility of expanding waistlines!! The menu is highly varied and usually dinners consist of a variety of choices of side dishes. The program caters for those of you with special dietary requirements (i.e. vegetarians, vegans) or food allergies but please let us know in advance so that Shadreck can prepare accordingly.

Passport & Visa Information

US Citizens will not need to apply for a South African visa for the summer sessions. You will enter the country on a tourist visa that is issued at the border control in Johannesburg-Otambo Airport. If you are not a US Citizen, please consult the South African Consulate webpage to learn about your requirements.


OTS semester and summer programs are open to all undergraduate students in good standing with their home institution who have at a least a 2.7 GPA. Students applying to the Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet (Costa Rica and Panamá), African Ecology and Conservation (South Africa), and Tropical Biology-Summer (Costa Rica) programs must have completed the equivalent of one year of college-level biology. Students applying to the Global Health Issues in South Africa program must have completed the equivalent of one semester of college-level biology. Students applying to the Tropical Diseases (Costa Rica and Nicaragua) program must have completed the equivalent of one semester of college-level biology and one semester of college-level Spanish. Applicants attending institutions that are members of the OTS consortium have priority, but all qualified applications will be considered.

Health and Safety

OTS is deeply committed to student safety and well-being and does not expose students to unnecessary danger or risk. In cooperation with the Duke University Global Education Office for Undergraduates (GEO-U), OTS monitors national and international events that might affect our students. Nearly 5 decades of risk assessment, emergency response, and crisis resolution have enabled OTS to maximize student safety and security. All students participate in an on-site orientation program upon arrival in Costa Rica or South Africa. For our most current safety information, please visit the Duke GEO-U website at www.global.duke.edu/geo or contact the OTS Enrollment Management staff at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .