Global Health and Population

Wafaie W. Fawzi, MBBS, MPH, MS, DPH

Assistant Director for Educational Programs
Barbara Heil

Department Website 

The Department of Global Health and Population (GHP) seeks to improve global health through education, research, and service from a population-based perspective. The 21st century has arrived with a complex set of demographic patterns, disease burdens, and health policies. These create challenges that affect all societies, rich and poor, developed and developing. The department’s approach to these problems combines the analysis of population and health using quantitative and qualitative methods, the investigation of policies that affect health, and a concern with the politics and ethics of health and development.

The department’s faculty members generate knowledge and ideas through their research, strengthen technical and leadership skills through educational programs, and enhance national capacities through collaborative projects, especially in the developing world. In their examination of global health and population issues, faculty draw on their disciplinary expertise and collaborate across such disciplines as anthropology, biostatistics, demography, ecology, economics, epidemiology, ethics, law, medicine, political science, reproductive biology, and sociology. The department’s research interests span a wide spectrum of topics, including social and economic development, health policy, and demography; design and financing of health care systems; women’s and children’s health; global nutritional epidemiology and practice; prevention and control of infectious and chronic diseases; program evaluation; and geographic information systems (GIS). The department has a special concern with questions of health equity and human rights, particularly in relation to health and population issues in developing countries.

Students come to the department with various backgrounds; many are from developing countries. All have an interest in the health of disadvantaged populations worldwide.

Degree Programs in Global Health and Population
The department offers an 80-credit SM program and a doctoral program leading to the SD degree. In addition to these programs, the department hosts postdoctoral research fellows and mid-career leaders in international health, and also undertakes overseas cooperative research and intervention projects.

Program Prerequisites and Requirements
All departmental degree requirements are in addition to the schoolwide requirements.

SM in Global Health and Population, 80-credit program
Minimum requirements for entrance:
 Bachelor’s degree or non-U.S. equivalent in a relevant discipline. Applications from students who hold advanced degrees in medicine or in a social science discipline are welcome. The admissions committee looks for candidates with strong quantitative skills (as demonstrated, for example, by good performance, or a minimum grade of B+ in college-level calculus or statistics courses); strong written communication skills (as demonstrated, for example, by good performance in courses requiring expository writing); and for those with at least the equivalent of six months’ relevant prior work experience in global health.

Program requirements: core curriculum of required courses, together with electives. The coursework emphasizes the acquisition of skills and concepts necessary to address a range of global health and population issues. Core courses make up roughly half of the 80 credits, allowing considerable flexibility for students to tailor their own degree programs; 60 credits must be letter-grade credits, including a 5-credit required thesis. The remainder of the credits may be taken pass/fail. The program requires a public health internship relevant to global health and population. The internship enables students to integrate and apply the skills and knowledge acquired through coursework to a global health problem; develop the interpersonal skills necessary to be an effective team member within an organization; further develop oral and written communication skills; and work within a professional network.

In the first year, students focus on the core courses. All students take the course Foundations of Global Health and Population, GHP 272, which is offered in the first semester and provides a common platform for the more advanced work that follows. There are approximately 30 required credits in the first year of study, including schoolwide requirements; coursework in demography; population health measurement and risk factors and ethics; and applied courses in politics and economics. During the following summer, students undertake their internship in the United States or abroad. Students often use this internship and the opportunities it provides to gather information for their thesis. In the WinterSession (January each year), many students join one of the faculty-directed field courses, which recently have included work in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, China, Chile, Nepal, Brazil, Europe, and Tanzania.

The second year involves a combination of coursework and independent study, some linked to the thesis. Individual contracts for independent study with faculty members in the school or the university are encouraged. Many students choose to take courses in other Harvard faculties such as the Harvard Kennedy School or the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Since students have fewer required courses in the second year, they can specialize in areas of their choice. As an initial guideline, the GHP faculty has identified five areas of interest (AOIs) aimed at helping students concentrate in specific areas: ethics, human rights, and humanitarian studies; health economics and economic evaluation; population and health measurement; health policy and program management; and human ecology. The intent is to direct students to sets of elective courses that collectively will build skills in the specific AOI of their choice.

The instruction provided through courses, field visits, and individual or small-group teaching is based largely on the firsthand current research experience of the faculty, who work on a range of applied and theoretical problems in global health and population. By graduation, students possess a solid and current understanding of the major issues in population and global health; the tools to examine evidence related to program effectiveness, priority setting, and decision making; and insights into the practical aspects of undertaking population health interventions around the world, including a perspective on the economic, social, political, and ethical considerations that bear on these issues. Students have the analytical and technical skills to address health and population problems at home and abroad from a range of disciplinary perspectives. They build a set of advanced competencies covering conceptual approaches, theory and practical applications, problem solving and analysis, as well as a wide range of quantitative and qualitative methods.

Graduates contribute to the improvement of global health and the resolution of population problems by pursuing a range of careers in leadership and engagement with global health issues in national and international government agencies, NGOs, the private sector, applied research, policy analysis, and health education. The SM degree also may be used as the first step toward doctoral training.

SD in Global Health and Population

Minimum prerequisite for entrance, SD program:
 Bachelor’s degree or non-U.S. equivalent.

Desired applicants have outstanding academic records, relevant experience in the international public health arena, and research interests relevant to the department. Students without sufficient training are encouraged to enter the department’s SM program and apply to the doctoral program at a later date. Entry to the doctoral program depends on outstanding performance in the master’s degree program and acceptance through the regular admissions process of the doctoral program.

Degree requirements, SD: A common core of coursework with a focus on global health. The second year usually involves both coursework and research planning. Students must select one of three areas of interest currently offered by the department, which are described below. The chosen area becomes the student’s required major. Students also must select two minor fields from the department or from allied departments of the school or the university, including the HSPH Departments of Biostatistics; Epidemiology; Immunology and Infectious Diseases; Nutrition; and Social and Behavioral Sciences. Pending admission to another department and completion of that department’s requirements, students also may enroll in a double major.

The three areas of interest offered by the department are:

Economics   This area is designed to give students a strong foundation in microeconomic theory and to develop their skills in applying economic analysis to global health and population issues. Students study economic theory and econometrics as well as recent empirical economic research related to global health and population. In addition to courses at HSPH, students are expected to take advanced courses in economics in the Department of Economics in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences and at the Harvard Kennedy School. The rigorous training provided in this area of interest, together with interdisciplinary training in other areas, will allow students to undertake their own research using economic models of behavior.

Research topics that might be pursued within the economics area include the costs and benefits of public health interventions the effect of poverty and social deprivation on health, the influence of health improvements on the economy, the effect of government regulation on market structures and private health care provision, mechanisms for developing new drugs and treatments, and the effect of family size on child poverty and health.

Health systems   Training in this area prepares students to apply a multidisciplinary approach to advance knowledge and research on strengthening health systems. The goals of reforming health systems are to advance equity, improve health outcomes, and increase efficiency. Study in this area rests on three intellectual disciplines – political economy, evaluation sciences, and ethics – and emphasizes making evidence-based policies. In their coursework, students gain knowledge that will enable them to improve the design, implementation, and evaluation of health systems around the world, particularly in middle- and lower-income countries. They learn to integrate theories of economics, political science, political economy, and ethics and to apply this understanding to critical health system issues. Through extensive coursework in program evaluation, students apply methods to assess the performance of health systems and programs. Research topics include deterministic models of health system performance; political economy of health reform; design of systems to improve the equity, effectiveness, and efficiency of health care; reform of financing, organization, and incentive structures to improve performance; evaluation of the effects of system reforms; and design and evaluation of social experiments to achieve social goals.

Population and reproductive health   This area prepares students for independent research on population health issues worldwide. Through required courses, seminars, and independent study, students acquire a solid foundation in the essential demographic, epidemiologic, and statistical concepts and methods needed for the analysis of levels, trends, and differentials in population health and its determinants. A key element of the training is a grounding in methods for the measurement of fertility, mortality, and morbidity levels and their biological, environmental, and behavioral risk factors, all at the population level. Several courses illustrate the way in which methods and models based on demographic estimation techniques and epidemiologic relationships can be applied to new challenges in the national, regional, and global burden of disease assessments. The training is strongly quantitative, with an emphasis on analytical techniques, but some competence in the application of qualitative methods and an understanding of the broader socioeconomic theories of population health also are expected, depending on the dissertation topic.

Students in this area have recently written dissertations on such topics as HIV/AIDS in Tanzania; risk factors for the global and national burden of chronic diseases; the effects of preventable risk factors on health disparities; fertility and induced abortion in Ghana; and intergenerational factors in child growth and health in rural Africa.

The doctoral program is designed to prepare students both for academic careers in universities or research institutions and for professional leadership positions in the public or private sectors of public health. Recent graduates have assumed postdoctoral and teaching positions with universities in the United States and around the world and have taken positions with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Bank, and NGOs.

Postdoctoral Fellowships
The Takemi Program in International Health offers postdoctoral fellowships for professionals and scholars from around the world for research and advanced interdisciplinary training on critical issues of global health, especially those related to developing countries. Takemi Fellows are typically mid- to senior-level health professionals who spend the year working on a particular research topic. The program addresses problems of mobilizing, allocating, and managing scarce resources to improve health, and of designing strategies for disease control and health policy development. It does not provide funding. Applicants need to identify their own source of support when applying for the fellowship.


Contact Information:
For master’s and doctoral programs in global health and population:
Education Office
Department of Global Health and Population
655 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-2253
Fax: 617-432-6733

For more information about the Takemi Program in International Health:
Program Coordinator
Takemi Program in International Health
Department of Global Health and Population
665 Huntington Avenue
Boston MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-0686
Fax: 617-432-1251

For Reference
Schoolwide degree requirements

Detailed application requirements