Welcome to School of Public Health (SOPH), which is part of the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences (CHS) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
This website will introduce you to our vision, our staff and our teaching and research programmes. It will provide information on how to participate in our continuing education and post-graduate programmes, as well as who we work with, and what we publish.
The vision of the School of Public Health is to contribute to the optimal health of populations living in healthy and sustainable environment in the Global South, particularly Africa, with access to an appropriate, high quality, comprehensive and equitable health system, based on a human rights approach.
The purpose of the School is to contribute to developing policy makers and implementers who are knowledgeable and skilled in the principles and practice of public health, whose practice is based on research, influenced by informed and active communities, and implemented with a commitment to equity, social justice and human dignity.
The School of Public Health is unique in many respects both in South Africa and in the continent. We are not part of a medical school, but were founded in the early 1990s with the express mandate to support the restructuring of the health system in South Africa after 1994, and to introduce a district health system informed by a primary health care approach.
Our academic programme, with its flexible, modular, part-time design and growing array of online learning materials and engagements is attracting students from both within South Africa and from an number of other African countries, as well as further abroad.
Our Winter and Summer Schools, which serve both as concentrated and interactive professional development courses as well as (non-compulsory) residential blocks for our postgraduate programme, have become extremely well-known and continue to involve both large numbers of learners and leading academics from other institutions in South Africa and beyond. Since 1992 we have trained well over 10,000 public health managers and service providers in these programmes.
The strength of our academic programme lies in its emphasis on engaging with the challenges of implementation and on programme development and processes involved in this rather than, for example, only producing high level researchers – although we also have a rapidly growing doctoral programme. The methodological content of the curriculum is part of a problem-solving orientation. Hence, in addition to teaching the standard quantitative and qualitative research approaches and the policy frameworks that constitute the core methods of Public Health, our activities are largely organized around key components of Health System Planning and Management, such as Health Human Resources and Health Information Systems, and the application of these to particular priority health programmes.
Our research foci include health policy and systems, including district health system strengthening, health workforce development, and leadership and management; community systems and community participation in health; social determinants of health and food security; non-communicable diseases and public health nutrition; women’s youth and reproductive health and HIV; pharmaceutical public health.
The professional backgrounds of our academic staff are diverse, affording us a capacity for multi-disciplinary work. By background and training we are nurses, dieticians, social scientists, economists, medical doctors, psychologists, historians, social workers, and many more. We bring many different and complementary experiences and perspectives to our teaching and research, which we find enormously enriching, if not always easy to navigate.
The academic and service development work of the School continue to be informed by our understanding that capacity development in public health is an ongoing process, requiring a combination of formal education, continuing education in short courses and mentoring and support in the practice situation. Our experience of the challenges of policy implementation through our own programme work, and through assessing the needs of Public Health practitioners, has helped us to define the content of our teaching and research.
The School of Public Health has grown from a small and fragile academic initiative to a diverse and interdisciplinary school with a growing national and international reputation. None of this would have been possible without the commitment, dedication and creativity of our staff, academic and administrative, which remain our most precious resource, nor without the generous assistance of our many national and international partners and donors, for whose support we are most grateful.
Prof Uta Lehmann