Master of Public Health programmes in South Africa: issues and challenges

Thembelihle Dlungwane*, Anna Voce, Ruth Searle, Fred Stevens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Background: The demand for highly skilled public health personnel in low- and middle-income countries has been recognised globally. In South Africa, the need to train more public health professionals has been acknowledged. The Human Resource for Health (HRH) Strategy for South Africa includes the establishment of public health units at district and provincial levels. Programmes such as Master of Public Health (MPH) programmes are viewed as essential contributors in equipping health practitioners with adequate public health skills to meet the demands of the health care system. All MPH programmes have been instituted independently; there is no systematic information or comparison of programmes and requirements across institutions. This study aims to establish a baseline on MPH programmes in South Africa in terms of programme characteristics, curriculum, teaching workforce and graduate output.

Methods: A mixed method design was implemented. A document analysis and cross-sectional descriptive survey, comprising both quantitative and qualitative data collection, by means of questionnaires, of all MPH programmes active in 2014 was conducted. The MPH programme coordinators of the 10 active programmes were invited to participate in the study via email. Numeric data were summarized in frequency distribution tables. Non-numeric data was captured, collated into one file and thematically analysed.

Results: A total of eight MPH programmes responded to the questionnaire. Most programmes are affiliated to medical schools and provide a wide range of specialisations. The MPH programmes are run by individual universities and tend to have their own quality assurance, validation and assessment procedures with minimal external scrutiny. National core competencies for MPH programmes have not been determined. All programmes are battling to provide an appropriate supply of well-trained public health professionals as a result of drop-out, low throughput and delayed time to completion.

Conclusion: The MPH programmes have consistently graduated MPH candidates, although the numbers differ by institution. The increasing number of enrolments coupled by insufficient teaching personnel and low graduate output are key challenges impacting on the production of public health professionals. Collaboration amongst the MPH programmes, standardization, quality assurance and benchmarking needs considerable attention.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Number of pages13
JournalPublic health reviews
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2017


  • Master of Public Health programmes
  • Schools of public health
  • South Africa
  • Human Resources for Health


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