Welcome to the Health and Human Rights Programme

The Health and Human Rights Project was started in 1997 as part of a collaboration between the School of Public Health and Family Medicine and the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture, a human rights NGO in Cape Town. The project initially focused on supporting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Health Sector hearings, and its mandate to facilitate the promotion of human rights in the health sector more broadly. The initial work with the TRC has subsequently given way to a broader set of human rights teaching, research and advocacy activities and the development of the Health and Human Rights programme (HHRP) within the School of Public Health and Family Medicine. Much of the work of the HHRP continues through collaboration with human rights NGO’s, other research and training institutions and human rights activists within and outside South Africa.

The Health and Human Rights Programme conducts research and teaching at the interface of Public Health and Human Rights.  This is a growing interdisciplinary field attracting increasing international attention for its contributions to strengthening health systems and providing voice to marginalized communities and groups. The programme intends, through it work, to strengthen public health competencies in human rights and to strengthen community agency to changes the factors that adversely impact on their health and rights.

Please take some time to explore the information in our website.  You can find information on the courses we teach and the research we do on the programme's webpages, and the links to the Learning Network for Health and Human Rights (LN), a civil society-researcher partnership which the programme hosts. 

Undergraduate Teaching

Training health professional students in human rights is increasingly recognised as critical for producing graduates able to incorporate social justice and equity into their practice.

The Health and Human Rights programme ran a 5 day short course in Health and Human Rights targeting teachers of students in the health professions from 1998 through to 2013. The course trained over 250 academic staff and health professionals responsible for teaching in a range of institutions across South Africa and the African region and provided them with tools, skills and ideas for how to mainstream human rights in their teaching. You can download the manual used for teaching here and adapt it for use in your own context.  Although the course has been discontinued, the materials are still freely available for use and adaptation under a Creative Commons copyright license – share and share alike.

Various commentaries and publications have emerged from this work, including:

Other opinion pieces include:

Postgraduate Courses

The Division of Public Health Medicine runs a module on Public Health and Human Rights on the MPH programme (PPH7053) which aims to equip MPH graduates with an understanding of the place of human rights in developing and assessing health policies.  MPH students may also choose a human rights topic for their MPH dissertation under supervision.

The HHRP has also taken on dissertation-only students (M Sc and PhD) conducting their research on health rights topics.

Train-the-Trainer Class of 2013


Research in the HHRP has been in four areas:

  1. Identifying how to include human rights in health professional training. Linked to the Train-the-Trainer in Health and Human Rights, the HHRP has explored the effectiveness and scope of integrating human rights into curricula for health science graduates.
  2. Exploring how human rights can be integrated into Public Health Policies. In public health, there is a tendency to trade off human rights for the public good. Research in the programme has examined how human rights can be integral to better public health policies, understanding when it is legitimate to limit rights for the public good and when public health is better advanced by clearer articulation with human rights standards in policy.
  3. Understanding and developing better practice for the realisation of the right to health for communities. The HHRP has worked regionally through the Network on Equity in Health in East and Southern Africa (EQUINET) and locally through the Learning Network for Health and Human Rights (LN) to identify good practice for the right to health. The latter work has focused in recent years on community participation and health committees as vehicles for the realisation of the right to health.

  4. Research with vulnerable groups to reduce their vulnerability such as the Deaf: