The forerunner of the Department of Public Health at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine was the Institute of Family and Community Health. Dr Sydney Kark and his team initiated this Institute in 1946. Public Health training was offered to a wide range of professionals from doctors to community workers. When the Institute was closed and the Department of Community Health established in the 1970’s, public health training was medicalized. A prerequisite for training in public health was a medical degree. This continued into the 90’s. The newly introduced Diplomas in Health Service Management (DHSM) and Occupational Health (OH) offered training for other category of health care workers who had the equivalent of a 4-year health degree.
In 1999, The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and the Higher Education Council (CHE) of the Department of Education approved a Masters in Public Health being offered by the Faculty of Medicine, University of Natal. The University of Natal commenced the MPH offering from the year 2000 onwards.
The Discipline was pivotal to the Eastern Seaboard Association of Tertiary Institutions (esATI) initiatives in the 1990s and 2000 onwards and the hospital management programme in 2006. The graduate program in public health (GPPH), in particular, has learners from across South Africa and plays an important knowledge acquisition and skills enhancing role for health service managers from the public sector.
Graduates from the Fellowship in Public Health Medicine (FCPHM), Masters of Medicine in Public Health Medicine (M.Med-PHM) and Masters of Public Health (MPH) programs have gone on to play significant roles in health service management in local authorities, Provincial and National Departments of Health and International Health Service Organisations.
The discipline of Public Health Medicine has 4 focus areas.
Building and strengthening epidemiology and biostatistics capacity for monitoring, evaluation and measurement of the impact of public health services.
To deepen the understanding of the prevention and control of the quadruple burden of disease- Includes focus, not only on the major Infectious Disease burden, but also on Trauma, Violence and Non-Communicable Disease
Maternal, Child and Women’s Health- Teaching and research focus in support of health policy development and implementation
Health Systems strengthening- This area of work has been enhanced by the policy recognition of the role and contribution of the discipline of Public Health Medicine.