First Public Health Undergraduate Program Starting in Haiti

April 20, 2016

A partnership between Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) and Université Publique du Nord au Cap-Haitien (UPNCH) in Haiti has led to the creation of a new public health undergraduate degree (license) program, set to begin enrollment in the fall of 2016.

Although there is a Master of Public Health program in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, this will be the country’s first public health higher education program in the northern department, and the only one available to undergraduates. Faculty will come from UPNCH, Washington University’s Brown School and School of Medicine, as well as the City University of New York (CUNY).

Washington University and Université Publique du Nord au Cap-Haitien administration, faculty, and students participated in a public health summer institute in July, 2015.

Washington University and Université Publique du Nord au Cap-Haitien administration, faculty, and students participated in a public health summer institute in July, 2015.

Haiti is located in the Caribbean, where it shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with nearly 2.5 million people unable to meet their basic food needs and 24 percent of the population living on one dollar (or less) per day. A 2010 earthquake that killed over 200,000 people also weakened their (already inadequate) health systems and produced an influx of foreign aid, most of it going to nongovernmental agencies (NGOs) and private contractors rather than to the Haitian government. The country relies heavily on these outside actors for medical, social, and public health service delivery as the public sector is too under-resourced to meet the extreme need.

Public health challenges faced in Haiti are largely nonexistent in more affluent countries. Illnesses such as tuberculosis, malaria, chikungunya, typhoid, and dengue fever are common and maternal and child mortality rates are some of the highest in the Caribbean. Less than half of Haitians have access to clean water, and less than a quarter have access to a toilet.

The Haiti Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) is the government agency in charge of public health administration, but it is having difficulty achieving progress on these expensive and difficult challenges with their small budget and staff. Many NGOs working on health issues in the country employ foreigners, who work there on a project basis for a limited number of months or years and then move on – and Haitians with medical training often relocate for the opportunity of better access to resources and higher pay abroad.

The hope is that this new public health program at UPNCH will assist MSPP and other Haitian government agencies by training a local workforce to respond to local and regional health challenges, countering the “brain drain” and reducing the need for foreign aid and intervention.

The planning and curriculum design process has taken over two years, and several events have taken place building toward introduction of this new public health program: a student forum (including WUSTL and UPNCH students) for public health in June 2014, a public health summer institute for curriculum development with key stakeholders in July 2015, and a visit by Haitian public health and education officials to WUSTL in December 2015.

Also in January, a group of WUSTL’s Brown School students traveled to Cap-Haitian as part of a class and met with UPNCH students to review the proposed curriculum and collaborate on a brief, qualitative research project in a local community. Community members expressed enthusiasm and excitement when they heard about the public health program, and many asked how to enroll.

Lora Iannotti, PhD, has been doing research on malnutrition in Haiti for over twenty years and has been one of the leaders of the WUSTL-UPNCH collaboration. She expects the new program will help turn around Haiti’s poor health indicators.

Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Public Health, Brown School

“We wanted to think about a degree program that would allow students to graduate and work as epidemiologists in their local health departments or to work with local NGOs to carry out preventative public health. We think that will have a big impact because right now there’s just not that cadre of workers out there.”

The budget for the program is estimated at $2 million over four years, and it will cost less than $100 to provide a student with a full scholarship. Donor and organizational meetings are presently ongoing in Haiti and the US. Once the curriculum has been authorized by the Haitian Ministry of Education (expected in the summer of 2016), staff and student recruitment will take place and construction will complete on the new classroom and office space at UPNCH. Assuming everything goes as planned, the program is slated to begin classes in October.



Ramachandran, V. (2012, January 9). Is Haiti Doomed to be the Republic of NGOs?

The World Bank. (2014, December 11). Extreme poverty drops in Haiti. Is it sustainable?

The World Bank. (2015, May 27). 5 Things You Need to Know About Water in Haiti.

Watts, J. (2014, October 15). Haiti making good progress in health but challenges remain.