ANTH S-1665 Who Lives, Who Dies: An Introduction to Global Health and Social Medicine

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7-week session | CRN 33864

If you are sick or hurt, whether you live or die depends not only on biological factors, but social ones: what type of health care system is available? If there is an ambulance and road to take you to a hospital, do they have reliable electricity and a radiologist to read an x-ray? Is there a skilled surgeon on call and will you be lucky enough to have anesthesia when she cuts you open? This course explores how social factors create health disparities. We gain foundational knowledge of key concepts in social medicine, including an overview of global health institutions and the arguments for health as a human right. We then turn to what we can call chronic emergencies—case studies of people and communities who have been denied health care and allowed to suffer and die, because they are poor, uninsured, undocumented, or otherwise social outcasts. Our examples are drawn from across the globe, from the mothers of dying infants in Brazil, to the suffering of Mexican migrants in California, to a lack of affordable housing in Boston. We give significant attention to the lived experience of chronic hunger, extreme deprivation, HIV/AIDS, and violent conflict. As we encounter these examples, we hold them against arguments for the use of the private market to distribute health care and see what happens when institutions try to sell drugs to starving people. Finally, we read success stories in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the United States and the rebuilding of the health system in Rwanda after the genocide. By the end of the course, students not only have a knowledge of concepts and case studies in global health and social medicine, but also knowledge about how to close the gaps that we study.

Course information
Class meetings

On campus
Mondays, Wednesdays, 6:30-9:30 pm
Harvard Hall 202

Start date

Monday, June 19


4 credits

Course tuition


Enrollment status

  • Registration Closed
  • Notes

    For premedical students, this course reviews concepts found on the Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior section of the MCAT, including how sociocultural factors and access to resources have an impact on health.




    Jason Bryan Silverstein, PhD.

    Lecturer on Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School

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