What you'll learn

  • Use a biosocial framework to illustrate how social factors influence the spread of disease
  • Deconstruct health challenges through social theories to identify restrictions and challenges
  • Analyze health challenges from historical and socio-political perspectives to understand underlying power dynamics
  • Reflect on how the assumptions characterizing the AIDS movement can be identified and addressed in other contexts
  • Evaluate how ideologies, the framing of problems, and the choice of metrics shape health policy
  • Design a global health intervention for implementation in a particular context, drawing on the theories and cases explored throughout the course 

Course description

The greatest constraint to improving global healthcare delivery? Not availability, but access.

Full use of existing interventions would cut the 10 million annual child deaths that occur globally by more than 60%, as well as a high proportion of the half-million annual maternal deaths that could also be prevented by interventions of known efficacy.*

Esteemed Harvard faculty, including Paul Farmer and Arthur Kleinman, effectively address the delivery gap through a nuanced, biosocial approach — which led them to create the HarvardX Massive Open Online Course, Global Health Case Studies from a Biosocial Perspective, to share their research with the world.

While a popular tool for those who are curious in exploring important ideas, health practitioners and leaders, such as yourself, require more. You need to create and receive feedback, to share and discuss in small groups. A busy life means you also need support while you learn, to stay on track and achieve your objectives. This online short course from Harvard's Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning (VPAL), in association with HarvardX, recognizes the necessity for transformative impact.

Join a global health community as they analyze how power structures shape the response to disease, and the approaches taken all over the world in the fight against Ebola, HIV/AIDS, MDR-TB, and the burden of mental health. Make meaningful connections with peers while creating your own intervention ready for action.

Course outline

  • Introduction to the biosocial
  • Why ideas matter: Social theory in global health
  • The history of global health and colonial legacy
  • Political economy and foreign aid
  • The global AIDS movement
  • Challenges in healthcare delivery: Lessons from Liberia and Haiti
  • Building an effective rural health delivery model in Rwanda
  • Critical perspectives on metrics of disease
  • The unique challenges of mental health
  • Values and global health


  • Kolokotrones University Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • Esther and Sidney Rabb Professor, Anthropology Department; Victor and William Fung Director, Asia Center, Harvard University; Professor of Medical Anthropology, Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • Associate Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard University; Director, Harvard Medical School Center for Global Health Delivery – Dubai

Associated Schools

  • Harvard Medical School

Enroll now.
Take courseonGetSmarter