McMaster University

Interdisciplinary Global Health Field Course:
Maternal and Infant Health in Morocco

Scope of Search


This new interdisciplinary global health field course is open to ALL McMaster undergraduates and will run in spring term, 2016. It provides students an integrated linguistic, cultural and historical study of public health in the Islamic North African country of Morocco.

  • Program Overview
  • Program Leader
  • Timeline — What is due when?

Program Overview

There is one week of intensive introduction to public health at McMaster University, May 3rd - May 6th, 2016, 6 hours/day, and four weeks of intensive global health and Arabic study in Morocco, May 7th - June 5th, 2016.

In the Morocco urban component (3 weeks) students will learn about the determinants of health and the array of social, government, and environmental factors that affect women’s reproductive health and infant and child health:

  • Tuberculosis and HIV morbidity (epidemiology), and the national policies for their prevention in Morocco, from the National School of Public Health in Rabat.
  • Violence against women, marital rape, child abandonment, unwed motherhood, and social views of sex and sexuality with “MRA,” an NGO that educates women about their legal rights.
  • Students will meet with feminist, Islamic, and international NGOs that support women and children.
  • AIDS prevention and the work of the AIDS NGO “Association de Lutte Contre le SIDA,” the oldest AIDS NGO in the Middle East/North Africa region.  ALCS advocates for HIV infected persons, studies AIDS prevalence, and trains prostitutes, MSM (men who have sex with men), and sub-Saharan African asylum-seekers as AIDS peer educators.
  • Illegal African immigration and the health consequences for women, men, and children who come to Morocco or continue to Europe seeking asylum.
  • International health interventions in Morocco (Peace Corps), and Doctors Without Borders.
  • Students will visit the largest water-treatment plant and research center in Africa, and learn about water scarcity and climate change in Africa.
  • Students will live with home-stay families.
  • Students will learn Moroccan colloquial Arabic at AMIDEAST a U.S. NGO that also teaches for the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Fulbright Scholars program, hosts 15 exchange programs for US universities, and has taught for the U.S. Peace Corps.
  • Site visits to ancient Islamic cities, Roman ruins, industrial shantytowns, will introduce students to health determinants of the built environment and traditional Islamic forms of sanitation, water provision, etc.

In the Morocco rural component (one week), students will have a hands-on fieldwork experience that focuses on community health, the challenges of providing health care and maternity services outside the state support structure, and the environmental determinants of health.  Students will:

  • Hike out to remote villages that do not have water systems and bivouac/camp.
  • Interview traditional midwives and local NGO leaders through a translator about health issues.
  • Study water sources, water usage, conduct water quality testing in homes and rivers, help local women gather water, study the relationship between water and girls’ schooling.
  • Learn about traditional birth practices and beliefs about nursing, women’s health, and nutrition.
  • Volunteer for an English language tutoring day for local schoolchildren.
  • Study a series of sustainable development projects created by local NGOs and the Atlas Cultural Foundation.
  • Help plan a Community Health Day, a popular education program for local people.
  • Lodge with the shaykh of the Islamic Hansali Sufi order in his home, and enjoy meals with his family.

Students each complete an individual research project upon return to Canada, thus the Morocco program can satisfy experiential learning and individual research projects for a number of academic programs.  The Morocco program can be part of an ELE for the Bachelor of Health Sciences Program, for example, especially for the Global Health Stream.  Because it is a research program, students can apply for McMaster grants for experiential learning, individual research, and OSAP.

For more information about the Morocco program, visit our dedicated website and student blog at:

Maternal and Infant Health

The site provides bios of the speakers to the program, websites of the NGOS and other organizations we visit, an extensive photo gallery, the student blog from 2013 and 2012, the titles of student research projects from the class of 2013 and 2012, and other resources.

Program Leader

Dr. Ellen Amster is the Jason A. Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine at McMaster and Associate Professor in the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Department of History at McMaster University. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. in history from the University of Pennsylvania in 2003 and her B.A. in political science from the University of Chicago.

Dr. Amster has conducted medical fieldwork and archival research in Morocco for over fifteen years and is the author of Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877-1956 (University of Texas Press, 2013), research supported by Fulbright, SSRC, AIMS, and the government of France. She is an Islamicist, Arabist, and has served as a simultaneous Arabic-French-English translator for an eye surgery mission in Morocco for ORBIS, a Gates-foundation global health NGO. She has published widely about the history of public health in the Islamic world, Moroccan history, gender history, Islam, and French colonial science. She is a founding member of GNR-MENA, an international network for researchers for the prevention of AIDS in North Africa.

At McMaster, Dr. Amster teaches for the MPH program, the DeGroote School of Medicine, the Department of History, and runs the Hannah History of Medicine and Medical Humanities Speaker Series. She has created a History of Medicine web portal for McMaster students to create their own research projects, which will launch in April 2016. She is affiliated with the Center for Health Economics and Policy Analysis (CHEPA), the Health Policy Ph.D. program, and the Department of Psychiatry.

Click Here to watch a television interview with Dr. Amster about Women, Health and Development in Morocco on the PBS program “International Focus,” from January 20, 2013.

Dr. Amster created this context-based, culturally-informed undergraduate interdisciplinary global health study abroad program in 2012 as an extension of her own research. The program emphasizes cultural competence for understanding the determinants of health in the developing world. It was originally created with support from a U.S. Department of Education (UISFL) Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Languages Grant and ran for 3 years, attracting students from 8 U.S. universities. It is the first program of its kind in Canada.

Watch an interview with Dr. Amster at McMaster University in 2016, "Research Leaders in the Humanities," describing how the Morocco program arose from her own research.



Timeline — What is due when?

This is a timeline to keep you on track.  See the “Student Checklist, Statement of Responsibilities” on the Homepage for details and web links about all requirements.

Download the Student Checklist and print for your use.

January 2016

January 18, 2016

Information Session about the Morocco Program

  • 12:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m., Chester New Hall 607B.
January 26, 2016

2 Information Sessions about the Morocco Program

  • 12:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m., Chester New Hall 607B
  • 3:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m., MDCL 2218

February 2016

February 22, 2016

Completed student applications are due to Dr. Amster

  • Student Participant Application Form
  • Academic Recommendation Form
  • Student Transcript
  • $250.00 CND deposit (cheque)
  • Photocopy of passport
February 25, 2016

Students will be notified of acceptance or waitlist

March 2016

March 1, 2016

Students confirm by email if they accept or do not accept to attend the Morocco program

Health Status Form is due.

March 7, 2016

Orientation Session for student participants.

  • Students may attend this session or the March 9, 2016 session. 
March 9, 2016

Orientation Session for student participants.

  • Students may attend this session or the March 7, 2016 session. 
March 22, 2016

Full Morocco Program fees are due from students

  • (the $6450 balance after $250.00 deposit). 
  • No late payments.

Immunizations documentation demonstrating a consult with a travel health clinic are due.

Visa documents if not Canadian or US citizen due.

Completed Travel Health Insurance Information Form with proof of Insurance is due.

April 2016

April 6, 2016


April 15, 2016

Notification of Permission to Register for McMaster Credit


Pre-Departure Orientation, *Mandatory.*  Students receive detailed in-country handbook, group airline travel itinerary, detailed syllabus and in-country itinerary, specific checklists about packing, interaction with host family, answer all questions, etc. 10:00AM - 12:00PM MDCL 2230

Due, Student registration for McMaster course credits with university registrar (HIST or ANTHROP 3GH3 or RELIGIST 3GH3 and ARABIC 3GH3) or BHSC credits.

Due, proof of payment to McMaster registrar for course credit registration.

Signed Participant Assumption of Risk Waiver due.

April 25, 2016

Signed copy of Student Checklist, Statement of Responsibilities is due.

TCPS 2 Tutorial Completion due.

Registration with as a Canadian national traveling abroad is due.

Review of emergency information on website is due.

Knowledge of Canadian embassy in Morocco due (see Checklist for details).

Registration with Canadian Abroad Service is due.

May 2016

May 3, 2016

Course Instruction begins for the program on McMaster Campus.

May 7, 2016

Depart for Morocco from Toronto Pearson Airport, see Itinerary and Syllabus for details about program and dates in Morocco.

May 8, 2016

Arrive to Casablanca, Morocco

June 2016

June 5, 2016

Return to Toronto Pearson Airport

June 15, 2016

Brief oral presentations of research projects in a “research day” on McMaster campus.

One page write-ups of individual research projects due.

July 2016

July 10, 2016

Final individual research projects are due.