In 2014, our Master’s (MSc) in Public Health celebrated its 50th anniversary.
The first International Course in Health Development (-ICHD) took place in 1964. The course was the result of a joint initiative by the Dutch and Belgian governments following the wave of decolonisation in the late fifties and early sixties.
From the start, two principles that continue to be relevant today formed the basis of the course. The organisers chose to study health and health care in terms of human and societal development and well-being. They also emphasised the importance of cultural, social and economic factors in connecting policy and implementation. From the beginning, ITM professors have striven to bridge the gap between public health and the organisation of health services.
When the quasi-monolithic public health care delivery systems of the sixties and seventies were replaced by complex pluralistic systems operating in a globalised world, our master’s course adapted. In the eighties, study visits to different European countries were organised to both compare acquired theoretical knowledge to real-life implementations, as well as to illustrate that the frameworks and concepts discussed during the course were relevant to studying health systems in high-income countries. In the early nineties, more room was given to the study of health policies at the national and international levels – transcending the operational district level.
By the end of the eighties, the Master of Science in Tropical Biomedical Sciences was introduced, focusing on the control of tropical diseases. This course evolved into the Master of Science in Disease Control in the late nineties, and was eventually (2010-2011) merged with the then renamed Master (MSc) in Public Health – Health Systems Management and Policy, into a single course with two study tracks. By this time, it had become clear that the fields of health systems and disease control complement each other and that students from both disciplines acquire significantly more knowledge by sharing their individual perspectives.
To increase flexibility, course modules such as ‘Strategic Management of Health Systems’, ‘Health Policy’ and ‘Planning and Management of Reproductive Health Programmes’ were made available as independent short courses, several of which were offered as part of the international tropEd programme. The creation of the international, modular and flexible Master’s (MSc) in Public Health – International Health is a result of this process.
The Master’s in Public Health has evolved considerably over the past decades, redefining itself in response to important global social, political, technological, and epidemiological transitions and to changing educational expectations. As a result, our alumni continue to benefit from the different perspective that studying at ITM offers. The majority of our students come from developing countries and studying in Antwerp gives them the opportunity to critically analyse their own country’s health system from the outside. In addition, our students benefit from being exposed to peers coming from often radically different contexts, each with their own set of professional experiences. Adding the extensive field experience of our faculty members to this mix ensures that the programme stays rooted in reality. This dynamic is the key to our success, and we can safely say that completing one of our master’s courses has significantly advanced the careers of our students.