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Master of Science in Epidemiology


The Epidemiology and Biostatistics Division of Wits School of Public Health (WSPH) has since 2000 established itself as an institution of choice for the provision of postgraduate training in epidemiology and biostatistics within the sub-Saharan African region and beyond.

The Division has excelled in providing outstanding Master of Science (MSc) graduates who are well sought after within South Africa and the region. The Division recognises the need to maintain excellence in teaching and through experiences and lessons from the successful existing MSc Epidemiology programme.

The Division also provides teaching and research support to postgraduate students at the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences (WFHS) and the inter-disciplinary Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) PhD programme.

The Division is continuing to contribute to collaborative research on infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases, including environmental and occupational exposures.


The Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics of WSPH offers a Master of Science in Epidemiology to provide training in the principles and practice underlying the discipline of epidemiology. There are currently six fields of study within the MSc programme:

  • Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  • Field Epidemiology
  • Infectious Disease Epidemiology
  • Public Health Informatics 
  • Implementation Science
  • Biostatistics

Epidemiology is fundamental to clinical and community medicine and public health. In combination with basic medical science and clinical research, epidemiology provides the tools with which we can learn more about the aetiology and effects of disease, the opportunities for prevention, the cost and effectiveness of various diagnostic and therapeutic approaches, and the health status and risks of individuals and populations.

The epidemiology courses are well-evaluated and internationally recognized and reflect the values of the School of promoting equity and human rights, and responding meaningfully to the needs of the people on the African continent.

Graduates enter careers in medical research, public health and community medicine, field-based scientific research, government, NGO’s or international agencies.


By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • conceptualize epidemiologic approaches to understand the causes of ill health in population-based research;
  • critically synthesise published literature in epidemiology and biostatistics;
  • design and conduct epidemiological studies;
  • conduct sample size estimation for basic epidemiologic study designs;
  • choose appropriate statistical techniques and perform analysis of data from epidemiological studies, and
  • conduct appropriate and effective dissemination of scientific findings.

Who qualifies for the MSc Epidemiology?

Applicants must have a four-year honours degree, an MBBCh or other health related degree. Relevant work experience will be an advantage. This degree will appeal to students who want to become more involved in research in their fields. Students come from a range of disciplinary backgrounds including medical, microbiology, dentistry, statistics, veterinary science and demography.

Postgraduate application forms are available from:

University of the Witwatersrand
Faculty of Health Science
Phillip V Tobias Health Sciences Building,
Corner York and St Andrew’s Roads, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2193,  South Africa

Applications must include:

  • Written motivation by the applicant detailing motivation for applying for the course and how the program fits with their overall career goals. Motivation template: MSc Motivation
  • Comprehensive Curriculum vitae including a description of relevant research and work experience
  • Two confidential referee reports. Referee Report: Referee Report MSc
  • Certified copies of prior qualification(s).
  • Original transcripts of qualifications.
  • Evidence of familiarity with computer packages such as MS word, Excel, PowerPoint, MS access etc.
  • Foreign Qualifications evaluation for non South African applicants.
  • English competency certificate or evidence of prior undergraduate training in English.

Closing date for applications is 31 July of the year prior to that for which admission is sought.

Postgraduate applicants can now apply and pay online by following this link:

Course Structure

MSc in Epidemiology in the field of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

This field of study offers core course training in epidemiology and biostatistics, research ethics, protocol development, demography and surveillance and allows students to select optional four one-week modules in public health, project management, chronic disease epidemiology, infectious disease epidemiology, clinical epidemiology and additional topics according to their interest and intended area of specialisation.

For students who wish to pursue a career in research, this one year full-time (3 years part-time) masters’ course includes extensive computer-based training in epidemiology and biostatistics.

MSc in Epidemiology in the field of Field Epidemiology

This field of study offers core training in epidemiology, biostatistics, demography, data management and leadership skills, research ethics, protocol development, and applied field epidemiology. The course is complemented by a research project conducted during a 6-month field placement period in an INDEPTH-affiliated Health and Demographic Surveillance Site in South Africa, Ghana or Tanzania. It develops the capacity of researchers in longitudinal data management in order to respond to the key public health challenges of the developing countries. Coursework is 12 months full time with a 6-month field placement. Limited number of fellowships available through INDEPTH NETWORK.


MSc in Epidemiology in the field of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology

This offers core course training in epidemiology, biostatistics and surveillance with emphasis on infectious disease epidemiology and modelling in infectious diseases. It is complemented by one-week modules in research ethics, protocol development, clinical trials and statistical analysis of clinical trials and two one-week electives according to students choice.


MSc in Epidemiology in the field of Public Health Informatics

The new qualification aims to develop research data management as a specialist qualification with specific reference to large longitudinal studies. The programme will also expose data managers to statistical techniques that are typically used to analyse the data they manage. This would help them properly frame the data extractions and make decisions in ways that improve the analysis.

The data scientists graduating from the programme will:

  • Interact with scientists throughout the various phases of a research project
  • Lead the data management team
  • Ensure integrated data management activities from data collection, entry, processing to analysis and publication including the development of data structures and application of data management software.
MSc in Epidemiology in the field of Implementation Science

This field of study offers core training in advanced quantitative methods, epidemiology, monitoring and evaluation, impact evaluations and implementation science methods. The aim of this field is to produce graduates who can understand how public health programmes are working and develop strategies for improved effectiveness, determine how proven interventions can be scaled up effectively, and conduct implementation research. Limited number of scholarships is available through Fogarty and from TDR/WHO.


MSc in Epidemiology in the field of Biostatistics

This field of study is aimed at Statistics and/ or Mathematics graduates who want to pursue a career in Biostatistics. There is a good mixer of the theoretical and associated practical applications of the concepts taught to equip the Biostatisticians for the research environment, academia or furthering their studies.



All Masters students are required to undertake a research project. The research constitutes 50% of the MSc degree. The research process commences during MSc Part I when students develop a protocol. The protocol needs to be submitted to, and approved by, the post-graduate protocol assessor group. 

The protocol assessor groups are organised by the Research Administrator of the School of Public Health.

The purpose of the assessor groups is to review students’ protocols in order to guide them on the quality of their research. Each student is allocated 30 minutes during which time he/she presents a short overview of the protocol and the assessors ask questions and raise concerns about various aspects of the protocol, including the depth and scope of the literature review, the methodology to be employed and the implementation of the study. At the end of the meeting, the assessor group makes one of four decisions regarding the student’s protocol:

  1. Approved
  2. Revision to the satisfaction of the supervisor / Head of Department (HOD)
  3. Revision to the satisfaction of the same assessor group
  4. Revision and re-submission to the next assessor group

The protocol assessor group comprises four members. One member is a Faculty of Health Sciences representative and the other three are SPH staff members, either full-time or honorary. The group is always chaired by a SPH staff member.   

Before the research is undertaken, and after the protocol has been approved by the assessor committee/group, the student must submit the protocol for consideration to the Human Research Ethics Committee (Medical).