Faculty & Staff

photo of Courtenay Sprague

Courtenay Sprague, PhD

  • Associate Professor, Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance; McCormack Graduate School and College of Nursing and Health Sciences
  • Telephone: 617-287-4596
  • Office Location: Wheatley Hall, 4th Floor, Room 026A

Areas of Expertise

Global Health and Human Development, HIV, Women's Health, Health Equity


PhD, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Joint MA, Boston University, USA

Professional Publications & Contributions

Additional Information

Courtenay Sprague holds a joint faculty appointment in the McCormack Graduate School Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance and the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. She is also a senior fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development at UMass Boston where she leads the Global Health and Development Research Group and the Global Health track of the PhD Program in Global Governance and Human Security.

Sprague is also a research fellow with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and holds a joint appointment with the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Research Institute in South Africa. Previously, she was an associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa for seven years and a senior researcher for two. She spent nine years engaged in the core challenges of global health and development facing vulnerable populations in the developing world from South Africa, and has been working in health and development for 14 years. 

Sprague’s research seeks to understand fundamental inequities in health achievements and quality health care for marginalized population groups.  She is interested in structural, social, economic, cultural and systems’ factors that enable or disable individuals’ health and wellbeing over the life course. Her work seeks to root health within a human development framework – to understand what women are able to do and be in their communities and societies – in order to lead flourishing lives. She has focused particularly on women of reproductive age and children with HIV - antiretroviral treatment for women’s own health (ART) and preventing mother to child HIV transmission to their children (PMTCT) - in the high HIV prevalence setting of southern Africa.

Sprague’s doctoral research was one of the first qualitative investigations to directly engage with pregnant and postnatal African women with HIV, to understand women’s experiences and encounters when seeking ART and PMTCT in constrained African public health systems; to elevate these women’s voices; and to frame the problem of high HIV prevalence and premature HIV-associated mortality (40%) in women and their children as a fundamental problem of social justice, health and human development; while also raising critical questions of health equity.

Sprague has investigated a range of factors that shape maternal, women’s, and child health and their HIV risk environment, including: individual behavior, social, and cultural norms, socioeconomic status, stigma, and the health systems’ capacity to deliver HIV treatment and prevention in selected sub–Saharan African countries and Brazil. A trademark of her work is to use the evidence base in health systems (hospitals and clinics) to guide changes in clinical practice and social policy, also drawing attention to the state’s constitutional obligation towards the right to health.  

Working closely with colleagues in medicine and human rights (with Vivian Black and Stuart Woolman), her research in South Africa has informed changes at the national (South African) policy level related to treatment guidelines for women and children with HIV; and international policy discussions on safe infant feeding practices for women with HIV; acute shortages of human resources for health; and the need for robust, innovative data management systems in lower–resource settings.

Due to her education and training in both the Global South and North, Sprague has a special vantage point from which to view issues of global health and human development. She held program and research appointments at Carnegie Corporation of New York and Harvard Business School (four years each) and has conducted research and work for a range of international organizations, including ILO, UNAIDS, UNDP, and USAID. With 14 years of experience working with diverse population groups across the globe, she has been involved in health research and related programs in Brazil, Mozambique, South Africa, and Uganda and grant funded programs and interventions implemented in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

Her current research includes collaborations with colleagues in the following areas:

  • Mental health of formerly incarcerated women with HIV, post-release adjustment and their re-entry into communities (Alabama) (with Pantalone and Brown)
  • Women’s health and human development in high HIV prevalence settings, including ART and PMTCT for women of reproductive age (Southern Africa)
  • HIV care entry and retention for low-income populations in the U.S. South (Alabama and Mississippi) (with Simon, Konkle-Parker, Brown, and Kempf)
  • Intimate partner (domestic) violence and the role of health systems and nurses in low and middle income countries in addressing violence against women (South Africa and Brazil) (with Black, Hatcher, Woollett, Sommers, and Brown)
  • Health of undocumented migrant youth (Southern Africa) (with Sommers and Vearey)

To support her work, Sprague has received grants from the Ford Foundation, the International Institute of Education, the U.K. Department for International Development, the European Union, and the Canadian International Development Agency.  She has co–authored over 40 published journal articles, book chapters, technical reports, and case studies.

In 2009, her co-edited book with Ralph Hamann and Stuart Woolman, The Business of Sustainable Development in Africa: Human Rights, Partnerships and Alternative Business Models, co-published by the United Nations University Press and University of South Africa, won the Hiddingh-Currie prize for best academic book in South Africa.