UMass Boston

Courtenay Sprague

Confl Res, Hum Sec & Globl Gov
Department Chairman
Wheatley Hall Floor 04

Areas of Expertise

Health Equity, HIV, Social Constructions of Health and Illness, Social Determinants of Health, Women's Health, Qualitative Research Methods


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.

Professor Sprague holds a joint appointment with the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute in South Africa, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). Previously, she was an associate professor at Wits, based in Johannesburg, South Africa for seven years, and a senior researcher for two. She has been deeply involved in the core challenges of global health and development facing vulnerable populations in the developing world since 1999.

Professor Sprague is a social health scientist. Her research investigates factors that underpin health inequities—a subset of social health inequalities that are deemed unfair and unjust—among socially excluded or marginalized populations, primarily women living with HIV, which informs her teaching in global health. She is particularly interested in unraveling the ways in which structural health determinants and health systems factors shape the health status and outcomes of women living with and at risk of HIV, as well as protective policies and interventions that support women’s health and their capabilities. 

Professor Sprague has focused on women living with HIV in South Africa and the Southern US, and their ongoing high HIV incidence and prevalence, relative to other groups, as a social justice problem. She is particularly interested in social constructions of health and illness, and the role of gender norms in influencing the health of women living with or at risk of HIV acquisition.  Her work has sought to capture the lived experiences of women who are socially marginalized and to elevate their voices in published research, using qualitative research methods to capture their agentic intentions and actions within social context. Professor Sprague’s doctoral research in South Africa was one of the first qualitative research investigations to engage directly with pregnant and postpartum African women living with HIV in public health clinics and hospitals when seeking to access combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) and prevention of mother to child HIV transmission programs (PMTCT) in South Africa, following the public sector HIV treatment programme was established in 2004.

A trademark of her work has been to use the data and evidence in health systems (hospitals and clinics) to then inform and guide proposed changes in social policy and clinical practice, while drawing attention to the state’s constitutional obligation in South African law and human rights violations.

Professor Sprague’s work is highly inter-disciplinary in order to engage with multicentric, complex health and equity considerations. Working closely with colleagues in medicine (Dr Vivian Black) and human rights (Professor 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; international policy discussions on safe infant feeding practices for women with HIV; acute shortages of human resources for health (e.g., task shifting); 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, Professor Sprague has a special vantage point from which to view global health and human development concerns. She held a program post at Carnegie Corporation of New York (2001-2005), where she led a new strategy on the transformation of academic staff at selected South African universities, as part of South Africa’s national higher education development plan; and she held a research appointment at Harvard Business School (1996-1998) within the Business, Government and International Economy unit.  She has conducted research and work for a number of international organizations, including UNAIDS, WHO, UNDP, USAID and South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign. With over 18 years of experience working with diverse population groups across the globe, she has been involved in health and development research and related programs in Brazil, Mozambique, South Africa and Uganda and grant-funded programs and interventions implemented by Carnegie Corporation in Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

To support her work, Professor Sprague has received grants and funding from the Ford Foundation, the International Institute of Education, the UK Department for International Development, the European Union, and the Canadian International Development Agency. 

In 2016, she received a scholarly residence at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center for her work: Sprague, Courtenay. 2018. Gender and HIV in South Africa: Advancing Women’s Health and Capabilities. London and Cape Town: Palgrave Macmillan. Sprague book review in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal, available here, and in the African Journal of AIDS Research.