Introduction to Epidemiology And Research Methodology, June - September 2017

Posted on Mon, Jun 19 2017 17:18:00

This course, to be registered as a University of Stellenbosch Short Course, will take place over 13 sessions 10h00 – 12h00, on Tuesdays, at SACEMA, starting 27 June 2017, with some weeks skipped by arrangement with the class. The presenter is Dr Jo Barnes, Division of Health Systems & Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Tygerberg.

The course is open to SACEMA and University of Stellenbosch students at no charge. 

Enquiries may be directed to the SACEMA Workshop Administrator Christianah Olojede, phone 021 808 2782.


Course Overview

During the early years of the discipline, epidemiology was the name given to the study of outbreaks of disease (epidemics). Modern epidemiology has been broadly defined as the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations and the application of this study to the prevention and control of health problems. The concepts used by modern epidemiology have widened to encompass the methods and research designs needed to interpret evidence of health research. Thus epidemiology weighs and balances evidence, contrasts and compares.

The principles of study design and related methodologic issues in epidemiology are of fundamental concern and form the backbone of the interpretation of results from any research study in health. In this way epidemiology is not only a discipline of the health sciences in itself, but also a much needed skill for any practitioner in other branches of health research. Knowledge of research design and valid interpretation of data generated in other branches of health research broadens the skills of those scientists and clinicians.

Like the clinical findings and pathology, the epidemiology of a disease is an integral part of its basic description. The subject has its special techniques of data collection and interpretation. Clinical observations determine decisions about individuals. Epidemiological observations may also guide decisions about individuals, but they relate primarily to groups of people. This fundamental difference in the purpose of measurements implies different demands on the quality of data.

Another task of epidemiology is monitoring or surveillance of time trends to show which diseases are increasing or decreasing in incidence and which are changing in their distribution. This information is needed to identify emerging problems and also to assess the effectiveness of measures to control old problems. Unfortunately, standards of diagnosis and data recording may change over time and conclusions from time trends call for particular caution.

Epidemiology is primarily concerned with the transmission of disease among groups or populations, while of course this has to be balanced by ethical considerations and concern for the health of individual members. The assessment or treatment of the individual patient is the domain of the clinician. The trends or changes in patterns of diseases and other health factors in populations are of particular interest to the epidemiologist. The study and estimation of rates is central to the discipline. The purpose of Epidemiology is to provide sound evidence-based findings for policy makers, in developing disease control and prevention measures for groups of people at risk. The discipline also provides the tools to enable health care workers to develop the judgement skills they need to assess the quality of the vast amount of information presented to them in the course of their work, and to assess the potential impact of interventions.


Epidemiology concentrates on questions like these:

·         What are the determinants, distribution and frequency of disease?

·         Who gets ill and why?

·         What are the crucial differences between those who become ill and those who do not? (Both sick and healthy people are to be studied.)

·         How effective are interventions in treating disease, and in stopping further spread?

·         How effective are health services in addressing health needs? What information do they need to make decisions?

·         What is the risk assessment, and what is the threshold for action?


The short course is presented as a series of 13 lectures:

1.      Introduction, basic tools

2.      Demographic aspects

3.      Cross-sectional designs

4.      Construction of questionnaires

5.      Case-control studies

6.      Cohort designs, randomised controlled trials

7.      Sampling

8.      Screening and surveillance

9.      Bias in design

10.    Causation

11.    Disease clusters, outbreaks

12.    Hints on writing a research proposal

13.    Hints on writing research papers and constructing conference presentations

Please download flyer here


Jo Barnes was Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology and Community Health of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the University of Stellenbosch at Tygerberg and is now semi-retired. She still presents courses in Epidemiology. She is still involved in research into the health impact and further consequences of pollution from failing sanitation in urban areas and pollution reaching rivers arising from using the water for drinking and irrigation of edible crops and livestock. She has long experience in water monitoring of the Berg and Eerste Rivers. She is a member of various water and conservation related bodies. Under her leadership her students investigated the dwellings and health status of inhabitants of low-cost housing schemes in the City and the impact of lack of sanitation on the urban environment. Other studies investigated the health status of old age pensioners in low income areas and the oral health status of children under 5 years in the Cape metropolitan area. She is an active member of the Disaster Management Forum of the Western Cape. She contributed health chapters for the disaster plans written for the district municipalities of West Coast, Cape Winelands, Uthungulu, Amajuba and the provincial disaster plan for Limpopo. She is a recipient of the Order of the Disa (Member Class) 2007 for meritorious services to the Province of the Western Cape, winner of the Women in Water, Sanitation and Forestry Award 2007 for the category Education and Awareness for awareness created on contamination of rivers, winner of the Cape Times/Caltex Environmental Award 2005 for the research work on contaminations of rivers and recipient of the Faculty of Health Sciences Award for Community Service for 2007.