Public ‘healthonomics’

2 min read

Assistant Professor Jessica Cohen is bringing a behavioral economics perspective to public health interventions in Africa.

“Here’s the thing,” says Jessica Cohen. “You can design a public health program or product that works wonderfully, that will spare suffering and save lives. And you could tell people all about it, when and why they should use it, and all the benefits.

“But, if you don’t think about the barriers to change, how the intervention actually fits into people’s lives and the human response to what you are doing, then all that work you have done, this incredible public health tool you’ve created – it could be all for naught.”

An assistant professor in the Department of Global Health and Population at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Cohen is a behavioral economist who is pushing to bring the methods and insights of her field to international health projects, especially those in Africa. Rather than banish to the sidelines the messy aspects of human psychology such as procrastination, behavioral economics directly draws on them to explain economic and other aspects of human behavior.

Most of Cohen’s research has involved malaria, a devastating infection that kills 600,000 people annually, most of them children.