“We study the effects of diseases and epidemics on poverty, inequalities, work…”

Josselin Thuilliez is among the three economists who were selected, by the jury bringing together representatives of the Circle of Economists and the World, for their work in applied economics and promoting public debate.

Your work is at the crossroads of epidemiology and economics. What lessons does this approach allow to draw?

I am indeed anchored in economic epidemiology, which is a field at the intersection between these two disciplines. Economic epidemiology allows the integration of behavioral responses, which arise from an epidemiological context, to better understand how diseases are transmitted and how they can be controlled. It’s fascinating because it allows us to look at the effects of a disease on a multitude of aspects such as poverty, inequalities, work or education, but also less visible aspects such as beliefs or learning. We are also interested in control policies to determine which incentives will be the best, and to see if the policy put in place allows to have the expected effects.

Through this type of analysis, one can make cost / benefit or cost / effectiveness estimates, and imagine various scenarios to compare different policies. On malaria, we have shown that the effects of the infectious disease on poverty can go through education, and in particular that malaria without symptoms can cause problems with attention, repetitions or school absenteeism.

How does this apply to the Covid-19 pandemic, which you are currently working on?

We are working on a project to model the epidemic dynamics during the various confinements. We try to integrate unexpected effects on economic behavior, learning, beliefs, social connection between people, or the effects of certain measures on health, as we have seen, for example, with the problems consumption of psychotropic drugs in France. Certain economic models on malaria are finally quite close to what we can observe on the Covid. By re-using this material, we can try to extract a generalizable character that can then make recommendations applicable to other diseases.

How did you come to be interested in these topics?

I started my work on infectious diseases in Mali, after my research master’s degree at Paris-I. I worked there with the medical researcher Ogobara Doumbo, an internationally renowned scientist who unfortunately passed away in 2018, and whom my thesis director, Jean-Claude Berthélemy, had urged me to meet. He hosted me at the Malaria Research and Training Center (MRTC) in Bamako, where I did much of my thesis, which focused on the effects of malaria on human capital accumulation. It was quite unusual to be immersed in a medical school in Mali while I was doing an economics thesis. But I think he understood that malaria, which decimated – and still decimates – many African children, did not stop only with the fatal cases of the disease, but that it is a health problem. wider public, which also includes asymptomatic forms whose effects on society remain quite complex to understand.

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