Wednesday, January 06, 2010

MIT Technology Review profiles Esther Duflo

A few years ago, economist Esther Duflo, PhD '99, found a problem that threatened to stump her. In the rural villages of Udaipur, a district in northern India with one of the worst child mortality rates in the world, parents were spurning health clinics' offer of free immunizations against deadly diseases such as measles and tuberculosis. Only 2 percent of local children were being immunized by age two.

Duflo, MIT's Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, specializes in finding unorthodox ways to help the world's poor. So she concocted an experiment with MIT-based collaborators Abhijit Banerjee and Rachel Glennerster, along with officials from Seva Mandir, a local nongovernmental organization. In some villages, they offered parents about two pounds of free lentils when they brought their children in for shots. Before long, families started streaming into these clinics. About four in 10 children got immunized where free lentils were available.

According to mainstream economic thinking, the success of the lentil giveaway made no sense.[...]

The profile is by Peter Dizikes. Prof. Duflo is a 2009 MacArthur 'Genius' Fellowship winner. Her colleague and collaborator, Prof. Abhijit Banerjee won the Infosys Science Prize for humanities / social sciences.


  1. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    If mainstream economists said it made no sense, then they need to get out a bit more. Lentils aren't "cheap" for the poor in India. The shots may be free, but taking time off to go to the public health centre would not have been tempting if they were unaware and insufficiently educated about the benefits of the shots. (Who wants to visit a doctor when not unwell? Many of us procrastinate even when we are unwell.)

    I suppose Duflo thought about all that: presumably she tried it because she expected it to have a chance of succeeding.