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Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship

Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship

Research Accelerator Grant Awardee 2017: Ashley Pople

The Economics of Thinking Healthy

'The Economics of Thinking Healthy project seeks to test economic hypotheses linking poverty to maternal mental health – the first project of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa. Maternal depression should be a public health priority: its stigmatization undermines the fight for maternal and child health. Poor mental health is often transmitted to children, resulting in a perpetual spiral trapping people in poor health and poverty. In parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, 30% of women carry this burden.

'Despite ramifications for development, this problem remains invisible, in part because the economic implications have yet to be quantified. Mental health and poverty are only tenuously linked in economic research through theories on low productivity, lack of female empowerment and poor decision-making during early childhood development. The Economics of Thinking Healthy project aims to bridge this gap by exploring how poor mental health traps people in poverty and how poverty feeds into maternal depression.

'Given this climate, recent research has pushed the boundaries of innovation on the delivery of healthcare services. For instance, the Thinking Healthy Programme (THP) employs community health workers and trained peer counselors in Pakistan and India respectively to deliver cognitive behavioral therapy to depressed mothers. Unlike many other health innovations in low-resource settings, the THP focuses on the blind spot of mental health. The THP provides a potential platform through which to explore economic hypotheses related to maternal depression.

'As a necessary first step in The Economics of Thinking Healthy, an exploratory visit to Zambia will evaluate the need and the extent to which the successful THP could be adapted to a new context using its community health assistant system. Zambia is an obvious starting point for gathering evidence, given that the Ministry of Health has recognised the need to address maternal depression. Moreover, the government recently rolled out a successful community health assistant system. A partnership with the Zambian Ministry of Health would be crucial to the sustainability and scalability of such a research project. Data collected during the exploratory visit will feed into the design of a large randomized control trial that will be conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Health with the intention to scale it up.'

About Ashley Pople

Ashley Pople is currently pursuing a DPhil in Economics at the University of Oxford as a South African Rhodes Scholar. Her research interests include rethinking mental health and institutions in behavioural economics, urbanisation, and promoting alternative solutions for sustainable livelihoods.

Beyond research, she is passionate about tapping into the talent potential of the burgeoning youth across the African continent. She has led several grass-root educational initiatives challenging the status quo in South Africa, Rwanda and Jamaica. She is also interested in the intersection between gender, health and technology. Her project on innovative solutions responding to high maternal depression rates in South Africa and India placed first in the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship Global Challenge in 2016. Moreover, her conviction for the role of data in informing policy for social change was shaped by her previous summers evaluating labour market and education frictions at J-PAL and Laterite Africa in South Africa and Rwanda respectively. During her time at Laterite, she helped set up an innovative SMS-based data collection process in Kigali.

Ashley holds a BCom in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (Honours in Economics) from the University of Cape Town and an MSc in Economics for Development from the University of Oxford.

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