Preventative products and treatments for diseases have large social benefits, decreasing illness and helping people to live healthier lives. Programs that provide subsidies to such products are a great boon to promoting better health, especially in areas where affordability is an issue. The way this is usually done is to provide the highest subsidy rates possible. Unfortunately, such programs are very expensive to implement, requiring money being spent in the most efficient means possible.
Jessica Cohen, Pascaline Dupas and Simone Schaner gather and analyze data in Kenya on artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) subsidies, used to treat malaria, to test whether changing the level of subsidies affects levels of over treatment. Testing a range of subsidies (92 to 80 percent), they find that the rate of malaria positive patients increases from 56 percent to 75, without significant drops in accessibility between the highest rate and the lowest. This result runs counter-intuitive to the idea that the best way to combat disease is to provide drugs at the highest subsidy levels possible. They also tested the effect of providing a highly subsidized over-the-counter rapid diagnostic test (RDT), finding that it increased the rate at which illness is tested for malaria, but compliance rates with negative results were only about 50 percent. They attribute this to possible lack of faith in the RDTs, believing that in the long run compliance rates would increase. This result shows just how important it can be to understand the local environment before doing any aid work.