Gingrich Goes Global With Sabbatical

EMU economics professor Chris Gingrich
EMU economics professor Chris Gingrich

When thinking about his upcoming sabbatical last year, EMU economics professor Chris Gingrich knew he wanted to do something that wasn’t in his own backyard.

“I contacted a few different international organizations,” Gingrich said. “I basically expressed that I had a year to offer and if anyone could use my specific skills for a project, I would be glad to get involved. MEDA ended up being the right fit.”

Specifically, MEDA presented Chris with a project that would take him halfway across the globe. He was placed with a project in Tanzania that worked with the distribution of insecticide treated mosquito nets that were used to prevent malaria. The Tanzanian National Voucher Scheme (TNVS) project of the Tanzanian government promotes the distribution of these nets in the private sector with subsidized vouchers provided for citizens to purchase the nets. The goal of the project is to develop a sustainable supply chain for the nets even after the project ends.

“It’s quite a unique program in Africa, especially considering the large scale,” Gingrich said. “It has already had some positive effects, but the project also has seen its share of criticism.”

Most of this criticism is due to the remaining families who are not receiving nets fast enough, or not receiving them at all. Knowing this, Gingrich looked to research the specifics of why there was still a substantial population without access to mosquito nets. While many of the project’s critics blamed the price of the co-payments that were associated with the net vouchers, Gingrich’s research would lead him to a different conclusion.

“Price ended up being a much smaller cause of the problem than people had suggested,” Gingrich said. “Other variables like lack of education regarding malaria were more likely to contribute to individuals not buying nets.”

Most of his data were collected through the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and were crucial for his research.

“I was lucky to have such good data available to work with,” he said. “There is no way the research could have been completed within the year otherwise.”

In addition to his research, Gingrich spent a good part of September and October last year and May of this year in Tanzania. This time abroad also helped him in developing his conclusions.

“It’s easy to blame something like price when you are critiquing the situation,” Gingrich said. “In actuality, however, a mother’s decision to buy or not buy a mosquito net involves many other variables such as living environment and education. It is very much a case by case situation.”

As the project continues, the hope is that other African nations pick up this project in some form, and the idea of using the private sector to distribute nets is something that becomes favorable to a government and its people.

Now back at EMU, Gingrich is happy to have been part of a global project such as the TNVS.

“It was very fulfilling to be part of a cutting-edge project like this and to be able to come up with some very good results through my research,” Gingrich said. “I just hope that the research will have an impact and positive changes can be made through my work. I was fortunate to meet so many of the individuals associated with MEDA in Tanzania and I feel very lucky to have had the experience.”