Research estimates $10 million in lost work per epidemic, with $2 million stemming from households where no one was ill
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new study from RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, has found that during dengue epidemics in the city of Iquitos in northeastern Peru, there have been large decreases in work hours for men and women, with women reducing work hours more. The result was an estimated $10 million in lost work per epidemic. Households with people who did not experience illness accounted for $2 million of the estimate.
Specifically, the study examined intermittent dengue epidemics in Iquitos between 2005-2010. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne virus that predominantly affects urban areas of tropical and sub-tropical regions throughout Southeast Asia, the Americas and the Western Pacific.
“This study shows that the economic impact of dengue epidemics extends beyond households with people who are ill,” said Amanda Walsh, PhD, a senior research economist at RTI who completed the study. “Even households with people who are not experiencing illness see a reduction in work hours, suggesting that additional behavioral or labor market impacts are at play.”
Walsh finds that women reduce work hours by a much larger portion than men, with a 6.9-hour or 15.1% reduction for women compared to a 3.3-hour or 6.8% reduction for men when looking at a sample of men and women who work.
The larger decrease in the work hours of women could be the result of decreased labor demand in the services sector, which is heavily reliant on tourism and commonly employs women, Walsh suggests in the study. Another cause, she says, could be that women are more likely to take care of children who may be kept home during epidemics or to do household tasks related to dengue prevention like cleaning open water containers.
“From a policy perspective, current government interventions in Peru aimed at reducing transmission during dengue epidemics, while well-intentioned, may actually deter labor market activity,” said Walsh. “Shifting the focus away from highly visible but minimally effective spray campaigns and instead emphasizing more effective long-term preventative measures might further lessen the economic impact of epidemics by reducing panic.”
The study was published by Oxford University Press in the journal Applied Economic Perspective and Policy. Access to the full study is available at no cost.