RGHI member in the spotlight

PhD candidate Sean Richardson

Interview with Sean Richardson, PhD candidate at ESHPM. First an introductory question: At which of the RGHI institutes are you working and how long have you been there? "I am a PhD candidate at ESHPM. I started in August 2023 and my supervisors are Tom Van Ourti, Matthias Rieger and Eddy Van Doorslaer."

What is your research focused on? 

My primary research focus is health-related decision-making in low- and middle-income countries, largely focusing on sub-Saharan Africa. My work examines health behaviours as well as how changes in health outcomes impact other decisions such as savings, educational attainment, and labour force participation.  

What drew you to Global Health? 

Growing up in South Africa makes one realise that basic things such as adequate living conditions and access to healthcare are not universal and should not be taken for granted. I have felt strongly about these issues for a long time, but my interest in doing research on health in a professional capacity originally stemmed from a fascination with applied microeconomics and microeconometrics. 

In my first research project as a student, I attempted to model whether patients would return to the clinic to collect the results of their tuberculosis test results based on behavioural characteristics gathered through clinic waiting room surveys. I initially chose this topic simply because it was the most interesting available dataset that I could use to do behavioural economics research, but it opened the door into global health for me. I soon realised that doing research on health and health behaviours in poorer settings is not only very interesting but important and impactful. As someone who has reaped the rewards of being in a fortunate position in a very unequal society, it feels right to use the education and opportunities presented to me to do work that can help improve the lives of those who did not have the same privileges.  

You have been conducting field work in South Africa, could you tell us more about this? 

We are in the process of commencing a randomised control trial to examine the impact of a mobile phone chatbot application on treatment adherence among tuberculosis patients in the Western Cape province of South Africa. This project has been funded in part by the Erasmus Trustfonds. 

Tuberculosis is a major issue in many developing countries despite the existence of effective treatment, with suboptimal health behaviour being a significant barrier to addressing the problem. Our intervention will aim to improve adherence, increase awareness regarding the disease, and reduce the burden faced by healthcare providers. We have completed piloting the intervention at a clinic in the region over the last 18 months (I was involved with this project in a research assistant capacity prior to my PhD) and are using the learnings from that process to refine our intervention and study design for the full study later this year. 

Being involved in this project, learning about the process of designing field experiments and experiencing how research can have tangible consequences on others’ lives has been a rewarding experience thus far.  

What are your main ambitions for the future? 

I am still early in my career, but I plan to continue doing research, either in academia or through other organisations. It is important for me to continue to do work on South Africa and the rest of the developing world in some capacity throughout my career.  

Do you have a paper/TED Talk/Podcast that you enjoy and would recommend us to listen to? 

It unfortunately appears to have ended, but I really enjoyed the Freakonomics M.D. podcast series. It did not cover global health issues as much as I think it should have, but I found it to present many great examples of how important and interesting health economics research can be. 

About RGHI
The Rotterdam Global Health Initiative (RGHI) is the multi-disciplinary global health research and education network of Erasmus University and Erasmus MC. Through our research and education efforts, we seek to help diminish health inequalities between and within countries, improve people’s living conditions, and contribute to more effective and equitable healthcare of good quality worldwide.
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PhD student
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