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CHIBE Q&A with Rachel Nugent, PhD

Rachel Nugent headshot

Learn more about CHIBE’s newest External Advisory Boardmember Rachel Nugent, PhD, Vice President and Director of Global Noncommunicable Diseases, RTI International.

What made you want to be a part of CHIBE’s external advisory board?

I was pleased to be invited to join CHIBE’s external advisory board largely because of the high impact that CHIBE has demonstrated in influencing public policy through strong economic evidence, and also to bring that kind of rigorous economic analysis to lower-resourced countries that have many similar health challenges as the United States, but don’t have the behavioral economic training and skills to find innovative ways to resolve those challenges.

What projects are you working on these days?

I am working on the major contributors to noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), primarily on tobacco control and obesity, across countries and populations. Some of the most interesting work is on adolescent health and how to reduce mental disorders and other risk-taking. I am also looking at the interaction between infectious and noncommunicable diseases and how to cost-effectively integrate health services in developing countries, who have growing NCD burdens and very limited resources.

You have more than 30 years of experience in global development as a researcher, practitioner, and policy advisor to governments. What’s a project, paper, or moment that you’re especially proud of from your career?

I believe one of my most influential papers was not even published in a peer-reviewed journal, partly because of data challenges and partly because of my laziness! That paper was a very detailed look at what global health donors were spending on NCDs, and it was done more than 10 years ago before many people realized that NCDs were already a big problem in poorer countries. It turns out that global health donors spent less than 2% of their donor assistance for health on NCDs, which constituted almost 70% of the health burden in the world at that time. That imbalance came as a shock to many people, but it continues today. I believe at the root of the donor reluctance to fund prevention and control of NCDs is the belief that people are responsible for their own poor health when it comes to NCD risks and diseases. Behavioral economics has a role to play in changing the stigma attached to NCDs as well as in changing the opportunities to reduce them.

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