Trained as a health economist, Dr. Omar Galarraga has three main research interests: cost-benefit analysis, health care reform – particularly surrounding insurance concerns – and the application of behavioral-economic approaches to impact behavioral change.
Galarraga feels he has the potential to improve health outcomes through behavioral economics, a field that incorporates insights from both economics and psychology He is currently working on a project in South Africa studying HIV prevention and incentives for linkage to care among young women. Through qualitative observation, researchers have found that many individuals who find out that they are HIV positive do not come back to the clinic for immediate treatment. Instead, they wait until they are severely ill, which negatively impacts both the patient and their sex partners. So through behavioral economics, Galarraga hopes that his research will improve treatment uptake of ART (antiretroviral therapy) and ultimately reduce HIV transmission.
In addition to his project in South Africa, Galarraga has also accomplished notable work in Mexico City. Working through the city’s largest HIV clinic, Galarraga managed to interview over 18,000 men who have sex with men – including sex workers – on their willingness to receive regular check-ups and avoid new STIs for varying financial incentives. These findings have since been published and used as the basis for an incentive-providing pilot program. Galarraga and colleagues are very proud of this work because through it they were able to work in close collaboration with the city’s HIV Treatment and Prevention Program and ultimately influence policy development. The legislature in Mexico has recently passed a law to support HIV-positive patients of low socioeconomic status by providing a metro pass as transportation compensation for their clinic visit, thus incentivizing future check-ups. Galarraga and colleagues have since been asked to evaluate the impact of this new program.
Beyond his work in Mexico and South Africa, Galarraga also works closely with Lawrence Were, a PhD candidate in Brown’s department of Health Services, Policy and Practice focusing on health economics. With Lawrence, Galarraga is evaluating the impact of Kenya’s National Hospital Insurance Fund on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV outcomes. Also in Kenya, Galarraga is working with AMPATH – a large consortium that currently provides treatment to over 150,000 people in western Kenya. In the past, AMPATH has been funded by PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). Galarraga and colleagues are looking to evaluate the feasibility of alternative funding mechanisms, particularly the use of a community-based health insurance pilot through Zurich Health.