Academic Minute Podcast

Shamma Alam, Dickinson College – The Hidden Cost of Lockdowns: Implications for Healthcare Access

Lockdowns had hidden costs for those needing healthcare access.

Shamma Alam, associate professor of economics and chairperson of the department of international studies at Dickinson College, explores this.

Shamma A. Alam is Associate Professor of Economics and Chairperson of the Department of International Studies at Dickinson College. He is an expert on economic shocks and understanding their impacts on individual and household decision-making. Alam is an economist by training, and his research focuses on different aspects of health economics, international development, and population issues. His articles have been published in highly respected academic journals like the Journal of Health Economics, the Journal of Development Economics, and the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

In addition to his role at Dickinson, he also served as a Consultant at the World Bank several times, including in their Economic Policy, Poverty and Gender Group, Development Data Group, and East Asia and Pacific Region group. He also previously served as a consultant in the Agriculture Policy Team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He also currently serves as a Research Fellow at the Global Labor Organization and a Research Associate at the CEQ Institute at Tulane University.

The Hidden Cost of Lockdowns: Implications for Healthcare Access

During the Covid-19 pandemic, nations worldwide implemented sweeping lockdown measures. These restrictions had a profound impact on healthcare utilization, with studies revealing a significant decrease in access to medical services, particularly in developing countries. However, we know very little about the underlying reasons for this decline. To address this gap in our understanding, we study this issue in the context of Uganda, a country in Sub-Saharan Africa that imposed strict lockdowns during the pandemic.

Our findings show a stark decrease in healthcare utilization during the lockdowns. Surprisingly, the primary driver behind this decline was not the restricted mobility imposed by the lockdowns. Instead, the most significant factor at play was the inability of individuals to afford medical treatment. We observe a substantial 71% increase in individuals reporting that they could not access treatment because of financial constraints. This trend likely stems from the closure of workplaces during lockdowns, leading to a rise in unemployment and subsequently hindering individuals from affording essential medical care. It’s worth noting that in Uganda, as in many developing countries, healthcare costs are often paid out of pocket and can be prohibitively high.

These results shed light on the potential unintended consequences of lockdowns on healthcare access, particularly in the context of a developing country. Our results indicate the need for policymakers to consider immediate social support for households as a strategy for balancing the disruptions caused by lockdowns.

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