York professor receives a grant from the Gates Foundation

Atkinson Professor Joseph Mensah has received a highly prized grant of $170,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study Ghana’s national health insurance system.

Mensah is lending his expertise to the Global Development Network’s fifth Global Research Project titled “Promoting Innovative Programs from the Developing World: Towards Realizing the Health MDGs in Africa and Asia”.The grant will help him conduct one of 21 collaborative studies evaluating health programs in developing and transitional economies.

Right: Joseph Mensah

Funded by the Gates Foundation, the Global Development Network (GDN) project aims to discern which health programs in the developing world are effective enough to be replicated in other communities. The project is a follow-up to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to address a wide range of poverty, education and other health-related issues by the year 2015.

Mensah’s study, “An Evaluation of Ghana’s National Health Insurance Scheme in the Context of the Health MDGs”, explores the extent to which Ghana’s scheme has engendered positive or negative health outcomes for women. Women’s health is an important component in several of the MDGs, including the improvement of maternal health, the reduction of child mortality and the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

“I have won a number of grants in the past but this particular award gives me a deep sense of professional accomplishment, not only because of its relevance for international development, but also because of its global character and competitiveness,” said Mensah. “This is truly an international collaborative project. Undoubtedly, it is something that not only myself, but York as an institution, can be proud of.”

Mensah’s project application was one of approximately 600 proposals. Many of his competitors were development economists with strong backgrounds in econometrics and project evaluation. However, the statistical tools suggested by the call for proposals (CFP) were fairly new even to the economists, and with his background in quantitative geography, Mensah had little problem grasping the quasi-experimental and experimental designs suggested by the CFP. After a presentation of his proposal at a three-day workshop in China for short-listed candidates and a gruelling intellectual question-and-answer period by internationally renowned experts, project managers and fellow competitors, Mensah successfully demonstrated his breadth of knowledge not only in the field of economics and project evaluation but also in global development matters.

“It is good to be a geographer – especially in circumstances like this where a broad academic background is required,” noted Mensah. “Geography’s transdisciplinary nature definitely gave me a leading-edge over many of the other competitors.”

Mensah is collaborating with four other researchers on the study: George Frempong from York’s Faculty of Education; Joseph Oppong from the University of Northern Texas; and Dr. Kofi Bobi Brimah and William Sabi, both from the Catholic University of Ghana.

Mensah’s team intends to use Propensity Score Matching (PSM) – a fairly new technique – to evaluate the Ghanaian Health Scheme. PSM will allow them to statistically match the relevant, observable characteristics of women who are enrolled in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) with those who are outside the scheme, and then compare the healthcare outcomes of these two groups. It is expected that the team will be able to show the extent to which the National Health Insurance Scheme has improved Ghana’s chances for achieving its health MDGs.

“We expect our evaluation to inform future policy decisions regarding the quality, affordability and utilization of healthcare services among Ghanaians,” said Mensah, speaking on behalf of the project team. “In addition, the grant will help establish whether the Ghanaian scheme can be used effectively in other African countries.”

The GDN has already scheduled several high-profile workshops for Mensah’s project, including a regional workshop in Cairo, Egypt; a mid-project workshop in Brisbane, Australia, in conjunction with the 9th Annual Global Development Conference; and a workshop in Prague connected to the 10th Annual Global Development Conference.

The annual Global Development Conferences have become pre-eminent in the field of international development. Organized by the GDN, they have sponsorship from more than 25 leading international development agencies, including Canada’s International Development Research Centre, Germany Development Institutes, the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Islamic Development Bank, the Brookings Institute and the World Bank.

“We are very excited about the outcomes of the project,” said Mensah. “Our study could tremendously impact health research and healthcare services in the developing world. This is a project of critical international importance.”

In 2006 Mensah released his third book, Understanding Economic Reforms in Africa: A Tale of Seven Nations. He is part of the World Bank Institute’s working group on the “Mobilization of Africans in the Diaspora for Development”; and the project manager for an ongoing project titled, “Ghanaian Immigrant Religious Transnationalism.”

For more information on Mensah or his research, e-mail jmensah@yorku.ca.