Rational Risk Avoidance During a Health Pandemic

by Edward N. Okeke

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During a health pandemic health workers have to balance two competing objectives: their own welfare vs. that of their patients. Intuitively, attending to sick patients during a pandemic poses risks to health workers because some of these patients could be infected. One way to reduce risk is by reducing contact with patients. These changes could be on the extensive margin, e.g., seeing fewer patients; or, more insidiously, on the intensive margin, by reducing the duration/intensity of contact. This paper studies risk avoidance behavior during the Covid-19 pandemic and examines implications for patient welfare. Using primary data on thousands of patient-provider interactions between January 2019 and October 2020 in Nigeria, I present evidence of risk compensation by health workers along the intensive margin. For example, the probability that a patient receives a physical examination has dropped by about a third. I find suggestive evidence of negative effects on health outcomes.

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