Leveraging existing studies for COVID-19 research to inform policy responses

Where I do research and analytical work:

Eric Mvukiyehe - Economist, World Bank Research Department - Research Map

Research Overview

The COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus) pandemic has had unimaginable human costs and devastating negative effects on economic and social lives at all levels of societies and the world, triggering an unprecedented economic crisis worldwide (for the latest statistics on cases and deaths, by country, see here.) The COVID-19 pandemic has not only disrupted public service delivery systems, but also public health measures such as social and physical distancing and restrictions established in response to the pandemic by governments in most countries have been devastating for businesses as well as for households’/individuals’ livelihoods, food security, access to basic services and mental wellbeing.

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These deleterious effects are especially likely to be more pronounced for poor and vulnerable households and individuals who typically have little or no savings nor access to insurance or credit. In many low-income and fragile countries like the DRC the challenges of COVID-19 are exacerbated by weak or in existant social protection systems or other pressing and long-lasting problems for health, such as the inadequate provision of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), which is one of the top five risk factors associated with premature death and disability in the country (IHME 2015). Understanding how businesses and people’s lives and livelihoods have been affected by this pandemic as well as the efficacy of policies governments put in place in response can enable policymakers to better understand the situation and be in the position to make better, more informed policy decisions driven by available data and evidence.

My research on COVID-19 leverages and builds on existing RCT studies in countries such as DRC, Egypt, and Tunisia to conduct rapid and just in-time phone surveys, with three goals in mind: (i) to collect rapid, just in time information on the impact of COVID-19 (and government response measures) on businesses and people’s employment and livelihoods, food security and coping mechanism, access to basic services such as education and health for school-aged children and mental wellbeing, among other outcomes; (ii) to the efficacy of variation government response measures and the source of variation in local implementation; and (iii) to investigate the extent to which the main interventions in the studies being leveraged may have helped mitigate the negative effects on households and small business exposed to COVID-19. Key questions covered in the phone surveys, including: the size and scope of the disruptions to basic service provision (e.g., education; health) due to COVID-19; the effect of COVID-19 on business and livelihoods and the extent to which such effects vary across geographies and various demographics; how communities and social groups cope with economic effects of the pandemic, including the existence and access to insurance, especially for poor and vulnerable groups, among others. Below I describe specific existing studies I have been able to leverage for COVID-19 research so far and the list will be updated regularly.

COVID-19 Research in the DRC

In the DRC, I and my co-authors are leveraging household and village-level data out team has collected, as part of RCT of national WASH program, the “Healthy Villages and School”s (Villages et Ecoles Assainis—VEA in its French acronym), financed by UK’s FCDO and being implemented by UNICIEF and the DRC government’s Ministries of Health and Education. The VEA’s main objectives are to support improved access to WASH, especially in villages from rural areas. It does so via a four-pronged intervention: new or improved water infrastructure; new or improved sanitation infrastructure; strengthening of village-level WASH institutions; and a behavior change campaign. The RCT targeted about 350 villages in the last phase of the program, which were randomize between treatment and control (mid-line results can be accessed here).

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The COVID-19 phone surveys targeted the entire sample of households and villages/community leaders, about 60 percent of which was reached successfully. It thought to collect rapid and high frequency data, with the view to: (i) gathering empirical data about knowledge, awareness and behaviors the related to COVID-19 on the people in the villages targeted by the project and the study; (ii) the impact of COVID-19 and government response measures on local business and labor market conditions, people’s livelihoods, economic welfare and access to services; and (iii) the impact the project may have had mitigating any negative impact of the pandemic and restrictive measures put in place by the government.

My team and I have completed two rounds of phone surveys and we have two more rounds to carry out in the coming months. In addition to rolling out these phone surveys, we have also been coordinating with the Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU), the Kinshasa Digital (a non-profit local research institute) and ELAN, a UK-FCDO-funded program carrying out similar COVID-19 phone surveys to explore synergies and maximize knowledge and learning.

Eric Mvukiyehe - COVID-19 DRC

COVID-19 Research in Egypt

Like the whole world, Egypt has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. However, in contrast to other countries, the number of cases has been relatively small. While some government restrictions on physical contacts and economic activity such as a curfew and a partial lockdown put in place earlier in the crisis (around April 2020) have since been lifted, although some restrictions remain in place, e.g. on hotels, restaurants, cafés and places of worship and to some degree on private businesses. The overall economic effect is expected to be significant, but less catastrophic than in other countries.

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This study will leverage a previous randomized control trial (RCT) related to the Emergency Labor-Intensive Investment Project (ELIIP), a cash for work program implemented by the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (MSMEDA), formerly Social Fund for Development (SFD), with financing from the World Bank. The study sought to measure the short-term and long-run employment and welfare impacts of ELIIP’s community social services (endline results can be accessed here). Our research strategy consists in leveraging the RCT design and field a short phone survey to both measure households’ exposure to and affectedness by COVID-19 and to investigate the extent to which the program helped targeted household mitigate negative impacts of COVID-19 on their welfare and income. The research seeks to address the following questions: (i) to what extent were activities and welfare of the youth in Egypt affected by the pandemic and ensuing government restrictions? And (ii) to what extent did ELIIP (targeted on a subset of respondents) mitigate negative effects of households and small business exposure to COVID-19?

On the first point, we pay a particular attention to labor force participation as well as various dimensions of subjective well-being. We want to know whether a previous insertion in the labor market is related to psychological distress in a period of pandemic, and if yes in which direction. On the second point, a certain number of social safety nets programs (Takaful and Karama programs) have been expanded in response to the pandemic. Our phone surveys were successfully completed for a total of 2770 respondents (230 community Leaders and 2540 Workers) out of a total sample of 3,519 households and 468 village/ community leaders. Preliminary results are forthcoming.

Eric Mvukiyehe - COVID-19 Egypt
Eric Mvukiyehe - COVID-19 Egypt Graph

COVID-19 Research in Tunisia

In Tunisia, I and my co-authors are leveraging a two-pronged RCT that first evaluated the effects of a public works program (PWP) known as the “Community Works and Local Participation (CWLP)” project aimed at providing short-term income support to unemployed workers (in some cases long-term unemployed) through temporary employment in locally generated infrastructure or community social services in exchange for cash. The project took place in Jendouba, one of the most under-served governorates in Tunisia. The evaluation sought to provide rigorous evidence on the effects of the PWP (endline results can be accessed here). Second, a random subset of women who participated in the original PWP study (and most of whom remain poor and vulnerable) were offered an additional cash grant. The objective was to study whether cash grants can alleviate capital constraints and thereby enable female entrepreneurship and empowerment.

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Since December 2020, we carried out a follow-up survey on over 4,000 household/respondents, with the twin objective of ascertaining any longer-term effects of the original CWLP project and the marginal effects of the add-on cash grants provided to a subset of women participants in the original study (i.e., treatment and control groups.) The COVID-19 study related to this RCT leverages the endline survey, which included a battery of questions gauging the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic hand an impact on households and businesses, which will also allow us to investigate whether and the extent to which the original interventions may have mitigated the negative effects of the pandemic.

On the first point, we pay a particular attention to labor force participation as well as various dimensions of subjective well-being. We want to know whether a previous insertion in the labor market is related to psychological distress in a period of pandemic, and if yes in which direction. On the second point, a certain number of social safety nets programs (Takaful and Karama programs) have been expanded in response to the pandemic. Our phone surveys were successfully completed for a total of 2770 respondents (230 community Leaders and 2540 Workers) out of a total sample of 3,519 households and 468 village/ community leaders. Preliminary results are forthcoming.

Eric Mvukiyehe - COVID-19 in Tunisia
Eric Mvukiyehe - COVID-19 Egypt Graph