Coupled models of diseases and economic growth

Calistus N. Ngonghala

Department of Global Health and Social Medicine Harvard Medical School


Economic activity is coupled to ecological processes through an array of mechanisms across the spectrum of conceivable scales. In pursuit of general integrated frameworks, here we combine the dominant paradigmatic model of economic growth theory with standard models of disease ecology. Our calibrated model indicates that the structure of these systems can create bistable outcomes, and therefore poverty traps, in both income and disease that do not occur independently in the uncoupled models. The presence of poverty traps is dependent on various biologically-determined parameters, such as the background transmission rate of disease, and the number of pathogens in the system. In particular, our model indicates that the number of pathogens in the system increases the intensity of ecological-economic feedback, making poverty traps inevitable at sufficiently high numbers of pathogens that prevent the acquisition of human capital. The framework provides a general approach for modeling the dynamics of coupled ecological-economic systems, equally reliant on existing paradigms in both the social and natural sciences. More specifically, it offers a model on the relationship between human health and economic growth.

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