The economics of making a difference

Dr. Rohan Sweeney

The economics of making a difference

Inspired by a desire to improve health outcomes in disadvantaged populations, Dr Rohan Sweeney’s research will make aid more effective for both recipients and donors.

Dr Sweeney was completing a Master of Public Health at the Burnet Institute when he came to a simple realisation that changed the course of his career.

“It became clearer to me how unfair it was that where you’re born can mean a much shorter life lived, often with much poorer health,” Dr Sweeney says.

“And I realised that health economists have a lot to contribute to research in this space.”

That understanding set him on the path to research how international health aid can be more effective when recipients are given more control over how money is allocated.

“Health economists can help identify pragmatic ways to make the priorities of aid recipients better known and heard, while also improving investment outcomes from a donor perspective,” he says.

The Senior Research Fellow at Monash Business School’s Centre for Health Economics says there can be a real power imbalance between those giving and those receiving aid money.

"It became clearer to me how unfair it was that where you’re born can mean a much shorter life lived."

“Donors understandably want some say in how their health aid contributions are used,” he says.

“However, the effectiveness of health-related development aid can be much worse when donors and recipients are not aligned in their priorities and goals for that support.”

He and his collaborators are working with public health researchers at Universitas Hasanuddin in Indonesia to better understand the priorities of residents in informal settlements.

“Then we can assess if health aid produces better outcomes when it matches local priorities,” he says.

Dr Sweeney says he’s fortunate to have received the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) funding to support his research.

“I want to bring together quantitative strategies for donor and recipient stakeholders, to help them understand how well-aligned their priorities are, with the hope that it can improve outcomes from everyone’s perspective,” he says.

Receiving a Monash Business School Dean's Award for Excellence in Research for his work was an amazing honour, he says.

“For me, it’s about collaborating and relationships, and I’ve been very fortunate to collaborate with really clever and generous people,” he says.

“I definitely owe the award to a lot of other people who are making my work much stronger. Especially Duncan Mortimer and David Johnston, my PhD supervisors, who put me on the right track early.”