Offering people free lentils and metal food dishes substantially improves the number of young children that receive a full course of childhood immunisations in resource poor areas, and is more cost effective than just improving the vaccine services available in the region, according to a new study published free in the British Medical Journal.
Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee and colleagues wanted to assess how effective non-financial incentives—1 kg raw lentils per vaccine and a set of metal thali plates once a child has received all their immunisations—and increased availability of vaccine services were at improving immunisation rates in young children in rural Rajasthan, India. Their study included 1,640 children (aged 1–3 years) from 134 villages who were randomly assigned to three groups:
- the ‘immunisation camp’ who received reliable, monthly vaccinations from healthcare professionals
- the ‘immunisation plus camp’ who in addition to reliable, monthly vaccines were also offered cheap little extras of free lentils (costing about $1) for every vaccine and a set of thalis (a snip at $1.50) for a complete set of vaccines (BCG, diphtheria-pertussis, tetanus, polio and measles) received by the children
- a control group who did not receive any interventions
The researchers showed that immunisation rates were higher in the children that were offered reliable immunisations plus a little extra (39%) compared with the rates in children who were just offered the reliable immunisations (16%). Interestingly, children in districts neighbouring the immunisation plus camp also had bigger improvements in immunisation rates than those living near the immunisation camp villages. Not only that, these small incentives were cost effective (costing an estimated $17.35 per fully immunised child in camps with incentives compared with $25.18 per fully immunised child in camps without these extras).
The findings from this study by Banerjee et al. could have important implications for vaccine policies. Moreover, the authors question whether offering lentils can even be considered a “cost” as they clearly will have immediate, nutritional benefits to both the vaccinated children and their families.
Banerjee, A., Duflo, E., Glennerster, R., & Kothari, D. (2010). Improving immunisation coverage in rural India: clustered randomised controlled evaluation of immunisation campaigns with and without incentives BMJ, 340 (may17 1) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c2220