Health in Sub-Saharan Africa: The (neglected) role of attitudes and demography

Our project empirically investigates the demand for health care in Sub-Saharan Africa with a focus on two largely neglected factors: demographic trends and attitudes towards institutions.

Number of places



International fee, Home fee, Stipend


8 January 2018


31 March 2018


36 months


Candidates are required to have:

  • An excellent undergraduate degree with Honours in a relevant business, scientific/technological or social science subject
  • A Masters degree (or equivalent) will be strongly preferred
  • Students may also have other relevant experience or skills which are relevant to this project
  • Candidates who are not native English speakers will be required to provide evidence for their English skills (such as by IELTS or similar tests that are approved by UKVI, or a degree completed in an English speaking country)
  • An ideal candidate will be able to demonstrate experience of the services marketing domain either through study or employment

Project Details

Over the last 25 years, the world has witnessed unprecedented improvements in living standards. More than 6 million fewer children under five died in 2016 than in 1990; maternal mortality and HIV infections also decreased by a third. However, to sustain progress policy makers face new challenges. Whilst so far supply side policies, such as building facilities, have proved effective, the future task will be to convince individuals to take up appropriate health services.

Faced with such novel challenges, the debate amongst user groups, such as government bodies, has turned to understanding why individuals seek out health care. Most of the research thus far, however, has focused on supply side interventions, such as increasing infrastructure. By contrast, the manifold determinants of health-seeking behaviour have remained relatively underexplored.

Our project addresses this gap in the literature and empirically investigates the demand for health care in Sub-Saharan Africa. We focus on two largely neglected factors: demographic trends and attitudes towards institutions, such as charity organisations. We propose to use large, representative data to quantify how demography and attitudes shape not only the demand for health services but also the effectiveness of policy interventions. We complement our empirical analysis with a model of healthcare utilisation inspired by contemporary ideas in behavioural economics. In doing so, we hope to be able to propose practical solutions to increase the level of healthcare utilisation and reduce the inequality in its use.

Strikingly high fertility rates in Africa are a concern. Large numbers of children put a strain on health systems and sizeable cohorts of young adults may increase HIV. Attitudes towards policy makers, in turn, have proved an unexpected problem, as witnessed during the resistance to polio vaccines in Nigeria.

 The analysis is clearly structured and will proceed in three steps. First, the project will provide a careful description of attitudes using Afrobarometer data. We ask:

  • What are people’s attitudes towards the government and/or international donors?
  • Which are the historical factors affecting attitudes such as colonial history or slave trades?


Second, the project investigates recent demographic trends using census data. We inquire:

  • Which are possible explanations for the demographic trends we observe in Africa?
  • Do countries with particularly high fertility rates show similar attitudes?


Third, we will link attitudes and demographic trends to health outcomes and policies using Health Survey data. We ask:

  • Is health care utilisation related to demographic trends or attitudes towards institutions?
  • Does the impact of targeted health interventions vary with past fertility trends or attitudes?


As a complement to this empirical investigation, a model of healthcare utilisation will be proposed that draws from state-of-the-art behavioural ideas on what the drivers of people’s decision-making are as well as the influence of social norms that will be used to frame the policy discussion related to improving healthcare utilisation.

Our proposed study combines robust research designs with authoritative data, which are commonly used by institutions such as The World Bank. We refer to the attached proposal for more details. 

Funding Details

Fee waiver at Home/EU rate and annual stipend approx £14,553.

How to apply

At this stage, we are inviting applicants to apply for the scholarship only. The successful candidate will then be asked to complete an application for PhD study at Strathclyde.

All applications should include: 

  • a cover letter indicating the candidate's relevant skills/experience and how they can contribute to this research
  • a CV and relevant qualification transcripts
  • two references (please refer to guidance on references)

 When sending the above documents please use the following file-naming convention:


eg. Smith_John_coverletter


Apply now by uploading your documents here.

NB Whilst  this scholarship application deadline is 31st March 2018, candidates will be considered on receipt of application.  The Scholarship award may be allocated before the deadline (at the discretion of the supervisor) , so please ensure early submission to avoid disappointment.