Schofield's research turned up a finding that sounds intuitive, but had never been spotted before: Micro-loans as small as $100 seem likely to make families healthier in the long term. "Heather's the first to look systematically at microfinance and health," says Bloom, who is the Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography and chair of the Department of Population and International Health at HSPH. "She's produced something of bona fide academic value. In evaluating whether microfinance is a good thing, we need to know the full set of benefits"--health included. With Bloom's encouragement, Schofield enrolled in a master's degree program at HSPH last September.
80 percent of the world's 70 million microfinance users are women,
targeted by lenders to give them control over assets.
Women are more likely than men to repay their loans, and they tend
their earnings on their families. With as little as $100, a woman
can perhaps buy a cart she needs to sell her wares, pay off the
months, and generate more income--which she can then spend on food,
clothing, education, and health care, and even reinvest. The United
Nations named 2005 the Year of Microcredit in an effort to raise
"Heather's work is extraordinary," says Bloom, citing, in addition to her path-breaking results, the complexity of the dataset whose use she mastered and analyzed using advanced statistical methods.
Schofield is one of many Harvard undergraduates who were inspired by Bloom's course to write senior theses on public health issues. (The Class of 2005 voted Bloom one of their top 20 professors.) Members of this group formed a new senior thesis research seminar run by Bloom's colleague, David Canning, professor of economics and international health. A third undergraduate public health offering, "Global Health Challenges," is taught by Christopher Murray, director of the Harvard Initiative for Global Health and HSPH's Richard Saltonstall Professor of Population Policy.
While at HSPH, Schofield hopes to publish her thesis findings. She wants to take as many classes as she can before deciding on a career track (and, once again, a thesis--and perhaps also a doctorate). Having traveled a good deal as a child, she plans to continue to do that, training her eyes on the ways health and economic development intersect. "I love the fact that public health has so many disciplines coming into play," she says. "There are so many ways to look at each problem."
Illustration, Polly Becker; photograph, Kent Dayton/HSPH
Katharine Dunn writes about science, technology, and medicine for the Boston Globe, Science and Spirit, and Technology Review.
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