Understanding and Addressing Catastrophic Health Events in India

Project Details

The absence of good quality, low-cost healthcare in many parts of the world means that illness and injury frequently have severe impacts on the lives of the poor, especially in rural areas.

According to one estimate, 150 million people worldwide – and 40 million in India - move into poverty every year due to the catastrophic expenditures associated with responding to illness. While the economic impacts of ill health has received some attention, less is known about the social impacts. For example, the illness of a wage-earning parent may force a daughter to relinquish her education in the short-term to play a caring role, with associated long-term implications for her own earning and marriage prospects and the household’s social standing more broadly.

Reflecting the importance of such dynamics and the comparative lack of existing research, this project will examine:

  • the social impact of illness in north India
  • the agency of poor households to manage ill health, including how they reflect on their efforts
  • the setting in which household strategies occur, including intra-household coping strategies as well as the role of government, private and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in providing healthcare to households
  • the implications for household poverty (imagined socially and economically) in the medium term

In doing so, this project builds on existing understandings of catastrophic health expenditure to explore catastrophic health events more broadly, expanding our frame of enquiry to examine the social, cultural and economic implications of ill-health and household coping strategies among marginalised populations in India, and the extent to which catastrophic health events may deepen or perpetuate poverty over the medium term.

The project will be conducted across four core case villages in two north Indian states and will focus on understanding ethnographically the social and economic impacts of ill-health.

Research Opportunities

This research project is available to PhD students to join as part of their thesis. More Information


  • Professor Barbara McPake, Nossal Institute
  • Professor Sumit Kane, Nossal Institute
  • Associate Professor Nathan Grills, Nossal Institute
  • Professor Craig Jeffrey,  School of Geography, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Jane Dyson, School of Geography, University of Melbourne


Catholic Health Association of India

Research Group

Social & Cultural Dimensions of Health Systems

School Research Themes

Prevention and management of non-communicable diseases (including cancer), and promotion of mental health, Disparities, disadvantage and effective health care, Data science, health metrics and disease modeling

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact the research group leader.

Department / Centre

Nossal Institute for Global Health

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