A day in the life of Lori Bollinger

IAS member and Vice President at Futures Institute

A Senior Economist and Vice President at Futures Institute,I start the morning with a cup of coffee at my kitchen table, checking e-mails. It's time to begin my work day, the laptop fired up to search my email inbox.

Because we do so much international work at our nonprofit based in Glastonbury, Connecticut, there are always communications from abroad that have arrived during the night. We have staffers spread out across the globe and they
often need information and feedback.

My day is often spent crunching numbers and analyzing real-life problems that require pragmatic solutions. My main job is helping governments (and others) figure out which are the best programs to put into place to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases in Africa and elsewhere. Early in my career I focused on technical work, but since then my job has evolved into a mixture of technical, management, and field work.

At Futures Institute, we build models and perform analyses to facilitate decision-making processes in various public health areas in developing countries. Our main tool is a model called Spectrum, a publicly-available software program with a demographic module (DemProj). This software forms the basis for other modules including the AIDS Impact Model (AIM), which projects the demographic and social impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and Goals, which examines the cost-effectiveness of different allocations of HIV/AIDS resources.

Once I’ve finished checking my email, I drive to the office, a 40-minute trip. With a demanding day ahead of me, the ride is spent thinking about the shape of the day. Today I have an important conference call at 11 am. A group of us is writing a paper attempting to quantify the extra impact the Global Fund funding used to fight HIV/AIDS and malaria might have on maternal and child health. My task, as an economist, is to provide the extra costs that are associated with certain interventions in order to calculate the associated cost-effectiveness ratios.

Before the conference call with my colleagues we have finalized the wording for one of the interactive tools we are launching, which provides a way to estimate the future costs of providing antiretroviral therapy in developing countries in an easy-to-use way; we have also debated which possible data sources to use in performing modeling work in Botswana. Finally, we have coordinated and approved an invoice for a consultant who is now able to begin gathering costing data in Cote d’Ivoire.

The rest of the morning has been dedicated to the conference call that, after two long hours, has ended productively. After much back-and-forth, we agreed on a way to proceed in our effort to measure how many maternal and child deaths could be averted by increasing HIV/AIDS funding. We also agreed on how to measure the additional health care costs where some of the care provided is already funded by HIV/AIDS (based upon the costs calculated for the new UNAIDS Investment Framework). There is still a lot of work to do, but at least we have agreed on the approach.

In the afternoon, I focus on our projects in the field. At the moment, we have two people in the field - one person running workshops and another person doing a model application who has some methodological questions

Although I love technical work, making visits to the field, or interacting with someone who is in the field, always reminds me of why we do what we do at Futures Institute. For example, sitting in a room with ten people asking, “We have $50 million (U.S.) for HIV – how can we best spend it?” brings home very vividly that the work we do is not about numbers and equations, but about people.

My job is about helping people who are infected with HIV and who need treatment, and helping people who are not infected with HIV to remain that way. With limited funding, I provide tools for others to decide the answer to a very important question: “What is the best way to spend it?”