Financing Healthier Lives

This year marks the halfway point since the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set in 2000 with a 2015 target date. This juncture is the perfect time to take a close look at how much progress has been made towards meeting the goals and how organizations like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Microcredit Summit Campaign (MCS) can make a significant contribution to accomplishing these audacious goals. It is also appropriate to assess which strategies have been most effective in achieving the apparent gains over the last seven years. In July 2008, the Group of Eight (G-8) countries met and took stock of where the world stands with regards to the MDGs. In what was a vote of confidence in the results achieved so far, the countries renewed their endorsement of the goals. They particularly noted that the least progress has been made in improving maternal health (MDG 5), with close to 500,000 women still dying each year due to pregnancy-related causes. All G-8 countries particularly underscored a commitment to improving in this area. Over the past seven years, the MDGs have shaped development priorities for governments, donors and practitioner agencies worldwide. There is no question that if the MDGs are achieved, it would represent enormous progress towards the UNFPA vision that every woman, man and child enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. It would also reflect the enormous contribution of MCS and its members to the economic and social empowerment of women, especially those living in extreme poverty. The Millennium Development Goals Report published in 2007 cautions, however, that although significant gains have been made, much remains to be done. If current trends continue, there is a chance that the goals will not be fulfilled. There is an urgent need for all institutions involved to break with “business as usual” and devise strategies to scale up efforts to meet the targets. This document is an update of an earlier edition published in 2006 and primarily focuses attention on the strategy of integrating microfinance services with health education.1 Highlighted within are MCS and UNFPA’s joint global efforts to empower women using this strategy, employing methodology developed by and receiving training in its use by a key partner, Freedom from Hunger. Included is analysis from innovative work in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Of special note are the results from a pilot project in India that shows how local capacity can effectively be built to accelerate the large-scale global adoption of integration. The document also serves as a call to action for development agencies, governments, microfinance institutions (MFIs), and donors to invest in this strategy that holds the promise of making many of the MDG targets truly achievable. The final section offers eight concrete recommendations for action to realize the potential of the “combined services” approach of integrating microfinance services with health education. All eight actions rely on the development agencies, governments, MFIs and donors to promote integrated health education and microfinance while championing microfinance as one of the pillars for meeting the MDGs.

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