Harnessing the Strengths of Two Sectors to Improve Health and Alleviate Poverty in the Andes

Over the last few decades, microfinance has been considered one of the most important strategies in alleviating poverty and addressing food-security issues. For years, microfinance providers have recognized that poverty and poor health are so intimately connected that it is virtually impossible to distinguish between the causes of one and the effects of the other. Many microfinance leaders and field agents report that health problems are often given as the reason clients fail to repay loans or build and sustain successful income-generating activities. In recent years, we have begun to see how the microfinance sector is increasingly becoming recognized as an effective platform for providing vital health education, products and services. In the Andean countries of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, as well as in India and the Philippines, new learning communities of integrated microfinance and health are emerging. Within these communities of practice, microfinance providers, health practitioners and other stakeholders are working together to build capacity of participants to share experiences and lessons learned and to build the capacity of local organizations to develop and offer a range of integrated health products. This state-of-the-field report is the second in a series of publications aimed at highlighting the innovative work of the many microfinance organizations globally to use their existing infrastructures to deliver effective and sustainable health-protection services to their clients. We see how, in the Andes region of Latin America, a number of microfinance and health organizations are working together with facilitation from Freedom from Hunger as part of the Center for Health Market Innovations (CHMI) project. This project, started with Rockefeller Foundation support, has played an organizing role in successfully bringing together practitioners, social funders, researchers and academic institutions to form partnerships and advance the state of the practice in microfinance and health in the region. Information from a survey of MFIs, supplemented by much richer sharing of experiences and learning from national and regional meetings of microfinance and health leaders across the three countries, reveals a vibrant and growing landscape of integrated health and financial services with great potential for further innovation, scale and impact. Microfinance organizations in this region reach more than 7 million clients with loans and other financial services. Reports from MFIs summarized in this report indicate that more than 500,000 families are currently benefiting from some type of health program offered by their microfinance provider—an impressive step towards reaching many millions of families who, despite what national health indicators might suggest, continue to lack access to crucial health information, appropriate health services and the means to protect their families from all-toofamiliar health shocks. The potential in the Andes is especially robust; not only is the sector strong generally, but the field of integrated services is well-anchored with the experiences of MFIs that have been globally recognized for their success at placing financial services into a cohesive approach to development and poverty reduction. This work in many ways mirrors what is also occurring elsewhere in the world, most notably Asia. In India, MFIs currently serve about 71 million rural poor, many of whom also receive health services. Surveys of the sector conducted in 2009 and 2011, similar to the survey conducted in the Andes, show that approximately 25% of 134 MFIs in the country provide some type of health services to their clients. The Microcredit Summit Campaign and Freedom from Hunger have formed a Health and Microfinance Alliance that is working with 33 MFIs, self-help group promoting institutions (SHPIs) and networks in India that are reaching some 330,000 clients and 1.65 million family members with microfinance and health-protection services. This number continues to grow as the Alliance partners scale up their operations and new partners join the Alliance. The partners have set a goal to reach 3.5 million of the country’s poorest households by 2015. Likewise in the Philippines, Freedom from Hunger and the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) are partnering to bring together 16 MFIs reaching 4 to 5 million families.

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