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An equal partnership: Microfinance and health

Jul 03, 2012

Collaborations are the call of the day. PHFI, IIPH Gandhinagar, Freedom from Hunger and the Microcredit Summit Campaign came together to discuss the future of integrating Microfinance and Health in India. It’s all about forming alliances to make a difference.

New Delhi: Many of the 1.29 billion people in the developing world who live on less than $1.25 a day are one illness away from losing everything. That’s what the World Bank said in their World development Indicators 2012.

Matters are made verse, with healthcare being one of the biggest problem in a country like India. The bad state of access to health makes the Indian growth story a paradox of sorts. “This focus on the links between health and sustainable development is critical,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization at the Rio+20. “Healthy people are better able to learn, be productive and contribute to their communities. At the same time, a healthy environment is a prerequisite for good health”, she added.

To dive in and tackle such a widespread issue as this; the NGO, microfinance and health fraternity met up at a collaborative event. The event was held at New Delhi, India, on June 28th, 2012 to release the report, State of the Field: Integrating Health and Microfinance in India and had an extended panel discussion.

The panel comprised Dr. Dileep Mavalankar, Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar; Vijayalakshmi Das, Ananya Finance; Kathleen Stack, Vice President, Asia, Freedom from Hunger (USA); and Health and Microfinance Alliance;  Dr. D.S.K. Rao, Asia Regional Director, Microcredit Summit Campaign; and Health and Microfinance Alliance; and P V S Surya Kumar CGM, NABARD.

Dr. Mavalankar opened the session by emphasising the importance of 'social health' and 'social medicine' to benefit the under-privileged. Kathleen Stack talked about the benefits of such collaborations, as the statistics already reveal that there is some 25 per cent success of Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) involved in health. She saw ‘unrealised opportunity’ in such an association and ‘health loans’ as the best solution for people in the rural areas of India.

Vijayalakshmi Das, Director of Ananya Finance, though very much for the cause, had a different take on the whole concept. For Das, education was a critical factor if health had to be a widespread concept in India. “MFIs cannot provide health, the issue is not only about making health accessible to the poor, but about basic health and hygiene.” While P V S Surya Kumar of NABARD, asked the conference to contemplate over how to make such a combination a successful and sustainable business model.

The microfinance industry has been in the doldrums for some time now. With the Andhra Pradesh situation, where in 2010 there was a collapse in the market; some of the ‘goodwill’ of the industry drastically went down.

But such a partnership comes at a good time when the Government of India has hiked their spending on health from 1.4 per cent to 2.5 per cent in the 12th five-year-plan. Dr Syeda Hamid, Member of the Planning Commission keyed in some important aspects of the state of health in India. Hamid emphasised on two things: the need to focus on the state of health of women and the need for the South Asian countries to be an example within themselves: where countries learn from each other through each others good practices.

This event hopes to bring back the limelight on the benefits of microfinance, and in many ways takes forward the agenda of the 12th five year plan of universal access to health. Though many nitty-gritty issues will have to be worked out in terms of proper implementation; such an endeavour will benefit many people in India, for whom survival hangs on every rupee that enters their pocket.

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