Marcia Metcalf from Freedom from Hunger and the Health and Microfinance Alliance, co-author of the recently released report titled Integrated Health and Microfinance in India: Harnessing the Strengths of Two Sectors to Improve Health and Alleviate Poverty—State of the Field of Integrated Health and Microfinance in India, 2012 , visited India in June for the launch of the report. During her trip, she met with a number of partners and allies in the field, visiting some of the health and microfinance programs they are implementing, which she describes in part one of this blog. In part two, she will discuss the potential for scaling up and replicating programs.
During our stay in India for the launch of the State of the Field report, we—members of the Health and Microfinance Alliance—met with several practitioner organizations who are leading the way in integrated services: Sri Kshetra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP) in the Mangalore area, Equitas in Chennai, and IKP Centre for Technologies in Public Health (ICTPH) and their partner SughaVazhvu Health Care located in Tamil Nadu. We saw and discussed with each of these organizations a number of exciting projects.
When we met with SKDRDP, we gained a much better understanding of how the work that we are doing with them benefits their overall mission and program development. They have a very integrated approach to development where they offer financial services along with other activities such as enterprise strengthening programs and water and sanitation programs (in collaboration with Water.org). They target the poorest with their programs, while working hard to sustainably scale up. SKDRDP expressed great pleasure with the education interventions we have implemented with them and subsequent project evaluation findings.
We also had the opportunity to visit the temple from where SKDRDP’s main source of funding comes. They fund universities, medical schools, hospitals and primary and secondary schools. The religious leader of the Temple, Dr. D. Veerendra Heggade, who is co-chair of the Campaign’s Council of Religious Institutions, has a strong conviction that a major role for the Temple is to relieve poverty and the related suffering. He sees microfinance as one method to do that.
Another organization we visited was Equitas. We went to learn more about their e-Health applications, which we featured in the State of the Field report (page 16). We visited an Equitas branch office and observed how clients are directly connected to doctors via a system that uses both Skype and other mobile data transfer to provide the current measure of blood pressure and even EKG directly to the doctor. Their health program is quite impressive: they have developed a network with a number of local hospitals and regularly do missions, or “health days,” with their support. The hospitals that are part of the network also offer services to clients at a discounted rate.
We also met with SughaVazhvu Health, an organization committed to delivering low-cost quality services in underserved villages in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. In addition to the development and operation of clinics, they are adding a financing mechanism that will enable families to enroll and receive a wide range of services for a monthly premium. A strong connection to KGFS, an innovative branch-based community banking model, has the potential to provide an effective channel for marketing and enrolling families. Recognizing that not everybody needs a microloan–some people might be better served by establishing savings or purchasing insurance for their business assets–KGFS works with poor families and communities (up to 10,000 people) to help them understand the complete range of their financial needs and develop a comprehensive financial plan that meets their unique set of needs.
Integrating microfinance and health protection services has the potential both to improve awareness of the availability of health services and to provide them at a more affordable cost. Moreover, combining education for behavior change and linkages to a hospital network can be a very strong tool for serving the needs of clients and their families. If we can pick one or two important health issues that these populations are facing and address them with a one-two punch of education and access to services, we will create measurable changes in people’s health.