ESAF Microfinance-Embedding health and microfinance
ESAF Microfinance is an Indian MFI supported by BNP Paribas since 2010. Having known that 68% of ESAF’s clients live below USD 2 a day and they depend on hard physical labour to meet their two ends, it was found necessary to support them with relevant health programs. Those programs can bring some solution to their persistent problems of infectious diseases, reproductive health problems and also in some cases to the rising incidence of chronic illness.
Education, hospitals, clinics
Hence ESAF has successfully partnered with Microcredit Summit Campaign and Freedom from Hunger in delivering health messages to over 10,000 clients in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The modules used are developed based on the learning capabilities of illiterate and semi-literate women giving them scientific know-how on aspects related to personal hygiene. Simple tips on hand washing with soap, how to keep water clean or use of clean drinking water have reduced the episodes of diarrhoea. Appropriate intake of food suggested in lessons has also helped them to improve the nutritional status of the family members especially the children. These lessons have helped women to take a decision to take Water and Sanitation loan from ESAF and construct a toilet or to get a water connection.
ESAF also runs two 50 bedded hospitals and two clinics where ESAF’s clients as well as low income people can access the services at a concessional rate. The clients of ESAF Microfinance are given 30% discount in both Indoor and Out Patient treatments. Moreover Community based health camps are organized under the aegis of the Hospital where ESAF’s clients are motivated to attend and get themselves checked so that timely treatment can be initiated before it is too late.
Sustainability and larger health access
The state of Kerala is grabbling with non-communicable diseases or life-style diseases owing to several factors that can be easily dealt. ESAF therefore selected 12 local leaders as part of a pilot project to train them as barefoot health assistants who are given lessons on the prevention of NCDs and who will eventually be trained on checking BP, Hb level etc. and will be provided with a health kit whereby they can visit household to check blood sugar and BP on a regular basis and earn an income out of it. The project called “the Arogya Mithra project” is supported by Microcredit Summit Campaign. Though the project is in the initial stages of implementation, ESAF is hopeful that the lessons learnt can be replicated elsewhere.
Microfinance being a powerful tool in reaching the unreached can go a long way in making the poor, equal partners in growth and development. There are umpteen challenges, manpower, developing appropriate strategies to replicate and foster those kinds of initiatives. But MFIs are in good position to find the right balance between sustainability and larger health access for the unreached.