Microfinance Institutions for Better Health: How Can They Benefit Health Workers?

Mesrak BelatchewIn my work with CapacityPlus to strengthen the global health workforce, I explore ways to improve the support system for health workers in developing countries. The Global Health Council conference session on “Wealth and health: Leveraging microfinance for better health outcomes,” which was organized by SHOPS (Strengthening Health Outcomes through the Private Sector), made me reflect on how microfinance might be used to support health workers.

The session highlighted different ways of engaging microfinance institutions for addressing community health needs. For instance, in Nigeria, the community health insurance is enrolling increasing number of participants in the benefit scheme. Such interventions have demonstrated improvement in accessibility of health services with affordable premiums. These and other initiatives could play a key role in modifying the purpose of microfinance institutions, which are traditionally designed to provide loan options and support the poor segments of the population to access small businesses and sustain life.

Health insurance for health workers
As the session completed, I thought about extending such benefits to health workers in developing countries who place their safety and well-being in danger every day. Most of them do not have a comprehensive health care benefits scheme. When faced with catastrophic health conditions, these health workers and their families can end up in a major economic crisis. A fertile ground exists in some rural health facilities where there are microfinancing schemes managed by the health workers’ unions, which have a traditional role of providing loans. The question is, what can we learn from the community health insurance schemes that can be applied to provide health workers and their families with comprehensive health care benefits?

Partnerships in human resources management
It is understandable that health sectors have competing priorities when it comes to health services and interventions. The public health sector in many countries is already over-stretched with the responsibility of increasing access to primary health care. It may not be easy for countries to live up to the Abuja declaration where 15% of the annual budget is committed to improvements in the health sector. Despite the need, instituting health benefits for the health workforce is not often high on the list of health sector priorities. However, given the health workforce shortage in sub-Saharan Africa, efforts to retain and motivate health workers need to consider the potential benefits of health insurance. Health insurance for health workers can be extended by forging partnership with the private sector. This also provides an opportunity to strengthen HR management systems.

CapacityPlus follows a holistic approach to strengthen HR management systems. The project forges local and international partnerships and engages stakeholder leadership groups in countries to facilitate country-led solutions to the health workforce challenge. For all projects that address the global health workforce crisis, creating partnerships with an eye toward leveraging microfinance institutions may be a smart move with an immense potential for improving the health and safety of health workers and their families.

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