There’s a new report out from our friends over at Freedom from Hunger that’s worth paying attention to. The report, “Integrating microfinance and health strategies: examining the evidence to inform policy and practice,” takes a look at the small but growing number of studies that attempt to show that MFIs are capable of contributing to health improvement by increasing knowledge that leads to behavioral changes, and by enhancing access to health services through addressing financial, geographic and other barriers. It concludes that while “more rigorous research is needed to inform policy and guide program implementation to integrate microfinance and health interventions…the microfinance sector offers an underutilized opportunity for delivery of health-related services to many hard-to-reach populations.” I couldn’t agree more.
Too often we find ourselves operating in development “silos,” with health advocates talking mainly to other health advocates, and conversations about financial inclusion conversations happening only in finance circles. But the fact is that for poor households, access to the right financial services at the right moment is often the key to solving other problems, like paying for health care or sending children to school. Financial access is an integral part of seizing opportunities and planning for the future, and is often the common thread that binds other areas of development. There is great potential for access to formal financial services to help improve health, nutrition, education and many other areas of development investment and policy—and studies like this one from Freedom From Hunger are an important step in broadening the financial inclusion conversation from microfinance to the broader field of development.