Improving African Women’s Health Through Financial Inclusion
by Carl Manlan-Mareeg-ACCRA – In late October, the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Africa signed an agreement with the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The aim of the unlikely partnership is to encourage the use of digital services “to save lives and improve people’s health.” But perhaps the pact’s most innovative feature is the vow to merge financial inclusion strategies with modern health-care delivery.
Financial inclusion is a proven pathway to improving people’s health, especially the health of women in developing countries. Women who can easily access bank accounts or cash payment options tend to invest more in their businesses and families. In turn, they live healthier, more satisfying lives.
Yet, too often, initiatives like the one signed in October focus on one or the other – e-health or financial products like insurance. Because Africans’ ability to earn and save money can be the difference between good care and no care at all, this represents a missed opportunity to help patients and build more resilient communities.
The cost of this choice is disproportionately high for Africa’s women. In Nigeria, for example, 400,000 women live with obstetric fistula, a disabling condition often caused by complications in childbirth. In Tanzania, some 8,000 women die annually during pregnancy or delivery; most of these deaths could be prevented. And, across the continent, women’s life expectancy at birth is just 58 years, compared to more than 80 years in developed countries.
Progress is being made to connect women’s health solutions and financial inclusion. At a recent conference in Dar es Salaam, experts from the technology and financial services sector joined investors, philanthropists, and development specialists to devise ways to make finance work for Africa’s women. Through programs like these, development experts can advocate for digital solutions as a means of social and financial empowerment.
Unfortunately, cooperation like the pact signed in October is the exception, rather than the norm. Banks, regulators, finance ministries, and telecommunications companies all frequently gather to consider financial inclusion without the local and global health community. This must change if we are to build more inclusive platforms for African patients and clients.