The first step is to identify missed opportunities. A big one stems from the disparate approaches to bringing financial services and digitized health care to rural parts of Africa. At the moment, banks and mobile network operators are working to expand their digital banking services to unbanked and under-banked clients. At the same time, community health workers (CHWs) are operating in these regions to prevent, treat, and refer patients to clinics. Combining these efforts makes sense, because both initiatives rely heavily on trust.
Through pre-established networks, CHWs could augment their e-health offerings with financial products, like mobile cash payment systems. Broadening digital disease management and access to health information to include financial wellbeing would create natural synergies. While there are some concerns that adding responsibilities to CHWs could undermine health-care quality, a fragmented approach to prosperity is even more damaging.
Once opportunities for expansion are identified, other issues will need to be addressed before women’s health and financial inclusion programs can be widened. For starters, a lack of sex-disaggregated data makes it difficult to draft policies based on health quality and financial need. Although some countries, such as Burundi and Senegal, are working to improve their gender-specific data collection, a broader, more coordinated push is needed.Raising the region’s financial literacy will be another challenge. The ability to understand and execute matters of personal finance is the weakest link in transforming women’s opportunities through financial inclusion.
Moreover, financial literacy is a pre-requisite for the rollout of financing initiatives, such as programs that support women-led small and micro-enterprises.
If financial literacy levels can be raised, women can access resources such as land and credit, tools that hold the keys to business development, social mobility, and personal growth. Progress has been made in leveling the playing field, but these gains must be sustained.
The agreement between the WHO and the ITU will help promote wealth creation in parts of Africa where access to health care and financial services is lacking. To maintain this momentum, deeper commitments are needed, especially from the global health community. But, however African governments proceed in digitizing their health and financial services offerings, women’s needs must remain at the center of any solution.
Copyright: Project Syndicate 2017 – Improving African Women’s Health Through Financial Inclusion