By Gabriela Salvador, MD, MPH
Director of Health & Human Development – Pro Mujer
Last week, I was at Women Deliver in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with our partners from Johnson and Johnson where the issue of women’s health was addressed from many different perspectives. Many sessions referred to reaching “the last mile”, but very few had a solution, particularly when addressing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.
Women that for generations performed manual labor in the field are moving to the cities to try to earn a more stable income; this change in their lifestyle implies less physical activity and increased access to processed food. As a consequence we are witnessing a sharp rise in chronic conditions. These diseases are silent in their early stages and usually diagnosed when people develop serious, hard to treat complications.
It is well understood that regular, convenient access to health services can dramatically reduce both the mortality rates and the costs of treatment of chronic diseases in low-income populations. The challenge is how to find a way to reach out to them in a timely manner and a sustainable way.
For the public and the private health sector it is very hard to reach out to this population early enough. These women work all day long, and for them a day without work is a day without income, spending the day away from their business to have a health checkup at a public clinic is a luxury that they cannot afford. How to solve this dilemma?
Pro Mujer has regular access to these women, an advantage that neither the public not the private health sector has. With this captive audience, we are able to offer training and services to more than 270,000 women across Latin America in any given month. Outreach is performed by an army of Pro Mujer credit officers, who also deliver basic health education, promote the use of health services and sell high-impact health packages at an affordable price, all done in a sustainable way. Without the microfinance platform, the health program would not even come close to reaching this number of people at such low cost.
On top of training , screening and counseling, Pro Mujer now offers an optional health package that combines services that are both, high-impact and in high-demand. This includes unlimited access to a physician, counseling, dental services, cervical cancer screening, and a choice of laboratory or ultrasound as well as discounts for consults with Specialists. These services can be transferred to family members. The package, which costs approximately US$35 per year, can be financed by making small payments through savings, loans or cash. So far client’s responses in Nicaragua and Peru have been overwhelmingly positive.
At Pro Mujer we believe that we need more innovative market base approaches to address women issues worldwide, and that was our message at the conference: more innovative health care models are instrumental in advancing Women Deliver’s mission of empowering strong and hardworking women to break the cycle of poverty.