Women in Benin Overcome Financial Barriers to Access Health Services

 {Photo credit: Modeste B. Gnitona}The women’s group Iréti’mbè and Ifèomontayo in Adja-Ouèrè has increased its income and launched a savings fund to cover the cost of health services for its members.Photo credit: Modeste B. Gnitona

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Even when healthcare is available, it is not always accessible. In Benin, poverty prevents many women and their children from paying for essential health services. To overcome this challenge and improve maternal, newborn, and child health, the USAID-funded Integrated Health Services Activity is supporting women with improved economic opportunities and financial management skills.

Increasing incomes and health savings

Since November 2019, the activity has provided training to nine women’s groups -- four in Colby, Atacora, and five in Adja-Ouèrè, Plateau -- to support more than 350 women to develop their own income-generating activities (IGA). These five activities focus on producing:

  • appetizers and cheese from soy,
  • zomi, a red cooking oil derived from palm nuts,
  • gari, a local delicacy made with fermented manioc, coconut milk, and zomi,
  • parboiled rice, and
  • liquid soap

In addition, the activity assisted the women’s groups in setting up health savings funds, which enable members to pay for health services when needed. Each group now contributes a share of its income from their new food and soap ventures to cover the cost of medical emergencies. Each group’s leader is responsible for tracking how money is spent.

Since launching the health savings funds, the women’s groups have saved more than 106,000 West African francs, about 200 dollars. These funds have already helped women pay for health services that would have otherwise been out of reach.

Ms. T. Kouoti, a member of the Piritagou group in Cobly, showed appreciation for the new initiative.

“I was able to receive 8,000 West African francs out of our health savings fund to take care of my child who was suffering from diarrhea, and who was very weak because of it. Without this support, I would have never been able to bring him to a health facility because I didn’t have the money,” she said.

Empowering more women to prepare for health emergencies

Following this initial success, the activity is taking its approach to five new women’s groups in Adjohoun, Ouémé, and ten new groups in Kérou, Atacora. For the existing groups, the activity is now looking to promote their self-sufficiency by providing the women with training on building partnerships with retailers, to increase sales and sustain their health savings for the foreseeable future. 

Regarding the future of IGA and the work to find partnerships for the sustainability of these activities, Ms. Chérita Zangan, IGA Specialist for the Activity, indicates: “Partnerships greatly facilitate the sale of products. With them, women’s groups will be certain that their activities will be sustainable, which will motivate them to continue this work and it will also guarantee that they will be able to take care of their health.”    

Following this initial success, the activity is taking its approach to five new women’s groups in Adjohoun, Ouémé, and ten new groups in Kérou, Atacora. For the existing groups, the activity is now looking to promote their self-sufficiency by providing the women with training on building partnerships with retailers, to increase sales and sustain their health savings for the foreseeable future.

Regarding the future of IGA and the work to find partnerships for the sustainability of these activities, Ms. Chérita Zangan, IGA Specialist for the Activity, indicates: “Partnerships greatly facilitate the sale of products. With them, women’s groups will be certain that their activities will be sustainable, which will motivate them to continue this work and it will also guarantee that they will be able to take care of their health.”