Malaria Exacts its Harshest Toll on the Very PoorCombining microfinance with health education and linkages to healthcare services can empower families in their self–help fight against malaria.

Few diseases are as devastating as malaria—it is especially hard on children under the age of five. Those who survive are often chronically sick from the disease. They tend to become less nourished, miss school and too often fail to meet their potential.

Malaria is economically devastating, too. Freedom from Hunger’s own research has documented that, in West Africa, very poor families, on average, spend one–third of their income dealing with malaria. That’s equivalent to a U.S. family with an annual income of $50,000 devoting $15,000 each year to one illness. Money that could be spent on shelter, food, schooling or even other medical needs must instead be spent on malaria.

Integrating Microfinance with Health Education Makes a Difference

Even though malaria is preventable and curable, it keeps people sick, poor and hungry. But as Freedom from Hunger has shown, combining microfinance with health education and linkages to healthcare services can empower families in their self–help fight against malaria.

Since 2002, Freedom from Hunger has included a series of malaria education topics for women participating in Credit with Education programs.  Over the years, we have expanded the number of women who have access to this lifesaving information as Credit with Education expands and in our Saving for Change and Microfinance and Health Protection (MAHP) initiatives.

The behavior–change education Freedom from Hunger designed originally for Credit with Education clients in West Africa has proven to be effective in key areas, such as increasing knowledge about and demand for insecticide–treated mosquito nets, increasing knowledge about what causes malaria and how proper use of the nets can protect families, and sharing knowledge about malaria with other villagers not participating in the program. Read a summary of the research on our malaria education here.

Knowledge and Money Together: A Powerful Combination

The combination of learning how to fight malaria along with having access to microloans and opportunities to save money is especially empowering as women work to safeguard their families’ health. Loans and savings enable women to set aside money for the purchase or retreatment of insecticide–treated nets (ITNs), can guard against lost wages due to sickness, can help with care for a family member who is ill, and can enable them to quickly seek medical treatment if and when the disease strikes.

As our MAHP initiative expands in West Africa and in other malaria–endemic areas, our malaria education continues to play a key role in equipping microfinance clients with the knowledge they need to fight malaria. MAHP also provides other vital services as well. Health micro–insurance can help families cope with the cost of malaria and special health savings accounts can be used for treatment not covered by insurance.

How Can Microfinance Against Malaria Help Families Living in Poverty?

Through our combined approach, women:

  • Learn what causes malaria and how to safeguard their families’ health.
  • Learn to detect malaria in its early stages and seek treatment quickly.
  • Prioritize children under the age of five and pregnant women for sleeping under insecticide–treated nets (ITNs) and for treatment.
  • Save money to purchase an ITN.
  • Better cope with the cost of seeking treatment for malaria.
  • Preserve family income so they are better able to send their children to school, buy food year–round and address the basic needs of life.

MAHP also links microfinance clients to local health clinics, paving the way for them to quickly access treatment for malaria and other illnesses.

Malaria education plays a vital role in Saving for Change, too. Women who participate in Saving for Change live in more remote areas, where income is harder to earn, money is harder to save and information about how to avoid malaria is simply harder to come by.

When women gather at their Saving for Change meetings, they participate in learning sessions designed especially to meet their needs. Staff from local NGOs are trained by Freedom from Hunger to facilitate learning sessions that are quick, to the point and build on what the women already know to expand their knowledge and motivation to make key changes to protect family health.

Increasing Access to Insecticide–Treated Nets (ITNs)

As was revealed in Freedom from Hunger’s research, access to insecticide–treated bednets is a key factor in whether families can activate their new knowledge and really “fight the bite.” Many women have difficulty setting aside enough money to pay for an ITN and others simply cannot find a retailer who reliably stocks them. Even clinics–which distribute free nets–place restrictions on who receives their nets and how many a family can have. This is because, all too often, they simply run out of nets.

In response, Freedom from Hunger has experimented with supplying local women with ITNs to sell and training them to show their customers how to properly hang the nets, and what to tell them about when the nets are most effective and who should have priority for sleeping under them.

Act Now to Save Lives

Freedom from Hunger has proven that combining microfinance with health education and other health protection services can empower families in their own self–help fight against malaria. You can help us expand the number of women who participate in this lifesaving, combined approach with your gift today. Make a donation now.