Over the past 20 years, the Philippines has enjoyed an increase in life expectancy, improved access to education and economic opportunity, and a decrease in communicable diseases. Despite this progress, maternal health has lagged behind. The Philippines are poised to miss achieving Millennium Development Goal 5 for maternal health and more women continue to die before, during and after childbirth.

To meet this challenge,  CARD Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI), one of the largest group of social development institution in the Philippines, and U.S.-based international development organizations Freedom from Hunger and the Microcredit Summit Campaign are launching a joint project called “Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies: Kalinga kay Inay.” The partners will work together to confront the issue and address maternal health in the Philippines.

Through this collaborative effort, the three institutions will develop and implement maternal health education and promote curricula designed to improve health knowledge and promote behavior change for more than 600,000 women by December 2015. In conjunction with maternal health education, participants will benefit from improved access to health services through community health fairs and partnerships with public and private health providers.

The program will primarily serve poorer, rural areas of the Philippines where maternal mortality rates are the highest.

This effort will also strengthen the Philippine Microfinance and Health Consortium, a collaboration of health and microfinance practitioners. The consortium, which began as an initiative of CARD MRI and Freedom from Hunger, has grown to include 18 Filipino MFIs that are beginning to deliver integrated health and microfinance services to their clients. The goal of this effort led by the Microcredit Summit Campaign, which hosted some 850 delegates at the 2013 Partnerships against Poverty Summit in Manila last October, is to rally support for a national network to promote the practice of integrated health and microfinance as a means of delivering health services to underserved populations.

“When CARD started a more structured health program in partnership with Freedom from Hunger in 2006, we knew then that we are responding to the needs of our clients and providing our share towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals for poverty alleviation and maternal health,” said Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip, founder and managing director of CARD MRI. Dr. Alip, who believes that good health is one key factor in poverty alleviation, hopes that this new tripartite commitment will be able to reach more poor Filipino families. “We envision that no one in CARD will die because of poverty or ill health,” he concluded.

Freedom from Hunger President and CEO, Steve Hollingworth, added, “The Philippines has high a maternal mortality rate. This partnership is an opportunity to take an important step toward reducing maternal mortality and will show how collaboration between the financial services and health sectors can help improve health outcomes for women and their children.”

With just under 500 days left to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the timing for this collaboration is critical.