Sharp pains in her side sent a very pregnant Josephine to her local health center in Benin. When she learned it was potentially life-threatening hypertension, she quickly borrowed $70 from her savings group to pay for her health visits and medication until she gave birth.

Unfortunately, many women like Josephine do not have this option. Approximately 287,000 women die every year from pregnancy-related complications; 99 percent live in developing countries. Many die simply because they cannot afford to pay for the care they need, or buy enough nutritious food to maintain their health during pregnancy.

A community fund

Organizations in Benin are working to change this by helping women save for medical expenses and daily needs through a local village staple: savings groups. By the end of the first year, 670 groups had collectively granted 2,000 loans to members, averaging $9. This may seem like a tiny amount, but it can be life-saving.

Savings groups give members, typically women, a structured way to put aside small sums of money each week and borrow money when they need to. Group members frequently take out loans during the hungry season between harvests, and use the money to keep their families fed.

“It not only can save their lives, it also frees families to make better decisions about their health.”

Easing the burden

Josephine is also enrolled in a program that helps savings groups develop a fund specifically for health. On average, each woman saves 15 cents weekly. The groups receive health education and are connected to health care providers that can treat their families. 

The program helps groups negotiate benefits with public and private health providers, including discounts on specific services and special days for group members. It not only can save their lives, it also frees families to make better decisions about their health.