How savings saved a mother’s life

The money from her savings group helped Josephine deliver her baby safely

It can be hard to save for emergencies, when you don’t have much money to begin with. 

But Josephine knows how much just a little can do. It quite possibly saved her life.

When she began experiencing sharp pains during her pregnancy, she was diagnosed with hypertension at her local health center in Ahikon, Bénin. Even a normal pregnancy could be challenging in rural areas. Josephine’s was high risk, complex and potentially expensive. Complications from untreated hypertension developed during pregnancy are one of the leading causes of maternal death.

But she was prepared. 

She borrowed $70 from her savings group to cover the costs of her health visits and medication - and safely delivered a beautiful daughter, Huguette. When her accumulated health savings were disbursed later that year, as scheduled, she used the money ($15) to cover her post-pregnancy care.

Josephine’s savings group is part of a Healthy Savings program supported by Freedom from Hunger (now a part of Grameen Foundation) that helps poor women and their families get health care when they need it. For many poor households, health costs are their largest expense and often the largest barrier to getting timely care.

The program uses a three-pronged strategy: providing health education, linking families to public and private health providers, and facilitating health financing through loans or savings. 

Savings groups that have been together for more than a year, like Josephine’s, can add a separate health savings pool to their regular group savings. So far 670 groups have chosen to save for health costs, providing coverage to roughly 20,000 women. On average, each member saves 15 cents weekly -- all combined, the groups were able to amass $39,000 in less than a year. They use those funds to also provide health-related loans to members. A year into the program, the groups had collectively granted 2,000 loans, averaging about $9. Forty-eight percent of the loans were used for children. 

The members and their families also have access to 43 public and private providers, with negotiated benefits, such as discounts of up to 60 percent on specific services, special savings group member days, health education and visits from health providers to groups. 

The program was originally designed to reach out to 3,000 group members; it has now self replicated with minimal support, expanding its outreach to 20,000 women and will soon launch a second phase that will promote and provide access to family planning. 

When she looks at Huguette, Josephine is just thankful that she and others in her community have health loans and health savings to give them security and peace of mind.