Women in Nicaragua may soon get mammograms while they bank, thanks to the work of two Seattle nonprofit groups.
Global Partnerships, which supports microfinance and other services for the poor, is working with global-health expert PATH to launch the program with Pro Mujer, a women's development and microfinance organization in Latin America.
The goal of the collaboration is to provide health services for Pro Mujer's borrowers while creating a model for similar projects in other communities.
The project will start in Nicaragua, but Pro Mujer hopes to eventually expand to its entire network, which reaches 150,000 borrowers in Argentina, Boliva, Mexico, Peru and Nicaragua.
Microfinance "banks" like Pro Mujer are nothing like a neighborhood Chase branch. Once a month or every few weeks, small entrepreneurs who have taken out loans from a community fund gather to make payments.
With 20 or more poor women coming to one place, it's an ideal opportunity to offer them health education or screening in addition to financial services, said Rick Beckett, president and CEO of Global Partnerships.
A staff member could speak to the women about sanitation or reproductive health, or the customers could be offered an opportunity to get vision screenings, pap smears or mammograms.
PATH, which is best known for its development of global health technology like vaccine injectors, enriched rice and vaccine freshness indicators, will help the project focus on the highest-impact disease prevention, Beckett said in an interview Thursday.
Pro Mujer also will consider other health-related services: negotiating on behalf of its customers to get lower fees for service, helping women who test positive for disease at bank day screenings to get expedited treatment, and possibly arranging a system of health insurance.
As part of its efforts to help poor women in Latin America lift themselves out of poverty, Pro Mujer has been offering some health care and health information to its customers, but the new initiative will help the organization focus its efforts, said CEO Rosario Perez.
"Collaborating with Global Partnerships and PATH will enable us to do so with greater focus, higher impact and lower costs, with the goal of tackling the health care problems that contribute most to poverty and pose the greatest danger to women and their children," Perez said in a written statement.
The initial focus will be on preventative and primary care, said Chris Elias, president and CEO of PATH. Eventually, the collaborators hope to look at all the ways that poverty and poor health are connected, including maternal and child mortality, family planning, cervical cancer and domestic violence.
Beckett said microfinance reaches 150 million customers around the globe, so he hopes this effort will eventually reach millions.