Background: Solutions delivered within firm sectoral boundaries are inadequate in achieving income security and better health for poor populations. Integrated microfinance and health interventions leverage networks of women to promote financial inclusion, build livelihoods, and safeguard against high cost illnesses. Our understanding of the effect of integrated interventions has been limited by variability in intervention, outcome, design, and methodological rigour. This systematic review synthesises the literature through 2015 to understand the effect of integrated microfinance and health programs.
Methods: We searched PubMed, Scopus, Embase, EconLit, and Global Health databases and sourced bibliographies, identifying 964 articles exclusive of duplicates. Title, abstract, and full text review yielded 35 articles. Articles evaluated the effect of intentionally integrated microfinance and health programs on client outcomes. We rated the quality of evidence for each article.
Results: Most interventions combined microfinance with health education, which demonstrated positive effects on health knowledge and behaviours, though not health status. Among programs that integrated microfinance with other health components (i.e. health micro-insurance, linkages to health providers, and access to health products), results were generally positive but mixed due to the smaller number and quality of studies. Interventions combining multiple health components in a given study demonstrated positive effects, though it was unclear which component was driving the effect. Most articles (57%) were moderate in quality.
Discussion: Integrated microfinance and health education programs were effective, though longer intervention periods are necessary to measure more complex pathways to health status. The effect of microfinance combined with other health components was less clear. Stronger randomized research designs with multiple study arms are required to improve evidence and disentangle the effects of multiple component microfinance and health interventions. Few studies attempted to understand changes in economic outcomes, limiting our understanding of the relationship between health and income effects.