Digital Transfers Open New Doors for Women’s Health in India

biharThe benefits-transfer payment system in Bihar, India provides cash incentives to women so that they may have access to health care. The recent digitization of the system maximizes accessibility of women’s health services and reduces the waiting time and corruption.

With the help of The Public Financial Manage System (PFMS), Health Module India is pursuing its goal of having healthy mothers deliver healthy babies as a part of the overall development plan. The initiative is especially focused on pregnant women from rural areas.

Prior to the introduction of digital transfers, the paper-based government cash-transfer was a slow process and in many cases money went missing due to widespread corruption. However, the World Bank reports that digitizing the program will help prevent these “leakages” of money and save the project 36 million dollars per year.

The program trains female attendants, called ASHAs to care for pregnant women in their own rural neighborhoods. They then offer cash incentives in order to encourage women to deliver in healthcare centers and bring their children back for immunization.

The project aims to train 88,000 ASHAs by 2016 in order to expand the program to all four districts of Bihar.

With less paperwork, women’s health workers are more focused on providing health care: “We can utilize that time in monitoring, hospital and field work,” explained a local health care worker in a World Bank report.

With the paper-based benefits-transfer payment system, ASHAs had to wait 191 days to receive payment. Some beneficiaries even reported having to pay a “facilitation fee” in order to receive funds. Now with the digitized system beneficiaries receive cash within two days and ASHAs only wait 30 days for payment.

In addition, the rate of bribes has fallen. “Through the system, the payment comes directly to my account. No one can take the money,” ASHA Madhu told the World Bank.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) supports the program by calculating and authenticating the records of payments. IFC also automates the depositing of funds directly into recipients’ bank account.

Since the installation of the new system in April 2014, 11 million rupees have been processed to beneficiaries and ASHAs. In order to receive transfers, women are required to get an ID and open a bank account; direct transfers have played a big role in empowering women in Bihar.

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: World Bank, CGAP, IFC