Going beyond fair trade: How Aarong artisans help finance each other’s healthcare

August 20, 2015

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Aarong, one of BRAC’s social enterprises employs 65,000 artisans, 85 per cent of whom are women. These artisans find an extensive support system through the Ayesha Abed Foundation, Aarong’s network of production hubs which are spread all over Bangladesh.

Aarong, one of BRAC’s social enterprises employs 65,000 artisans, 85 per cent of whom are women. These artisans find an extensive support system through the Ayesha Abed Foundation, Aarong’s network of production hubs which are spread all over Bangladesh.

Committed to the guiding principles of fair trade, Aarong combines sustainable development with securing the rights of its artisans. Some of the services it extends are legal assistance, hygiene awareness and free schooling for children.

In January this year, a health security scheme was introduced for artisans. When an artisan or a family member of an artisan falls sick, it is common to find families delaying visiting hospitals due to fear of incurring large medical expenses. This scheme is comprised of a financing solution which ensures that all active artisans (artisans that have worked at least four of the last six months) and their immediate family members will receive fiscal aid if they are admitted into registered hospitals.

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The solution is based on the creation of a co-contributory fund from both the artisan and employer, and is currently piloting in Nilphamari and Manikganj. Every month, the Ayesha Abed Foundation contributes a fixed amount for each artisan towards the health scheme. Each artisan also puts forward the same amount every month, ultimately generating a healthcare fund that is available for all artisans in times of need.

Nilphamari is one of Aarong’s smallest and furthest centres, employing over 700 artisans. Situated in the far north of Bangladesh, Nilphamari suffers from harsh winters and offers little economic opportunity, making it a difficult area for our artisans and their families to prosper in.

Shahana, married with two young children, has worked with Aarong for the last seven years. She works in the tailoring section of the main production centre in Nilphamari. From her position by the window she can keep an eye on her one-year-old son, Shazahan who attends the daycare everyday. When Shazahan developed pneumonia it was nothing exceptional; Bangladesh and Nilphamari in particular sees a lot of cases where mild infections in children can easily lead to something much more serious.

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Shahana was urged by her fellow artisans to take Shazahan to a medical facility immediately.

Shahana was aware that as soon as her son was admitted into hospital, Aarong’s health security scheme would provide her with 1,000 BDT (USD 12); she knew that if her son’s situation worsened she would receive 500 BDT (USD 7) for each additional 24 hours he stayed in the hospital. If the situation turned drastic and surgery was necessary, she would receive 10,000 BDT (USD 128) in total through the scheme. Luckily for Shahana, the pneumonia was caught early and Shazahan needed to be hospitalised for only two days.

Shahana received 1,500 BDT (USD 20) through the scheme. Not only did this fiscal support considerably help her with covering the costs of the medical expenses, Shahana was also encouraged to act directly without having to worry about the financial implications of seeking medical attention.

After six months of a successful pilot in Nilphamari and Manikgonj, plans to scale the health security scheme are under way. Kushtia, a region in south-western Bangladesh where Aarong has one of its largest production centres, is the next destination for the scheme to be implemented.

In order to ascertain the short-term impact of the health security scheme on an artisan’s health and wellbeing, Aarong is currently facilitating a research project in collaboration with BRAC University.

Heidi Lowe is monitoring and evaluation specialist at Aarong.

 

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