The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene 2016 11 2896(2) 501-510 doi 10.4269/ajtmh.16-0126
We evaluate whether health education integrated into microcredit lending groups reduces health risks by improving health knowledge and self-reported behaviors among urban and rural borrowers in eastern Benin. In 2007, we randomly assigned 138 villages in the Plateau region of Benin to one of four variations of a group liability credit product, varying lending groups’ gender composition and/or inclusion of health education using a 2 × 2 design. Women in villages receiving health education, regardless of gender composition of the groups, showed improved knowledge of malaria and of human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), but not of childhood illness danger signs. No significant changes in health behavior were observed except an increase in HIV/AIDS prevention behavior, a result predominantly driven by an increase in respondents’ self-reported ability to procure a condom, likely an indicator of increased perceived access rather than improved preventative behavior. Women in villages assigned to mixed-gender groups had significantly lower levels of social capital, compared with villages assigned to female-only groups. This suggests there may be an important trade-off to consider for interventions seeking improved health outcomes and social capital through provision of services to mixed-gender groups. Although bundling health education with microcredit can expand health education coverage and lower service-delivery costs, the approach may not be sufficient to improve health behaviors.