More about Thies

30 Mar

“We are women who work with no assured income; we are in the informal sector so we have no salaries. And we get sick all the time. When you have to pay your bank charges, but you are going to have a baby, or your child is sick or your father is not well, you take that money for the bank and you use it for a prescription or a trip to the hospital. For that reason we became aware that we needed a health insurance scheme, to have solidarity and mutually help ourselves.”

This was how Diake Mbengue explained why she and a group of some 300 women are now members of their own health insurance scheme, or mutuelle de sante. While they did get technical advice on how to set up their scheme, what Mme. Mbengue called a feasibiity study, the  women were already contributing 200 francs a month to help out other women with their health needs as members of a mico savings scheme called PROFEMUR.

Mme Mbengue, who has five adult children,  has pretty much always worked at home most of her life, aside from some buying and selling of textiles. It was actually her husband, Lucien, who was first approached by a PROFEMUR leader, who suggested to him that his wife join their organization.  This she did in the mid 1990s. Today she is the president of the mutuelle WerWerle, best translated from wolof, perhaps, as ‘Health for Myself Among Others who are Healthy.’

The members of Wer Werle pay a montly fee of 250 francs, or about  six dollars, for each person insured. They have the right to insure up to 15 family members, and this gives them basic coverage, such as two days in hospital; lower prices, from 5000 francs to 3000 francs for a consultation, for example, at the private hospital, and a 25 per cent discount at the pharmacy. Only certain pharmacies and hospitals participate in the scheme, to keep costs down. When you make the calculation of what this mutuelle runs on, it is only about one thousand dollars a month, assuming each member has also insured four other people.

But this coverage has made a big difference in their lives, especially when a woman is having a baby, something entirely covered by the scheme, and in better prevention. Their particpation in this group is also one of the few things in Senegal that gives them any status beyond being the wife or daughter of someone, and this has been empowering for all of them.

What’s more, the hospitals were “delighted” to deal with them, said Mme Mbengue. “Otherwise, they had patients who promised to pay once they contacted their family in another part of the country, or who got much sicker while they were waiting for treatment. But we are a guanteee that they will be paid,” she explained. In fact, if a person is quite sick and in hospital for more than two days, the mutuelle acts as a guarantor that allows them to stay in hospital and pay later.

The mutuelle has various committees, including one that is actively seking more new members, as this is necessary for it to survive and keep itself financially viable. Another, what Mme Mbengue called “le comite de surveillance,” goes through all the accounts and conventions with hospitals and pharmacies, checks up on the quality of service, and so on. “Yes; it is complicated,” she said.

Our conversation about the mutuelle de sante over, we remained chatting about all kinds of things, from our respective familes to the US presidential elections, Madame pronouncing herself in favour of Obama, who she called Baracko, although she has always been a big fan of Bill Clinton, she said.

Before our interview, and after she and her family had finished with their Friday prayers, I joined all seven of them for a lunch of rice, fish and vegetables, served in a large aluminum dish on a mat on the verandah of their house. Even without the tamarind condiments, the food was extremely good, some of us eating with spoons and others with their fingers. And it was Mme Mbengue who enlightened me about the 7 Places stationwagons, one of which I took back that evening through the dust storm and dusk of a Friday evening. (Of course if I hadn’t been so put off by the environment that morning, and simply thought to ask, I’d have taken a 7 Places to there in the first place.)

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One Response to “More about Thies”

  1. luisporter March 30, 2008 at 10:01 pm #

    It is a pleasure to travel with you, from my desk, just reading your fluent narrative. Your contribution to understand and feel this distant people as closer human beings justifies all the effort and energy you are giving to this project. I am looking forward to read the first draft of this new chapter. Congratulations!…

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