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BasicNeeds China – microfinance in support of mental health, Hebei

Our support

We provided support to BasicNeeds China for a microfinance project, in support of the organisation's existing work on mental health and epilepsy, in Shunping Country, Hebei province. This project will involve piloting small microfinance loans to groups of local people, extending a similar existing scheme that relies on grants.

We classified this as a social enterprise award. For more on our interest in "social enterprise", see this page.

Background to our partners

Shunping County

The photos (all courtesy of BasicNeeds) show scenes in Shunping County

Shunping is a county under Baoding city, Hebei Province, about 150 miles southwest of Beijing. It has a population of around 300,000 people, and is one of China’s poverty counties as defined by the national government. Average annual per capita income is less than 2,300RMB (the national average for rural people in 2014 was around RMB10,000). Agriculture is the mainstay of the local economy, including fruits, vegetables and grains. The western region of Shunping is particularly poor, being mountainous.If a person has a mental illness or epilepsy it is economically devastating for the entire family because it can be difficult for families to continue with strenuous agricultural work.

Basic Needs (see also here)

There is a huge gap in services for men, women, boys and girls with mental illness and epilepsy in China. A recent report indicates that 173m people in China have a mental disorder and 9m have epilepsy, yet there is very little service provision outside of major urban areas. In addition, front-line health workers lack the knowledge and skills to reach this vulnerable group.

BasicNeeds is an international development organisation that was founded in 2000 by Chris Underhill, after an initial encounter with tortured and caged mentally ill people within a hospital compound in Africa. Mental health is hugely under-resourced and neglected as a health issue, and therefore BasicNeeds works to bring about a lasting change in the lives of mentally ill people around the world. They now operate in 13 countries and have supported over 600,000 people affected with mental health.

The photos (all courtesy of BasicNeeds) show a doctors consulting with a patient ; a self-help group ; and a community meeting

BasicNeeds China has been working for several years in China, in very close co-operation with the Chinese Ministry of Health, to test its 'Model for Mental Health and Development' (explained here) in the Chinese context. Starting with work in Shunping County, BasicNeeds has already begun to prove the value of a holistic approach to mental health. Consultations with people with mental illness and epilepsy and their carers have highlighted the isolation experienced, the challenges accessing treatment and support and the deprivation and poverty resulting from mental illness.

Village doctors have been mobilised to start identifying programme participants and a partnership with Hebei 6th Hospital is now facilitating mental health outreach clinics, reaching patients in rural areas of China for the first time. Partnerships are under now development for the roll-out of livelihoods programmes to complement community-based health services. To date, BasicNeeds has supported around 2,000 people suffering from mental health, carers and family members in Shunping County.

An important aspect of the BasicNeeds Model is setting up self help groups and, through these groups, promoting livelihood activities. Already nine such groups with some 180 members have been established in Shunping, and through grants from BasicNeeds, are engaging with various livelihood activities, such as cattle raising, sheep raising and other agricultural projects. In China the self help groups and livelihoods activities are the unique elements of the project.

The specific pilot funded by The Blackford Trust aims to demonstrate how a self help group in Shunping County can use “micro loans”, rather than grants, in order to develop livelihood activities, and how new groups can be created once the loan has been returned. If successful, the loan methodology could be scaled up and incorporated in mental health support by BasicNeeds elsewhere in China.

Outcomes and lessons

The outcome of the project will be reported in late 2017.

We made a small additional award to Basic Needs as part of our final award package in May 2016.

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This page was last updated on 9 May 2017.




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