December 30, 2014

Project HOPE’s pilot HealthWorks Program brought preventative and curative health services to 14,507 workers in seven factories in Cambodia

HealthWorks Cambodia

First results of this pioneering program suggest that if it is widely adopted, companies could massively improve the lives and well-being of workforces in manufacturing powerhouses in places like Southeast Asia and in a win-win scenario, measurably cut sick leave and increase productivity as a result.  The women received health education and counseling in the factories and benefited from increased health services, which included family planning, anemia detection and treatment, information on hygiene and nutrition and maternal care offered to those who were pregnant.

Funded by the UK retailer Marks and Spencer, the HealthWorks program trained factory health staff in health communication techniques, improved the range of services offered by the factory and improved the quality of those services. For the first time, health education and prevention activities were implemented for the entire workforce.

In addition, dangerous health problems, such as anemia, were identified. In an extensive baseline survey, 18% of women, nearly one-fifth of the working population at the factories, were found to be suffering from anemia. The factory health staff were able to then increase the knowledge around anemia, including prevention and institute a treatment program, with iron tablets being provided by the factory management. All pregnant women received free iron and prenatal vitamins as well as counseling sessions and all workers were offered free de worming tablets twice per year.

An increase in workers seeking quality health services offered by the factories resulted in consultations at the factory clinic increasing from 43,242 before the program started, to 72,044 following the program. Uptake of family planning services increased fivefold. 

In addition, significant improvements in health knowledge and behaviors, was seen with results showing:

  • 56% increase in attendance at health education events
  • 31% increase in knowledge of washing hands before eating  

Significant gains were also made which benefited the factory directly.

  • 10.3 hours per worker per month were gained in reduced absenteeism

Translating to a savings of nearly

  • 16 days per worker per year
  • 31,000 days for a factory employing 2,000 workers
  • Productivity increased by an average of 7% per year 

Returns on investment are being calculated but initial estimates point to very strong gains on the original investment, which was also for a limited period of time only.

This information should inspire many more factories and brands to strengthen their efforts on health provision for workers, which can result in solid and tangible business benefits.

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