Recently, the U.S. Government and Ecobank Cameroon SA announced a new partnership that will mobilize up to U.S. $3.7 million of local financing over eight years for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) working in the health sector in Cameroon. Financing will be made available via loans to health SMEs which provide family planning, reproductive health and maternal/child health services or products.
“Through this partnership with Ecobank Cameroon, we will together promote better health for women and children in Cameroon,” said Mr. Matthew Smith, U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission to Cameroon. “By helping small and medium health enterprises gain access to loans, we will enable them to purchase equipment, expand facilities, and improve supply chain management and service delivery.” Mr. Smith joined Ms. Gwendoline Abunaw from Ecobank, Dr. Mbayi Kangudie from USAID, Cameroonian officials and other partners at a ceremony held at the Hilton Hotel in Yaoundé.
While the public sector in Cameroon plays a major role in providing access to health care services, the private sector is equally an important component of the health care system. The 2011 Demographic Health Survey data show that 77 percent of family planning users indicate the private sector as the source of their contraceptives. Private sector facilities accounted for 49 percent of all hospital patients visits, according to a 2014 assessment by USAID’s Strengthening Health Outcomes through Private Sector (SHOPS) project.
In many countries, including Cameroon, access to finance is a key obstacle for private health care providers to expand and improve their services to underserved populations. Often, banks don’t understand their business models, considering them higher risk, less attractive borrowers. They are reluctant to provide them with loans that can fuel growth. With this agreement, some of the risk of these loans will be mitigated.
Ecobank Cameroon will make more loans available to qualifying borrowers, such as private retail pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, diagnostics laboratories, medical training facilities, and other SMEs in Cameroon for working capital and investment needs.
USAID’s HFG Project will provide tailored technical support to the health care businesses so they can create and submit sound loan applications and business improvement and expansion plans. The project will also conduct a market assessment and provide technical assistance to Ecobank loan officers to help them better understand health SMEs and facilitate the provision of loans to eligible businesses. With knowledge of the opportunities and risks in lending to businesses that provide essential services to the population of Cameroon, the loan officers will be able to make informed decisions.
The ultimate goal of this new partnership is to allow private health care providers to improve the quality of care to their clients, contributing to stronger maternal and child health and family planning services in Cameroon.