The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has launched a $4 billion platform to help developing countries acquire medical equipment to combat COVID-19.
The IFC is the World Bank Group’s private sector arm. In mid-April, it launched partnerships with the medical equipment manufacturing company Phillips and the Co-operative Bank of Kenya to help smaller African health care businesses buy essential medical equipment as the pandemic rages.
The partnerships are the first under the Africa Medical Equipment Facility, which aims to help small businesses access up to $300 million in loans and leases. Most smaller health care operations in Africa cannot secure bank loans due to their perceived high investment risks, Kenyan online newspaper Tuko reported.
Through the facility, IFC is helping health care providers in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda buy high-quality medical and laboratory equipment, according to a report by the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association.
“Health expenditure is one of the largest budget items in many households in Kenya,” Co-operative Bank of Kenya’s CEO Gideon Muriuki told Tuko. “Every support to make it easier for the sector to prosper and benefit our people is welcomed.”
The shortage of such equipment in Africa poses a major challenge. A survey of World Health Organization member states showed that just 11% of respondent countries in Africa had at least one magnetic resonance imaging machine per 1 million people, and only 24% had at least one computed tomography scanner per 1 million people, according to the IFC.
“Many smaller health care businesses in Africa don’t have the equipment they need to respond to COVID-19 and deliver other vital services,” Makhtar Diop, IFC’s managing director, told the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (AVCA). “Unlocking access to finance can save lives now and will, in the long term, strengthen healthcare systems across the continent.”
Winifred Jansen, health systems leader for Phillips Africa, characterized access to affordable quality health care in Africa as “one of the most pressing issues of our times.”
“Many clinics on the continent would like to invest in new medical technology but find it difficult to obtain necessary finance,” Jansen told the AVCA. “Through this partnership, we are enabling health care facilities to make quality health care available to a large group of people.”
The IFC’s CEO Stephanie von Friedeburg told Reuters the organization also is working with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to finance projects capable of increasing COVID-19 vaccine production in developing countries.
Earlier this year, the Co-operative Bank of Kenya secured a $75 million IFC loan to sustain small businesses hurt by the pandemic, according to Kenyan newspaper The Star.