Bridging healthcare financing gaps to save lives

Tunde Adeola


About 139 years after the nation’s first healthcare facility in Obosiopened its doors in 1880, primary and advanced healthcare delivery are beyond the reach of many citizens. Healthcare development plans and reformsdating back to 1945all sought to improve access to affordable and quality healthcare for all Nigerians.

Some of the recent reforms undertaken to reposition the health sector for efficient and effective services include the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS),National Immunisation Coverage Scheme (NICS),Midwives Service Scheme (MSS) and Nigerian Pay for Performance (P4P)scheme, among others.

Highlighting the major challenges confronting the health sector, Clare Omatseye, President, Health Care Federation of Nigeria, placed inadequate funding and investment at the top of the list. She called for the establishment of a ‘catastrophe health fund’ to provide financing for medical equipment and infrastructure, among others nagging industry needs.

Curiously, foreign aid and philanthropic donations to the health sector are not in short supply. Yet our healthcare challenges remain daunting and is further aggravated by a rapidly increasing population. The health sector is clearly in need of more sustainable sources of funding. And the good news is that Sterling Bank is committed to bridging the sector’s financing gaps to help it save more lives.

Interestingly, Sterling Bank is the reputable go-to bank for financial solutions that help alleviate social and economic challengesin five crucial sectors of the economy. The sectors, known as the HEART of Sterling, are Health, Education, Agriculture, Renewable Energy and Transport. They are the bank’s focus sectors.

The bank’s health sector goals include improved primary and advanced healthcare delivery, infrastructure overhaul through equipment financing, adoption of technology and capacity building for medical practitioners. Others are research and development, data collection and adoption of innovative cost-effective business models.

Acknowledging the bank’s support and commitment to the health sector, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari commended Sterling Bank for supporting the federal government’s healthcare transformation initiative which will improve access to qualitative and affordable healthcare services for all Nigerians. He gave the commendation in Abuja during the inauguration of Kuchigoro Model Primary Health Care Centre for Universal Coverage in Nigeria.

The President praised Sterling Bank for its foresight, innovation and financing support to the project which is focused on vulnerable women, children and the elderly at little or no cost to beneficiaries.

Tunde Adeola, Executive Director, Commercial Banking, Sterling Bank, disclosed that only a reformed healthcare sector will check the country’s declining health and wellbeing profile.“Our purpose as a bank is enriching lives which encompasses staying healthy and well, reducing health inequalities and protecting people from threats to their health and wellbeing. There are many worthy causes, but healthcare is a national priority that is too critical to be ignored.

“Only a reformed healthcare sector will check the country’s declining health and wellbeing profile. As such, we have set aside N10 billion to support operators in the healthcare industry. Beyondfinancing, weare also involved in the areas of innovation, payment systems deployment as well as equipment finance on both demand and supply sides. Essentially, we are committed to the rapid development of the entire ecosystem in the health sector.”

Adeola noted that the bank’s operations are based on three pillars – agility, digitization and specialization. “We are agile and bringing the specialist skills to the healthcare sector using digital platforms. Although thousands of people are making efforts to uplift healthcare delivery, such efforts are not enough to take the industry to the next level.Our approach is to use our influence and resources to bring all collaborators in the sector together to chart a new course through a sustainable collaboration that is digital based.”

He added that “We cannot use traditional methods to catch up. Technology is the only way to leapfrog the sector. Also, the solutions to our healthcare challenges does not lie with just doctors, nurses, pharmacists, hospital administrators or even partners that are providing financial support. It can only happen when these parties come together to thrash out the issues. We want to be known for bringing players in health ecosystem together to find the solution.”

The bank chief also emphasized the need for reliable data because it will make it easy to find solutions to healthcare related problems. However, the current state of affairs in the sector is regrettable because anyone looking to get information about the sector will get contradictory data from different sources.He confirmed the bank’s readiness to work with digital partners to get reliable data that stakeholders in the sector can to use in their work.

On his part, Adewale Adebowale, Head, Health Sector Finance, Sterling Bank, said the bank’s intervention in the health sector became imperative due to the increasing demand for quality healthcare services and the inadequacy of government’s intervention in the sector whereas private sector participation is on the rise across the entire value chain. He said greater emphasis would be placed on the growing private healthcare market which makes it a focal point for prospective investors to examine.

Adewale said the bank’s goal is to improve healthcare delivery infrastructure in the country through equipment financing, improved access to medical technology that also improves health business by providing access and information to practitioners in the sector. “These will include technologies such as Hospital Management systems to improve data collection, analysis and decision making, and Inventory Management system to keep track of stock.”

He disclosed that the bank is working with partners that include Pharm Access, Medical Credit Fund (MCF)and Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN) to deliver sustainable solutions at scale to the health sector. Pharm Access, for instance, has a digital agenda dedicated to connecting more Nigerians to better healthcare through public-private partnerships.It is an international not-for-profit organization that mobilizes private and public resources for the benefit of healthcare providers and patients through a combination of loans to healthcare providers, health insurance for patients, quality standards for hospitals, provider services, mobile health innovation, and impact research.

MCF, on its own part, provide loans for small and medium scale hospitals to strengthen their business capacity. This initiative entails preparing the hospitals for debt funding through trainings and business re-structuring. Notably, the bank has provided structured finance to two Oncology Centers in Lagos and Calabar to the tune of N7bn. The bank is the primary participating financial institution on Lagos State Access to Finance Scheme for Health in partnership with the World Bank/International Finance Corporation.

Sterling Bank also provides business advisory services to ACPN to improve quality control over drugs sold through a platform that allows them buy directly from approved and credible drug wholesalers.Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria is a technical arm of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) committed to empowering every Community Pharmacist to embrace Best Pharmacy Practice and collaborate with all stakeholders in the health sector, to promote quality healthcare.

In addition to providing finance, the bank also supports and invests in healthcare advocacyprogrammes. Two of its recent interventions are Diamonds in the Sky and Anave both feature length films creating awareness and educating the masses against the scourge of cancer and malaria using the power of drama and celebrity artistes.

Production of Diamonds in the Sky was the outcome of Sterling Bank’s partnership with Leah Foundation, a not-for profit and charitable health organization delivering breast and cervical screening services to urban and rural communities in North Central Nigeria. The bank’s goal is to heighten breast and cervical cancer awareness through the educative movie to increase early diagnosis and screening rates which increases the chances for successful treatment.

Sterling Bank also partnered with Maternal Mortality Eradication (MACMME) Project to produce Anave,a malaria, infant and maternal mortality advocacy movie. It highlights the plight of vulnerable children while also providing educating its audience that Africa’s most prevalent parasitic disease is preventable, treatable and curable.

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