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Impact of microfinancing on sustainable healthcare access

Article-Impact of microfinancing on sustainable healthcare access

Shutterstock Microfinancing
Public-private partnerships collaboratively enhance healthcare financing and address healthcare challenges with a more comprehensive and sustainable approach.

Over 100 million people are driven into poverty due to illness and the financial burdens of healthcare each year. This situation is particularly prevalent in remote areas where the absence of basic health infrastructure compounds the health challenges faced by the underprivileged. Access to healthcare is imperative in the fight against poverty, as strong health fuels economic development. In developing countries, efforts to provide affordable healthcare face challenges, with various financing models proving unsuccessful in reaching those who need it most. In this article, we examine how integrating microfinancing can enhance the potential for sustainable development, alleviating poverty in low-resource nations.

Several innovative models play important roles in ensuring fair access to essential services, especially for informal sector workers. The National Health Service used in countries like the United Kingdom, Belgium, Australia, and Germany, is funded through taxes or contributions, providing universal health coverage for all citizens. Elsewhere, community-based health insurance schemes, have shown promise but are impacted by low enrolment. Social Health Protection Programmes target vulnerable populations with subsidies or exemptions and Donor Funding and Grants for healthcare are vital for resource-limited nations.

Public-private partnerships collaboratively enhance healthcare financing, addressing healthcare challenges with a more comprehensive and sustainable approach. Microinsurance, designed for low-income individuals, offers coverage for specific healthcare services through partnerships with low premiums and simplified processes. Mobile-based health financing such as M-TIBA in Kenya and Aavaz Health in India, utilises mobile technology for premium payments and claims processing, to ensure convenient access to essential healthcare for those in the informal sector.

More recently, the evolution of blockchain-based microfinance systems is expected to have a significant impact on poverty alleviation and economic growth. Addressing the World Bank’s concern of 1.7 billion unbanked individuals, blockchain provides access to financial services without requiring a conventional bank account. Transactions are recorded on a public ledger to ensure transparency and the technology has the potential to bridge the financial inclusion gap by cutting out the middlemen. Despite regulatory challenges, technological constraints, and scalability concerns, blockchain is enabling accessible, affordable and transparent financial services for underprivileged populations.

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Long-term viability and sustainability challenges

Microfinancing for healthcare, while valuable, depends on factors including borrower repayment capacity. Reasonable and sustainable interest rates are crucial to prevent financial strain on borrowers, excessive rates may lead to financial burden and cause long-term harm. Successful microfinancing models often involve strong community engagement, and understanding cultural factors and specific healthcare needs is essential. Establishing partnerships with local healthcare providers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government agencies can enhance the sustainability of these models.

Collaboration can lead to better integration with existing healthcare systems, improved service delivery and shared resources. Economic downturns, natural disasters, or unexpected events can impact borrowers’ ability to repay loans and pose a risk to financial stability. In addition, healthcare providers in disadvantaged areas can struggle with financial resources, impacting the quality of healthcare services. This in turn impacts infrastructure development and limits the ability to invest in essential medical equipment. Ensuring healthcare services remain affordable for the community is a critical challenge. Any high out-of-pocket expenses for patients can result in decreased utilisation of healthcare services. Providers need to invest in modern equipment and systems to deliver quality services, however these investments can strain financial resources and pose a challenge to sustainability.

International organisations and technology are important factors in supporting and scaling up microfinancing for healthcare. Multilateral institutions and NGOs can provide financial support, grants, or concessional loans to microfinance institutions. They can also offer capacity-building programmes to enhance the financial management and operational efficiency of these institutions. Technology integration includes promoting the use of digital platforms for loan disbursement, repayment and financial management which can streamline processes, reduce costs and improve the overall efficiency of microfinance operations. Data analytics and artificial intelligence can assess and manage risks in microfinance. Advanced analytics can help predict borrower behaviour, assess creditworthiness and develop risk mitigation strategies, thereby improving the overall sustainability of microfinance initiatives.

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Embedding healthcare funding into an established microfinance organisation is a unique way to support healthcare in many communities and reduce financial risks tied to poor health. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) are ideal, utilising their wide reach and relationships with clients and communities to make these financial mechanisms available to all. MFI-managed alternative health financing plans can significantly help the poor by breaking down barriers to healthcare access. They also contribute to the long-term sustainability of mutual health organisations (MHOs). By pooling health risks together, it lessens the financial strain on the poor caused by high healthcare costs, ensuring access to better healthcare services. Importantly, it provides the poor better access to healthcare without relying heavily on external sources for payment.

While microfinancing models for healthcare services can be effective, their long-term sustainability requires careful consideration of financial viability, community engagement, partnerships, regulatory compliance, and effective risk management. Regular evaluation and adaptation of the model based on feedback and changing circumstances are essential for long-term success.

References available on request.

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