Financial Inclusion Could Have A Massively Positive Impact On Healthcare For Africa’s Unbanked Millions

By Gorata Ogotseng, Corporate Communications ManagerNorsad Capital

Despite the substantial economic and developmental gains made over the past couple of decades, financial inclusion remains a major issue across much of sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, figures from the World Bank show that more than half of people in the region still don’t have access to a formal bank account. 

While there’s obviously immense variability in financial inclusion across the region (just six percent of people in South Sudan have an account, while 91% of Mauritians do). Nonetheless, the point remains that hundreds of millions of people across the region remain financially excluded. 

Much has been written about the obvious positive impacts that improved financial inclusion could have – including the ability to access capital for small businesses and loans for education –  but there are other benefits too. Take healthcare, for example. With improved financial inclusion, many more Africans would be able to access quality healthcare than is currently the case. 

The challenges of African healthcare 

That’s important because accessing quality healthcare remains a pipedream for many Africans. Far too many people know the reality of waiting in an hours-long queue just for a simple checkup or to collect medicines. For those fortunate enough to be in employment, that means taking a full day off work – something which shift workers especially can ill-afford to do. 

Others with more serious conditions, meanwhile, face months long waiting periods for critical operations. And even when they do end up in hospital, a lack of state investment means that they can end up in crowded wards, where doctors and nurses can only give them a few minutes of time. 

This is true even in the continent’s most advanced economies. South AfricaNigeria, and Kenya are all short of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Those shortages are especially acute in the public healthcare sector, where budgets are frequently constrained. 

Empowered citizens can afford better healthcare 

But how does financial inclusion improve access to healthcare for Africans? In the long-term, the economic growth benefits of financial inclusion, spread across a population, mean that tax bases and revenues expand, allowing governments to invest more in healthcare. 

But it will take some time before those effects become apparent. There are more immediate ways that financial inclusion can help people access better healthcare too. The same data which allows the financially included to more easily access business, home, and education loans also allows them to access things like private health insurance. 

While someone newly on the financial inclusion ladder probably won’t be able to afford a top-of-the range insurance package (even solidly middle class people struggle with that in many countries), they will still see benefits. They might, for instance, be able to buy medicines through privately owned pharmacies or see a GP in private practice. Critically, that ability means they don’t have to take whole days off to do so. 

Medical insurance can also help patients through serious medical incidents that require surgery or major treatment. And if they’re waiting a few days or weeks for that treatment, as opposed to months in the public healthcare system, they can be back up on their feet far quicker than would otherwise be the case. Not incidentally, more people using private healthcare also takes some of the strain off public healthcare systems. 

Healthcare providers, investors meeting patients in the middle 

A growing number of investors and providers in the healthcare sector recognise this potential and have developed products aimed at the upwardly mobile and those new to financial inclusion. 

One example within our own portfolio is RH Bophelo. Listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) and the Rwanda Stock Exchange (RSE), the investment company partners with institutional investors like Norsad to invest in healthcare services, healthcare infrastructure, healthcare ICT, and healthcare-related financial services. RH Bophelo also has several healthcare facilities within its portfolio and plans to expand that number in the coming years. Its financial service offerings, meanwhile, offer a form of financial inclusivity of their own too. 

Others are working on different solutions, all with the aim of bringing quality, affordable healthcare to more Africans. Whether that’s through telemedicine, pharmaceutical deliveries, or private day clinics with affordable procedure rates, there’s no doubt that their missions will be made easier with improved financial inclusion. 

Celebrating the human side of financial inclusion 

It’s clear then that financial inclusion, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, shouldn’t just be viewed through the prism of economic growth. Make no mistake, the growth it facilitates is important and allows for a lot of good things to happen. But amidst all that, we should never forget that there’s a very real human side to financial inclusion and few sectors exemplify that better than healthcare. 

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