Cameroon hospital offers a model for Africa – and the world

U.S. Ambassador Peter Barlerin, and David Bohigian, Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), with his team at MAGRABI ICO Cameroon Eye Institute at Oback.

By David Bohigian

This week I’ll be traveling with U.S. officials to Cameroon to visit a hospital that could serve as a model for advancing access to quality healthcare across the continent — and around the world.

The Magrabi-ICO Cameroon Eye Institute, inaugurated earlier this year, provides cataract surgery to address one of the leading causes of preventable blindness in Africa. It uses advanced equipment to offer a quality of care not widely available in the country. The hospital – the first of its kind in Central Africa – is aiming to reach as many as 18,000 patients with a simple surgery that will save their sight.

But perhaps the most innovative aspect of this eye institute is its business model. The hospital was funded in part with a “development impact loan,” a loan that links the financial with the social performance of the project so that the lender achieves a higher return when the hospital reaches more patients.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is a U.S. Government Agency that supports development through investment rather than aid and we provided a $2 million development impact loan to help the Cameroon eye hospital with its start-up costs. With its innovative structure, OPIC and the other lender are paid more, as more people of Cameroon receive this sight-saving, life-changing surgery.  In a world where the demands for international development funding are so great, this type of financial incentive promises to bring more resources to areas of the world that need it most.

For OPIC, this model of accountability is an exciting advance in helping us achieve both our financial and our social impact objectives. As the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, OPIC invests in projects to have a positive impact in emerging markets around the world. More than a quarter of our $23 billion portfolio is in Sub-Saharan Africa.

We understand that aid alone is insufficient to address all the challenges the world faces, and that investment can play a key role in marshalling resources and developing innovative solutions needed to achieve a meaningful impact on the ground. And we’re committed to supporting projects like the Magrabi Eye Institute that can improve people’s lives.

The fact that our loan to the Magrabi Eye Institute includes strong incentives to deliver quality healthcare to the people of Cameroon underscores our conviction that investment can have a positive impact in the world. OPIC has long worked to support projects that will empower Africans and forge stronger ties between the continent and the rest of the world.

By partnering with private investors we’ve had a significant impact. Our partners have built major power plants, hospitals, and water treatment facilities. They’ve also provided financing to Africa’s smallest farmers to help them access critical equipment and training. Increasingly, we’re working to support Africa’s economic growth and its growing middle class, with projects that will expand access to technology and financial services. During our visit, we’ll also be visiting some of the other OPIC-supported projects that are having a major impact, including a power plant that has tripled electricity generation capacity in Togo, and expanded access to affordable housing in Ghana.

We’re proud to be supporting this work, and we’re excited to be able to partner with such innovative projects. In recent years, we’ve seen the people and businesses in Africa embrace advanced technologies like cell phones and off-grid power, to surpass older technologies to swiftly deliver services that are critical to economic growth and an improved quality of life.

As the Magrabi Eye Institute uses the development impact loan to serve more and more patients, we’re also seeing how innovative financial products are transforming lives.

David Bohigian is Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. Government’s development finance institution.