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Health & Fitness

TRIBUTE: Banker who championed health startups financing

Evelyne Gitonga
The Late Medical Credit Fund director East Africa Evelyne Gitonga. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The Kenyan health fraternity has lost a key supporter. The late Evelyne Gitonga, regional director of the Medical Credit Fund (MCF) was laid to rest over the weekend. A banker by profession, Evelyne spearheaded MCFs regional goal of supporting small health enterprises and startups towards improving their quality by getting rid of the financing obstacles many faced. The MCF is dedicated to offering financial solutions to small and medium sized health facilities.

With slightly more than half of all health services consumed being offered by the private sector players, many often those in the bottom rungs of the provider levels, struggle to secure funding to improve their services, infrastructure and equipment needs.

This despite such items being crucial ingredients in their quest to improve the quality of medical services they offer.

Often seen as high risk borrowers, such enterprises are caught in a vicious underfunding–poor services cycle that sees most stagnate at one level of quality of service provision for too long. Often with sub-optimal interventions and outcomes for their patients.

A regular reader of the Business Daily newspaper and this column in particular, we first interacted when she offered a counter opinion from one of my articles. Her belief that pragmatic "soft-financing" to the private sector on business terms and not philanthropy would stand time ran counter to my ideas of funnelling donor funds to rural-based health entrepreneurs as incentives to set up shop there.

Even though a banker by career, she had an intimate understanding of the constraints facing the health sector, more so for small enterprises and startups in their formative years.

Her early micro-finance banking background at Sidian Bank, formerly K-Rep helped her champion the need for local banks to stop shunning health entrepreneurs as "jua kali" and see their potential and social impact.

We subsequently met years later in a conference I organised where she spoke and presented evidence seeking to drum up support for healthcare financing especially for the private sector players serving the bottom of the pyramid groups.

Always eager to help, Evelyne seemed to recognise both the urgency and need to solve the quality and accessible healthcare puzzle.

Tirelessly

Where obstacles seemed stacked against enterprises, she was described as being ready to try see how to convince and convert outright "No’s" from financier banks into "Maybe’s" and then into a "Yes" without removing her banking glove whenever possible.

She was often times trying to see where enterprises could be shepherded and guided to improve their chances to access financing, but also merge their expectations with the realities and rigours of the banking world. Towards this end she and her team tirelessly worked to link banks with entrepreneurs through risk-sharing

The health ecosystem mourns her, but her loss inspires us to champion such efforts in our quest to improve access and quality of healthcare locally.

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