Rural eye hospital finds profit in service

Innovation Eye Centre in Kisii town

By Frankline Sunday

Kenya: Few people would think of establishing a private healthcare facility in Kenya’s rural areas as many patients in these regions cannot afford private care.

However, many public health institutions are grappling with personnel, equipment and supplies’ shortages, making the need for affordable private care for rural households and the urban poor more pressing.

Data from the Kenya National Health Accounts, which monitors resource allocations in Kenya’s health sector, indicates that the private sector caters for 37 per cent of total healthcare expenditure, a figure that has dropped from 54 per cent 10 years earlier. The Government adds on about 30 per cent, which has remained constant over the last decade.

The result of this has been an increased reliance on donor funding and patients’ out-of-pocket spending.

But the financing difficulties in the health sector did not dent one couple’s determination to set up a well-equipped and affordable hospital in Kisii County.

Last year, the husband and wife team of Dr Daniel Kiage and Mrs Jacqueline Kiage opened the doors to Innovation Eye Centre, the first full-time eye hospital in the area.

“We realised that people living in rural areas were unable to get specialised medical care because of their lack of finances,” said Mrs Kiage, 43, the chief operating officer at the hospital.

“So we decided to come up with Innovation Eye Centre Limited, which is a private hospital that runs on a hybrid business model. It provides subsidised healthcare to poor residents, but at the same time seeks to be self-sufficient in terms of finances.”

Raising funds

The couple set out on the arduous task of raising funds — they needed Sh100 million.

But before they could sell their dream to others, they had to convince people that they were committed to it.

So with their savings, a lot of sacrifice, and grants from friends, they set about renovating premises they had found for the hospital in Kisii town in 2012.

And then they began to get word out on their project.

Dr Kiage, 49, who has been in the eye care sector for more than 15 years, told his vast network about their plan, and the couple participated in a business plan competition at Tangaza University College to raise awareness.

The result: Several foundations that support eye care and many private institutions were won over by their vision and pledged financial support.

“The fact that we were looking to sustain ourselves financially while still helping the community made the project attractive to several financiers,” Mrs Kiage said.

They then approached a bank for asset financing to buy medical equipment, and in February 2013, Innovation Eye Centre opened for business.

The hospital serves more than five million people residing in Kisii, Nyamira, Homa Bay, Migori, Narok, Bomet and Kisumu counties.

It currently gets 50 to 70 patients a day, and has employed 20 clinical and non-clinical staff.

“We operate on a social enterprise model, which basically means using business principles and social action to meet the needs of the society in which we operate,” said Mrs Kiage.

The centre, which has 42 beds, operates as a hybrid of a private firm and an NGO.

Subsidised services

“We have a subsidy revenue model, where we have created three categories of patients,” she said.

“The first tier is the private one, where patients who desire premium services pay higher costs. The second tier provides for general healthcare services, while the last tier involves meeting the needs of patients who can’t afford treatment.”

The last tier of patients are served through eye camps held across the region, with diagnostic and eye care services offered at little or no cost.

“For instance, we carry out cataract surgery at Sh3,000, which is way below cost,” Mrs Kiage said.

Innovation Eye Centre has the capacity to provide specialised treatment and surgeries, and has already conducted more than 2,000 cataract surgeries.

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