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There's a royal in town, here's what she's up to

 Queen Maxima was on an official visit to ZamZam Medical Services in her capacity as, the United Nations' Secretary-General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development. [Courtesy]

Ngong Sub County, Kajiado County Tuesday made history when it hosted a special guest, Her Majesty Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, who was on a special mission - to tour and experience how digital loans are transforming female-founded and led healthcare institutions.

During the glorious occasion, a day that was marked by joyous celebrations, curious Ngong residents not only got a glimpse of her majesty but also exchanged pleasantries and words of wisdom during the tight security event and as they welcomed the Queen.

Queen Maxima was on an official visit to ZamZam Medical Services in her capacity as, the United Nations' Secretary-General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA).

"I am here to experience how tailormade digital loans from the Medical Credit Fund (MCF) have enabled female health entrepreneurs to expand their clinics and drive access to quality care to their local community," said the Queen.

Her visit was to honour Esther Muthoni Karaya, Founder and Director of Zamzam Medical Centre, and to sample first-hand how collaborative effort between MCF and ZamZam Medical Services through digital loans, entrepreneurship, and quality standards can be leveraged to enhance and transform the healthcare sector.

 Esther Muthoni Karaya, Owner of ZamZam Medical Services with Queen Maxima and a guest. [Courtesy, PharmAcess]

Her Royal Majesty noted that this was particularly critical in the country's environment especially where private SMEs like ZamZam Medical Services are a key component of the healthcare system.

"Digital loans such as MCF loans have enabled female health entrepreneurs to expand their clinics and drive access to quality care to their local community," noted Queen Maxima, a fact that Muthoni embraced.

"The collaborative effort between MCF and ZamZam Medical Services encapsulates the essence of how digital loans, entrepreneurship and quality standards can be leveraged to enhance healthcare," said the Director.

Muthoni narrated to an attentive Queen Maxima how she started the health facility that is located at the foot of the seven Ngong Hills, 22 kilometres southwest of Nairobi 30 years ago in a single room. At the time, she said, she was a nurse and a midwife. "My late husband, saw an opportunity to establish the first private health facility in Ngong and convinced me to grasp the opportunity, and today ZamZam Medical Services offers a variety of healthcare services such as maternal health and family planning, laboratory services, physiotherapy, and dental care, serving around 13,000 low-income patients, annually," Muthoni told the Queen.

 Queen Maxima interacts with Farida Rimanto, a client of ZamZam, and her two children, Naima and Naeem. [Courtesy]

She further told of the challenges that she encountered, especially after the death of her supportive husband, particularly concerning access to credit. As a female entrepreneur, she said she encountered hurdles in securing the necessary financing required to grow and improve her business. She too, lacked the conventional collateral and security requirements demanded by banks, and at some point, she almost closed the health facility. She was saved from doing so through an introduction to the Medical Credit Fund, a not-for-profit fund that is exclusively dedicated to financing small, and medium-sized health enterprises (SMEs) in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Queen Maxima, the MCF cash advance digital loan product was launched in 2016 (part of PharmAccess to allow healthcare businesses, especially those owned by female entrepreneurs to access fast and flexible financing.

"Instead of requiring conventional collateral, the healthcare provider's history of mobile money transactions is used as the basis for the loan," said the Queen. This, she explained is workable as many patients in the country use mobile money transactions to pay for healthcare services, hence providing them with financial protection. The product is built on Kenya's advanced mobile money infrastructure, Mpesa, in partnership with M-TIBA, a digital connector in the health ecosystem. It enables automated repayments of the loans.

Queen Maxima said services are a key component of the healthcare system as about half of the population, including those in lower income groups, seek healthcare from private healthcare providers. "By breaking the financial barriers, and fostering positive development outcomes, quality healthcare can be made accessible to all, especially when such a programme contributes to the Universal Health Coverage agenda of the government," she said.

 Kennedy Okong'o, Director East Africa Medical Credit Fund speaking to Queen Maxima. [Courtesy]

Speaking on how access to MCF's funding has enabled her healthcare business to transcend financial barriers, Muthoni explained that the MCF understands and addresses the needs of its clients. "From new equipment to improving working capital, through MCF Cash Advance, ZimZam and other private health SMEs can provide better quality services to their patients," said Muthoni.

During the event, the Queen got to interact with Farida Rimano, Zipora Akinyi, and Lizzy Muthoni, among others, whose lives have been touched through MCF as patients at ZimZam Medical Health Centre.

Other guests present included Kennedy Okongo, EA Director, MCF, and Nicole Spieker, CEO, of PharmAccess among others.

As a special advocate, Queen Maxima's docket revolves around crisscrossing the globe promoting universal access to financial services and financial health. In 2010, she visited a clinic in Tanzania, that was one of the first to receive financial support from MCF.

MCF operates as a blended fund and works with a wide network of partners providing loans and technical assistance to health SMEs for business expansion and quality improvement.

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