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Healthcare loan will help tackle avoidable blindness in Cameroon

The money will be used to provide up to 18,000 cataract operations in the country over the next five years

Sightsavers Cameroon ophthalmologists

Preventable blindness will be tackled in Cameroon through a healthcare loan that will support the provision of up to 18,000 cataract surgeries in the African country over the next five years.

The more than $2m (USD) loan will be given to the Magrabi ICO Cameroon Eye Institute (MICEI), which was founded by the Africa Eye Foundation (AEF). It will be used to provide comprehensive, high quality and affordable eye care procedures, as well as help to strengthen healthcare systems by providing certified training that is designed to produce "the next generation of African eye care experts."

The Cameroon Cataract Development Impact Loan is described as a new way of funding health care in low and middle-income countries. As a Development Impact Bond, investors that have agreed to finance the eye care programme in Cameroon include the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) for $2m (USD), and the Netri Foundation.

Organisations repaying the investors include the Conrad N Hilton Foundation, the Fred Hollows Foundation and Sightsavers.

Ophthalmologist and chair of the Magrabi Hospital Group, the main donor, Dr Akef el-Maghraby, said: "My goal is to make high-quality eye care accessible to the people of Cameroon regardless of their ability to pay. MICEI is the first of AEF's three projects in sub-Saharan Africa as we aim to construct and operate a network of integrated and self-sustainable eye hospitals across Africa."

It is estimated that 48,000 cataract surgeries are required in Cameroon to treat new cases of the sight-threatening condition annually, while the current backlog of need is believed to be 115,000.

Currently just 15,000 cataract surgeries are performed in Cameroon annually, which is less than a third of the number that are required.

CEO of Sightsavers, Caroline Harper, emphasised "Cataract remains the single biggest cause of avoidable blindness and making eye health services accessible to all, including the world's poorest people, is essential if we are to prevent millions losing their sight unnecessarily."

Commenting on the new way of funding eye healthcare, Ms Harper added: "Impact bonds are a new way of financing eye health care in low and middle-income countries, and we are keen to learn how such schemes can be scaled up and sustained in the long run as they have the potential to unlock resources, not only to provide cataract surgery, but also to strengthen eye health systems through improving healthcare infrastructure and the training of ophthalmic staff."

There are currently three ophthalmologists per one million people in Cameroon compared to a global average of 31.