Black women-owned Unjani Clinics get R11.7m cash injection from US investor

Merck pharmaceuticals subsidiary invests in South African clinic chain
The Unjani clinic in KwaMashu is an example of this cost-effective and expanding model (Unjani Clinics)

A global company has stepped in to support the local black women-owned Unjani Clinics with a R11.7 million investment.

The Merck pharmaceuticals subsidiary Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) has decided to invest in the clinics where the demand for treatment is the most critical. Based in New Jersey in the United States of America, the company specialises in treating oncology, vaccines and cardio-metabolic diseases

MSD managing director Dr Priya Agrawal said the move is part of a drive to establish partnerships across Africa.

“Our partnership with Unjani is one of our contributions to strengthening our primary healthcare system, while also creating jobs and supporting women-owned enterprises,” she said at a launch at the Unjani Clinic in Johannesburg’s Alexandra Township.

“Through our global partnership with development and finance organisations – the MOMs Initiative – this investment will also help to bring much-needed resources into the country,” added Agrawal.

Merck pharmaceuticals subsidiary invests in South African clinic chain
Neren Rau, Director of Policy and Communications for MSD South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, Sister Tumelo Magula who runs the Unjani Clinic in Alexandra, Lynda Toussaint CEO of Unjani Clinics and Sue Hoosain General Manager of Unjani Clinics. (Supplied)

Cash Injection for Maternal Care

The phase one cash injection will lead to an upscaling of Unjani Clinics primary care network across South Africa, by strengthening their maternal healthcare services in particular.

Eventually MSD wants to validate what they are calling “an innovative financial model” which could unlock around $5 million from the United States Development Finance Corporation (USDFC).

The Development Corporation is already partnering MSD in its Maternal Outcomes Matter (MOMs) project which funds sustainable and investable enterprises delivering successes in maternal health.

The DFC launched the MOMs initiative was launched in 2019. It was backed by major bank Credit Suisse committing $50 million to improve mother’s health and reducing maternal deaths.

Department of Health Director General Dr Sandile Buthelezi was present at the Alexandra launch and was upbeat about the new fund announcement.

“We applaud this initiative between MSD and Unjani,” he said.

“It’s an example of what can be achieved when the private sector joins government and civil society to tackle key issues facing the people of our country,” he added. “By working together on initiatives like this, we can provide better access to health care and support women who are entrepreneurs and dedicated healthcare professionals.”

Independence and growth through funding

“Our initial investment in Unjani Clinics is to support a shift in funding of these enterprises towards a blended-financing model,” said Dr Agrawal.

This would make the clinic chain less reliant on donor funds in the future. The investment will help Unjani scale up from their current 78 Unjani clinics, which are able to serve 500 000 patient engagements each year, increase to a thousand clinics  across South Africa by 2030.

The initiative will lead to increase employment in the sector, although exactly how many jobs is still unclear.

Merck pharmaceuticals subsidiary invests in South African clinic chain
The Unjani Clinics Locations by the end of 2019 (Unjani Clinics)

Founded by nurses in 2013, Unjani aims to create full-time jobs for women while providing sustainable primary healthcare service. The clinics provide low cost healthcare where there are few private and public hospitals and clinics. The relatively small clinics have opened in every province except the Western Cape.

The Unjani Clinics model also reduces the burden on public healthcare, which 80% of South Africans rely on. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened this situation, with nurses sickened by the coronavirus while many hospitals are at capacity.

The owners of Unjani Clinics are also eyeing the upcoming National Health Insurance system as a possible major business venture. Owned by black women and focused on empowerment, the state is likely to favour Unjani Clinics for tenders and other potential out-sourcing. —Health-e News 


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