On 27 August 2020, the government of Cameroon sealed a deal with the country subsidiary of a South Korean company known as New Tech Management Cameroon SA to build and put into use a Universal Health Coverage (UHC) system in the country. The deal was signed between the country’s Health Minister, Dr. Malachie Manaouda, and the Director-General of the firm that will execute the project, Jacquéline Mekongo, in the presence of Prime Minister Dr. Joseph Dion Ngute.

According to the terms of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) agreement, Santé Universelle Cameroun (SUCAM) - the body that will directly be charged with implementing the project - will build, exploit and maintain the Universal Health Coverage mechanism for 17 years before bequeathing it to the government of Cameroon.

Already, the project has been touted as a laudable step in efforts to render healthcare more accessible and affordable in a country where most of its citizens die due to a lack of easy access to healthcare services. Although the realization of the project is yet to effectively take off because some paperwork is still being finalized, it is understood that digital technology will no doubt play a significant role in the building and operationalization of the project.

Entrance to a major government-owned hospital in Yaounde, Cameroon.

The scheme will largely be based on digital technology

According to the Director-General of SUCAM, the UHC scheme in Cameroon has been designed in a way that it will operate mostly thanks to digital technology. As part of the project, for instance, efforts are already underway for the construction of two data centers that will be used to digitally store information of citizens who shall be subscribed to the scheme. The subscription, she added, will be obligatory and that the subscription fee will be the subject of an Act of Parliament in the months ahead.

“New Tech Management Cameroon is committed to providing total funding for the elaboration and putting in place of an information system related to the UHC scheme. There will be a central information system that will interconnect accredited health facilities via a series of modules. The UHC in Cameroon will be completely digitized. So, we are bringing the equipment and expertise to make it work…,” Mekongo said in a recent interview to state-run Cameroon Tribune newspaper.

She spoke elaborately about how the scheme will work, explaining that all subscribers to it will be given a special identification card that will make it easy for their identity to be determined whenever they show up at a health facility to seek service.

“We will begin by identifying and then registering potential subscribers in our database. The system will also be built in such a way that each time a subscriber pays their regular financial contribution, it will automatically be recorded in the information center. Each subscriber shall be issued a card which will permit them to be received and served at any accredited public or private health facility, so far as they are up to date with their contributions,” the SUCAM boss added.

Jacquéline Mekongo further explained that emphasis is being laid on the information system because it will be very crucial for the functioning of the scheme. “The information system will help us in tracking all operations related to the scheme. We shall also equip health centers and hospitals with terminals that will link them to the central information system. The method that will be adopted for the payment of regular contributions will also be connected to the central system so that any information related thereto can be easily found,” she said.

Concrete work on building the scheme is yet to commence but the implementing partners say they have already begun groundwork - including discussions for more partnerships and collaboration with other relevant stakeholders. They say they will also be working in tandem with religious authorities, local opinion leaders, traditional rulers, and civil society groups to sensitize the population on the importance of adhering to the UHC project. They say they also hope to use the traditional and social media in the sensitization and popularization process.

The UHC idea in Cameroon

The idea of putting in place a Universal Health Coverage scheme in Cameroon started in 2011 when President Paul Biya asked the government to initiate and implement the process. The 87-year-old leader reechoed his commitment to bring the project to fruition at the start of his new seven-year mandate after the 2018 presidential election in the country.

By putting in place this plan, Cameroon is aiming to meet the UN’s target of universal health coverage for all by the year 2030 as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.

If successfully implemented, experts say the policy will significantly reduce infant and maternal mortality rates in the country as well as increase productivity has given that a majority of the population will live in good physical, mental and financial health. This means they’ll be spending much less to get vital healthcare intervention.

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