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Where does Africa stand in the medical tourism industry?

Article-Where does Africa stand in the medical tourism industry?

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Africa boasts highly skilled medical professionals trained at prestigious institutions globally, providing quality care across various medical fields.

Medical tourism is a phenomenon that has come to stay globally within Africa and outside of Africa. Medical tourism is a quickly growing industry that involves traveling to another country to receive medical treatments or procedures. Low costs and availability of procedures outside of the patient’s country of residence are two main reasons why medical tourism is becoming popular.

The market for medical tourism is predicted to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.59 per cent from 2023 to 2032, from an estimated US$115.6 billion in 2022 to around US$346.1 billion by 2032. Medical tourism is expected to grow exponentially due to the increased demand for cancer treatment.

Interestingly, Africans spend more than US$1 billion on medical services in other continents presently as reported by the African Development Bank, however, due to the rising cost of healthcare in developed countries and an interesting trend among patients seeking treatments in emerging economies where quality healthcare is available at a fraction of the cost.

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Africa has the potential to stand as a prime medical tourism hub due to advanced facilities matching global standards, skilled professionals trained worldwide, cost-effective treatments, and diverse healthcare options, including traditional methods. Its allure extends beyond treatment, incorporating tourism opportunities amid rich cultural landscapes. While challenges like underinvestment and infrastructure deficits persist, Africa’s advantages in cost-effective treatments, skilled professionals, and diverse healthcare options create a promising foundation for developing medical tourism.

Medical procedures in African countries are often more affordable than in developed nations, making them attractive for cost-conscious patients. Africa boasts highly skilled medical professionals trained at prestigious institutions globally, providing quality care across various medical fields. This predominantly black populous continent offers diverse treatment options, including traditional and holistic healthcare, appealing to individuals seeking alternative therapies. Medical tourists can also combine treatments with exploring Africa’s rich cultural heritage and landscapes, turning their healthcare journey into an enriching travel experience.

With nations like South Africa, Kenya, and Tunisia leading the way in offering the necessary qualities, Africa is inclining into a more desirable destination for medical tourism. Since the founding of the Africa Medical Tourism Council (AMTC), Ghana has also entered the field, signing a deal on which the nation intends to dominate the West African subregion’s medical tourism niche market.

In Nigeria, medical tourism thrives among both elites and non-elites with over US$1 billion in annual expenditure. Numbeo’s Health Care Index offers insights into the diverse healthcare landscapes across Africa. South Africa emerges as a leader with a notably high healthcare index, signifying robust infrastructure and abundant resources. With medical tourist finding it appealing due to the availability of procedures such as breast augmentation, liposuction, nose reshaping, facelifts and tummy tucks as among the most popular cosmetic surgical procedures done. Other common treatment areas include: Dentistry Obesity surgery Heart surgery Orthopaedic surgery Organ transplantation.

Kenya closely follows, demonstrating commendable strides in healthcare advancement. The East African country boasts of gets 3,000 to 5,000 medical tourists from other African countries as reported by the International Medical Travel Journal.

Tunisia also stands out with a relatively strong healthcare index, indicative of a decent healthcare infrastructure. This is due in large part to its thalassotherapy treatment. Tunisia ranks second worldwide after France for this medical skin treatment procedure, which uses mineral elements in its Mediterranean shores for a therapeutic experience. The properties of Tunisia’s Mediterranean seawater are believed to soothe dry skin and fight skin irritants such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema.

Despite a lower ranking, Algeria showcases moderate healthcare quality among African nations with attraction of weight loss, dental care, and plastic and cosmetic surgery procedures. Nigeria faces challenges impacting its healthcare yet maintains a moderate position with offers of curative and preventive procedures enabled by modern facilities, improved technology, and highly skilled multi-specialists.

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Egypt and Morocco, slightly positioned lower, highlight existing challenges within their healthcare systems. These rankings underscore the varying degrees of healthcare quality across African countries, emphasising the pressing need for ongoing efforts to ensure equitable access to quality healthcare and address disparities among diverse populations on the continent. Egypt ranked fifth regionally and 26th worldwide in the Medical Tourism Index. Egypt has highly qualified doctors, excellent hospitals, and ancient tourist attractions in addition to moderate weather. However, major unique selling points for Morocco include dominating cosmetic surgery and dental treatments, with these procedures’ costs running less than those offered in Western Europe. A pleasant climate, internationally trained medical staff, and a Francophone population, along with lower costs, making Morocco an ideal medical tourist destination.

Medical tourism in Africa does have its challenges just like in other destinations, primarily, insufficient infrastructure and technological advancements in many African countries pose a challenge. The inadequacy includes limited hospitals, a long list of political medical tourists, scarcity of state-of-the-art medical equipment, limited direct international flight connections within African countries, and a shortage of healthcare professionals compared to established medical tourism hubs elsewhere.

To overcome these challenges, a comprehensive strategy is essential and straightforward. Investment in infrastructure and technology is critical, requiring collaborative efforts between governments and the private sector to modernise healthcare facilities, equip them with cutting-edge technology, improve regulations and provide specialized training for healthcare professionals. Implementing and enforcing stringent quality standards, certifications, in addition to accreditation processes can foster trust and confidence among potential medical tourists. Promoting African countries as viable medical tourism destinations is essential, focusing on success stories, advanced facilities, and the expertise of healthcare professionals.

Jennifer Orisakwe is a health researcher and data storyteller with an interest in topics that affect healthcare stakeholders’ decision-making and outcomes.

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