African countries seeking to reduce outbound medical tourism

 

Several African countries want to reduce the flow of outbound medical tourism, mostly to India, and eventually become local medical tourism destinations.

While several African countries are promoting themselves as developing nations where local and inbound investment can flourish, the image that annoys local politicians is that local healthcare is so poor that many have to go abroad. Apart from on the Northern coast, medical care across many countries in Africa is generally poor and patchy, so those able to pay will often look elsewhere.

The Ministry of Health has initiated a policy to make Ghana a health tourism destination in Africa by creating specialized health centres of excellence for the treatment of complicated diseases. The logic is to attract people from all over Africa to Ghana to seek medical care for complicated diseases. The Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) in Accra, the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) in Kumasi and the Tamale Teaching Hospital (TTH) in Tamale have been earmarked to play a leading role in the health tourism initiative, with the private sector providing the requisite partnership.

Another location will be the Sweden Ghana Medical Centre (SGMC), a cancer treatment centre in Adjirigano, near Accra. It is a modern clinic of international standard. Services provided include curative radiotherapy treatment, chemotherapy, pain control programmes, psychosocial support, clinical trials for treatment improvement, cancer prevention programmes and patient education programmes. When the project is fully completed, the centre will provide more advanced radiotherapy, more basic diagnostic equipment, a 50-bed hospital, a bigger, ultra-modern chemotherapy suit, a patient hotel and the integration of other medical specialties. And another will be the new private orthopedic medical centre at Pantang near Accra.

The ministry claims that the rate of exodus of medical professionals in Ghana to overseas was reducing, with many Ghanaian medical experts returning home.

In Nigeria, the minister of health, Professor Onyebuchi Nwosu, has ruled that public officers will no longer be allowed to travel for treatment that could be handled by hospitals in Nigeria. One of his predecessors, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, valued the losses Nigeria incured on medical tourism at $200million each year.

The minister argues that while public servants have a right to choose their medical care, it is not right for people entrusted with maintaining medical facilities in the country to use public money to go overseas. But the ban list does not include all elected and appointed government officials in the presidency and the National Assembly.

Professor Onyebuchi Nwosu says that public officers should  not use public funds to finance their trips. The key is to mend the infrastructure and engender professionalism in the health sector to discourage wealthy and not-so-wealthy Nigerians from travelling abroad for medical help

It does not help that that some Nigerian doctors make a lot of money from referrals to foreign hospitals. The minister alleges that every month at least 3000 Nigerian patients travel abroad for medical tourism monthly and, about 1000 are mis-diagnosed. Some patients have died on their flight back to Nigeria after some complicated heart surgeries. While some go overseas for surgery, others seek cosmetic treatment or to have babies delivered.

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