Mauritius, Bahamas : A tale of two islands in medical tourism

 

Two islands, one off Africa and the other off America, have differing fortunes in medical tourism.

Mauritius expects the number of foreign patients seeking medical care on the Indian Ocean island nation to increase from 12,000 in 2010, by 36 % to 15,000 in 2011, according to the Board of Investment. It also says that Mauritius has set itself a target of attracting 100,000 foreign patients by 2020, and to contribute $1 billion annually to the economy. The main source of patients in 2010 was Madagascar with 28 %, followed by Seychelles, Reunion, France and South Africa. Foreign patients being treated in Mauritius were 1,000 in 2005.

Mauritius is on its way to becoming a healthcare, wellness and medical outsourcing destination. The number of privately owned clinics and hospitals increased by more than 50% in the last three years. Mauritius wants to attract overseas investment for the setting up of multi-speciality hospitals, cosmetic surgeries and dental clinics providing medical facilities and treatment to local and foreign patients. It also seeks investors interested in retirement villages and rehabilitative care for elderly non-citizens; and convalescence centres. Mauritius is in the process of setting up the appropriate frameworks for stem cells treatment. So in the future there will be opportunities to set up stem cells-based treatment centres on the island.  

The Bahamas is often thought of as an island for the well off. But the cash-strapped government’s plans for becoming a medical tourism destination are at present just warm air. The government is in a difficult position with the existing capacity to meet the medical/hospital needs of the country reaching a critical point, and the need to replace the aging Princess Margaret Hospital.

Raymond Winder of Deloitte &Touche (Bahamas) recommends that the government should create the appropriate incentives and enabling environment that would encourage private investors to expand the country’s hospital and medical capacity, "When you look at the Government's financial position it is obvious that to meet these needs it will incur increasing costs. It does not have the millions to build new hospitals, so is it fair on the taxpayer for the government to increase the overall debt of the country?"

The accountant argues that the better solution is to create an incentive/enabling framework, through legislation and policy, for private capital to invest in the expansion of the Bahamian medical and hospital sector, alleviating the potential burden on the government and the taxpayer. Expansion should be an urgent priority, he says, not only because of Bahamian and resident medical requirements, but because of the nation's reliance on tourism. Having adequate medical capacity is also essential to attracting second home owners and other investors, and would serve as a foundation for the Bahamas' efforts to break into medical tourism, "The Bahamas not only needs adequate hospital capacity for Bahamian residents, but it needs to demonstrate that it has that capacity for visitors." So the Government should provide incentives for the private sector individuals, hospitals and clinics to invest capital. Such incentives could involve the duty-free importation of building materials for a new hospital or clinic.

Rather than inbound medical tourism, at present many Bahamians have to go to Cuba or the US for operations.

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