What is holding South Africa back?


The article claims that of the 9.5 million foreign visitors to South Africa in 2008, an estimated 4.3% were medical tourists and in 2015, foreign spending on medical care in South Africa was valued at R961 million.  No source for this data was given.

Ramakoaba suggests that medical tourism in South Africa is somewhat obstructed by the Departments of Health and Tourism. They take a neutral stance on medical tourism, intentionally not promoting or endorsing it, detailing potential challenges medical tourism could bring to the South African health system.  These include a potential widening of disparities due to unequal distribution of health care, unintended subsidisation for healthcare costs for foreign patients, the potential redirection of resources from priority local medical needs to that of foreign patients and the risk of medico-legal litigation for failed treatment or post-treatment complications.

Ramakoaba suggests instead that, as a way of avoiding the unintended redirection of resources to foreign patients, the South African government should consider Public Private Partnerships with existing and new hospital groups in repurposing abandoned hospital buildings for treatment of foreign patients.

Ramakoaba highlights Tunisia as a good example in Africa of a country taking the lead in medical tourism, looking to leverage its close geographic proximity to Europe and North Africa and become a regional medical hub, in order to attract investors and medical tourists. The government of Tunisia has introduced incentives, including “tax exoneration on medical equipment and devices and a 50% tax break on all investments related to medical institutions and infrastructure.”  It has also undertaken the construction of a US$50 billion Tunisia Economic City, a mega-project devoted to the building of hospitals, clinics, research institutions and other health and wellness facilities.

Ramakoaba concludes that ultimately, with approximately current approximately 500 000 foreign patients annually accessing healthcare services in South Africa, it is already, to an extent, a competitive medical tourism destination as many patients from countries such as the USA, Britain, Western Europe and the Middle East are travelling to the country seeking treatment for a wide range of diseases.  If South Africa looks to India and other countries in the Far East (who face similar socio-economic challenges) for examples of how medical tourism can occur successfully, medical tourism is expected to make a significant contribution to job creation and the growth of the South African economy.

For further analysis of the medical tourism sector in South Africa, visit the IMTJ Country Profile.



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