Africa: how medical tourism affects the health economy in Africa

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Every year, thousands of people around the world travel abroad in search of affordable advanced medical care. This is one of the easiest ways to get a passport. Common medical procedures that people undergo on medical tourism trips include dental care, surgery, cosmetic surgery, fertility treatments, organ and tissue transplantation, and cancer treatment – per CDC. This has been less common in Africa, but due to the growing number of health care issues that cannot be solved locally, and the spread of information (and misinformation) that prompts African netizens to get rid of their deformities ( for example to amass more followers on social networks) is booming.

The main reasons for global medical tourism are cheaper prices compared to domestic costs, especially in Europe and North America, due to exorbitant medical costs in the regions, laws restricting certain medical procedures – I think we are aware of the restrictions of skin whitening or Roe Vs. Wade, and in my opinion the main causes in Africa are poor quality of care, lack of qualified medical personnel, advanced technologies and medicines on the continent. We already have low medical costs, which is a component (and not only implying) of high quality care. As some Africans become financially well off, they spend money on quality maternity care in Europe and the United States.

However, the problem is not with people seeking care outside of Africa, but with the economic implications on poor families, fragile economies, and quality of care issues like medical complications that affect patients. innocent. Some of the practitioners in these destinations are charlatans. The most worrying problem is that patients do not know the difference between qualified medical providers and quacks, so lured by cheap surgeries, fall in love with quacks. This leads to medical complications that force them to pay more than the initial costs they would have incurred had they consulted qualified, legally certified and licensed practitioners.

An English woman recently traveled to Turkey to have her dental formula, which has been popularized as Turkey teeth, improved for her son’s wedding. This was accompanied by complications when she arrived home, requiring her to have emergency treatment and an operation almost equal to what she paid for the turkey teeth. Isn’t that where the Africans are heading?

Economically, this has many economic implications for Africa, where the continent alone spent an estimated $6 billion on outbound medical tourism in 2006. This is a huge economic burden, but which can be exploited. First, governments fund and subsidize patients who need care for such medical conditions that cannot be treated locally (which is necessary and benevolent), second, employers, through their companies, pay l money for the medical expenses of their employees, and national insurance companies incur huge costs. to cover these costs. It is not limited to this because it leads to the trafficking of human beings for organs such as kidneys or lungs.

However, medical tourism has its advantages. Often it is true that the prices are affordable in another country or that the country has more qualified personnel. An example: an acquaintance of mine recently had a kidney problem that doctors couldn’t cure despite surgeries and prescriptions. When he went to India, he underwent kidney surgery and is now as healthy as ever – relieved of the pain he suffered.

The doctors told him that if he had received medical treatment in India earlier, he would not have undergone surgery, but I cannot say if it was marketing.

So, should African governments stop sponsoring and giving clear direction to such projects? Absolutely not! In my opinion, they should support them for now, but put in place back-up plans, to boost their health sectors. This can be done by subsidizing local health service providers and implementing professional training and education policies for health care providers. Attracting healthcare investors with the aim of improving care while creating jobs for health and healthcare professionals to curb the brain drain should be one of the strategies. They (the investors) invest in cutting-edge technology and pay competitive salaries. For example, BioNTech recently opened in Rwanda and is beginning production of mRNA vaccines. The European Investment Bank (EIB) has also launched a EUR 50 million pharmaceutical project in Kenya.

Monitoring and evaluating quality of care outcomes in facilities, accrediting health care providers, and designing policies to emphasize continuous improvement of care. We need the African Joint Commission. When discussing our economic portfolio as Africans or East Africans, most economists discuss international trade, taxes, demand and supply of commodities, and tend to ignore the fact that 4.97% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy is spent on health care, which is not only a vital but lucrative sector where major economies tap into these sources. For example, healthcare spending in the United States alone in 2020 was $4.1 trillion.

The implications of medical tourism are not just for Africa and developing economies, but also for developed economies that invest a lot of funds in healthcare to meet the needs of citizens who end up spending the money elsewhere. This leads to misuse of health resources. Outbound medical tourists from the United States account for 10% of the global total, resulting in a significant loss to the country’s economy.

In addition to the milestones that African Ministries of Health have achieved and plan to achieve, various considerable contributions from international health organizations such as WHO, Africa CDC, … have contributed in terms of planning support, to policy design and implementation and financing, there is a need to extend quality health services and tools to all citizens to curb the surge in outbound medical tourism spending.

The author is in healthcare management, with a concentration in global health perspectives.

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