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This was announced at a recent press briefing. The various stakeholders involved were present and held a panel discussion with media.
The panelists included Councillor Mduduzi Mhlongo and Lorraine Melvill of Surgeon and Safari medical travel solutions.
What is health tourism?
This is when a patient travels across a border, it could be a regional or international border, in order to obtain a health care treatment. There are currently seven million patients travelling yearly as health tourists.
Globally, the Health Tourism industry is valued at USD20 billion per year. In the Africa continent Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritius and South Africa have emerged as destinations for health tourists.
“South Africa is a centre for medical excellence for sub Saharan Africa, and our biggest market comes out of the rest of Africa, mainly within the SADAC region. There are corporate companies that cover the healthcare of their employees and they’ll use South Africa as the place for their healthcare solutions.
Then there are international insurers;
a lot of people that work or live in Africa will have international insurance through companies like blooper or Etna, like a discovery health insurance and those insurers will refer the patients to South Africa for treatment,”’ Melvill explained.
Within the continent the reason for patients to travel to us is because of the limited resources in their home country. There is very limited healthcare speciality, for instance a lot of the patients would travel to South Africa for such things as oncology treatments, orthopaedic surgery, cardiac treatment, malaria treatment and even for neurological conditions.
Medical tourists have traditionally been viewed as patients who come from overseas for some cosmetic procedure or other.
Melvill states emphatically that this has changed. She also explained that other countries that used to use South Africa as a medical destination are finding other alternatives. Countries such as India are now popular.
“There was a huge problem when they brought out the visa regulations. It affected a lot of the medical tourists. That’s why I say the government needs to remove its barriers and not sort of come up with these incidental surprises which affect so many other industries.” Melvill lamented.
The Medical tourism congress
The aim of the Congress would be ‘exploring a collective strategy that Africa can adopt in order to coordinate its efforts at maximizing its potential within the industry.’
Councilor Mhlongo expressed that the municipality is hoping that by hosting the congress, national government and the private sector will come together. The ideal situation would be these sectors working together as there is enough room in the market for both.
He also mentioned that the government had started to reach out to the private sector. And they had attempted to get the private sector on board with the congress.
For the longest time South Africa has been at the forefront of medicine in the continent. When asked why he think it took so long for government to think about health tourism he replied.
The Cllr stated that it was possibly a lack of cohesion. Both the medical and tourism department have been so focused on their individual maintenance and management. That they missed the opportunity to collaborate.
Mhlongo mentioned that within the Municipality of Umhlathuze there was development of 4 new medical facilities.
He pointed out that the congress and these facilities provided an opportunity for youth employment. He mentioned that the students from the University of Zulu land would benefit greatly from the development and subsequent establishment of Richards bay as a medical tourism destination.
“Which means that for students who are looking to do training, internships, that just increases the pool for them to get those opportunities. Not only for academics but even on the business side, we have people trading with those businesses and by businesses growing with business they also provide employment opportunities. We see a lot of potential in terms of addressing the unemployment issue in our area in this industry. That is why we are so keen on investing in this opportunity.”