Health Tourism can potentially provide a lucrative niche market to grow tourist numbers into Africa. However, reliable information and statistics on this sector from a local perspective are impossible to find. But this sad state of affairs is going to change as from June this year. By Des Langkilde.
Based on my own research trawling the web, some major practical and image obstacles need to be overcome for health tourism to grow into a mature niche sector in Africa.
Negative perceptions regarding the high incidence of HIV/AIDS and crime are two such obstacles that need to be addressed, from both an international and a local perspective. Studies show that contracting HIV at work is a major fear of African health care providers themselves, while perceptions of crime and security are major factors driving the “brain drain” of African health care professionals to Europe and North America.
The table on the right shows the number of health care workers in four southern Africa countries (as at 2012) compared to Europe and North America, and compared to the recommended World Health Organisation (WHO) minimum.
On a more positive note, I found that the potential for tourism entrepreneurs to tap into the growing medical tourism niche lies in government regulations that prohibit doctors and specialist surgeons from directly attracting international patients. For example, South African physicians are ethically restricted from marketing or advertising their services, or to have a photograph of themselves on their website, or to make claims about the quality of their work. They also cannot accept payment for referring a patient to a hotel or travel agent.
These inhibiting regulations provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs to establish facilitation or intermediary services between patients, doctors/surgeons, and the private medical hospitals and clinics. These services could include pre-trip consultations in the patient’s home country, connecting prospective patients with African health facilities and surgeons, preparing cost estimates, organising flights and accommodation, and arranging post-surgery tours and activities, such as safaris.
However, to receive a referral fee from doctors as an intermediary, the entrepreneur would need to be appropriately qualified to make medical evaluations and to accept medical liability.
Pan-African Health Tourism Congress 2017
Fortunately, local tourism businesses and entrepreneurs don’t need to rely on outdated statistics that I’ve come across because there’s a full blown Business Opportunity Fair, Exhibition and Congress coming to KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa in June 2017.
An impressive line-up of speakers have already been confirmed to present on a diverse range of topics, including The State of Health Tourism in Africa; New Facility Tours; the South Africa Health Tourism Academy; and even the launch of a ‘Youth Health Tourism Innovation Hackathon.’
So, if you want to tap into the health tourism niche, the City of uMhlathuze is where you need to be from 8 to 9 June.
For more information visit www.panafricanhealthtourismcongress.com