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Mediclinic News : Medical tourism: Patients flock to SA

Title

Medical tourism: Patients flock to SA

Date

2016-07-15

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News Description

FINANCIAL MAIL First it was doctors who crossed borders in response to various international calls, ranging from humanitarian crise s to better pay and skills advancement. Now their patients are following. An increasing number of people are heading to foreign countries for treatments they either can’t get at home or which are much cheaper than at home. And while there, these medical tourists are throwing in a few extra days to recuperate, either at a spa resort, on the beach or on a safari. Estimates of the size of the global medical tourism market vary widely, but US consultancy Patients Beyond Borders puts the value of the market at between US$45.5bn and $72bn. The US firm believes the industry is showing growth of between 15% and 25% each year. SA, ranked among the top destinations for medical travellers, is in a sweet spot to benefit from the money these tourists are prepared to spend. For Europeans and travellers from the Americas and Asia, SA offers an affordable alternative for many cosmetic procedures, thanks to the weak rand. For example, a breast augmentation procedure that costs $8,000 in the UK would cost about $3,600 in SA, according to Medical Tourism SA, a consultancy firm that offers total health-care solutions for medical travellers. American patients who pay about $12,400 for in vitro fertilisation, a procedure that helps woman fall pregnant, can expect to pay a third of that in SA. Even minor treatments such as a botox injection can save medical travellers visiting SA between 25% and 40% in costs. As cosmetic surgery is not covered by most medical aid plans, this increases the appeal for foreign patients. They can save costs by travelling to destinations that perform the procedures more cheaply, while squeezing in extra time for leisure activities. African travellers coming to SA for medical treatments do so less for cost savings and more because of SA’s advanced infrastructure and medical technology, as well as its doctors, whose skills are on par with international standards. It is for this reason that the number of African medical tourists coming to SA by air has increased by 54% in the past three years to 10,477 as at 2015. The country is trusted as a centre for medical excellence. Other popular international destinations include Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Mexico, Thailand and Turkey. In many cases, however, SA is the preferred destination for English-speaking medical tourists, as it offers language and some cultural commonalties that countries in South America or Asia don’t, says Patients Beyond Borders. Foreign spending on medical care in SA has increased from R582. 8m in 2013 to R916.4m in 2015, as the number of certain categories of tourist, mainly from Europe and those coming by air from other African countries, has increased, data from SA Tourism shows. The average medical tourist stays about six days in SA, versus about 10 days for the average tourist, SA Tourism’s Kaizer Dhliwayo says. European medical patients, who tend to stay in SA for up to 15 days, increased from about 1,300 in 2013 to just over 3,000 in 2015. However, the number of African travellers coming by land — mainly from neighbouring countries in the Southern African Development Community region — has gone in the opposite direction over the same three-year period. These travellers represent the majority of medical tourism to SA (more than 90%). Last year, medical tourists, like business and leisure travellers to SA, were knocked by the contentious visa regulations, which made it difficult to enter the country. This has since been remedied by the department of home affairs, which has eased some of the travel restrictions. India is also now performing some procedures that SA is not authorised to do, says one industry expert. As a result of the drop in the number of African tourists coming by land, the total number of medical travellers to SA declined from 348,731 in 2013 to 164,930, says Dhliwayo. Figures for the first quarter of 2016 also indicate a decline in the total number for the same reason, he says. However, an increase in medical tourists from Europe and African countries such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo and Nigeria has more than offset the decline in terms of their spending, which has continued to rise. “Africa remains a growing business for medical tourism,” says Lorraine Melville, founder and owner of Surgeon & Safari, a consultancy firm that provides medical facilitation services for governments, corporates and wealthy private individuals. Surgeon & Safari, like other consultancy firms such as Medical Tourism SA, works with a network of doctors and hospitals. They arrange for consultations with doctors, transport patients from the airport to the hospital, accommodate guests, assist with visa applications and insurance (at times) and arrange for post-treatment services. A total package at Surgeon & Safari can cost up to R100,000, excluding flights. Melville says she made the switch, four years ago, from elective (cosmetic) surgery to general medical treatments “as this is a bigger business among African clients”. The latter includes dealing with pregnant patients, neurology (disorders in the nervous system), pulmonology (treating lung conditions) and general check-ups. “A lot of expatriates work for these international companies and these people will require medical services,” she says. “Sometimes a flight to [their home country] will be too far as they may not be able to get there on time for the treatment they require.” As the middle class in Africa continues to grow and international companies continue to expand into the continent, so too will the demand for medical health care in SA facilities, Melville says.
Created at 2016/07/21 09:42 AM by Mediclinic
Last modified at 2016/07/21 09:42 AM by Mediclinic