The global medical tourism industry is valued at $20 billion per year, with nearly 7 million patients seeking healthcare abroad. As the world emerges from the viral pandemic, healthcare is top of mind and should be an opportunity for Africa’s top medical tourism destinations. Miriro Matema shares her top African destinations.
When you think healthcare – Africa isn’t often the first place you’d think of for excellent medical care. But you’d be surprised. In recent years, Africa has attracted international attention as a leading destination for cosmetic, prenatal and life threatening healthcare.
Medical tourism uses comprehensive national strategies like public-private partnerships, tax incentives, and marketing. A common medical tourism strategy is to provide packages that include assistance with medical visas, a meet and greet at the airport, private nurses, hospital accommodations before and after surgery, as well as a luxury safari post-treatment.
The global medical tourism industry is valued at $20 billion per year, with nearly 7 million patients seeking healthcare abroad. South Africa has emerged as the clear leader as a medical tourist destination on the African continent, with Morocco and Tunisia well positioned in North Africa to attract European patients. As the world emerges from the viral pandemic, how will African destinations contribute to physical and spiritual wellness as a tourism option? Let’s look at Africa’s favourite medical tourism destinations.
Tunisia has experienced rapid growth in its touristic health resorts with a rise in world-class facilities in Sousse, Hammamet, Djerba, and Gammarth. The health tourism sector of Tunisia attracts approximately 150,000 international tourists annually.
Tunisia’s reputation as the premier health tourism destination in Northern Africa, and as second on the continent behind South Africa, is due in large part to its thalassotherapy treatment. Tunisia ranks second worldwide after France for this medical skin treatment procedure, which uses mineral elements in its Mediterranean shores for a therapeutic experience. The properties of Tunisia’s Mediterranean seawater are believed to soothe dry skin and fight skin irritants such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema.
The Kingdom of Morocco’s market for medical tourism is not as robust as Tunisia’s, but has made major investments to become an attraction in Northern Africa. Medical tourism in Morocco is dominated by cosmetic surgery and dental treatment, with these procedures’ costs running less than those offered in Western Europe. A pleasant climate, internationally trained medical staff, and a Francophone population, along with lower costs, make Morocco an ideal medical tourist destination.
To enhance the competitiveness of Morocco’s overall tourism industry, Morocco’s Ministry of Tourism aimed to attract 1.5 billion tourists and accessible markets, with a major focus on the Western and Northern Europe region. The health and wellness tourism sectors are cited in the strategy as two major industries ripe for development and job creation.
Morocco’s investments and policies have contributed greatly to the growth of the industry. The country shares an “open skies” agreement with the European Union, which allows a variety of flight destinations for potential medical tourists. In addition, Morocco has eliminated value-added taxes on cosmetic surgeries, increasing the price competitiveness of its procedures.
Imagine having body enhancement surgery at a private hospital near the Red Sea, or overlooking the Nile and the Pyramids? Before and after surgery medical tourists can relax on beautiful beaches or be pampered at one of the country’s spa resorts to help restore energy, stamina and vitality before returning home feeling refreshed and renewed.
Egypt is in the process of constructing the largest medical city in the MEA region. Located in Badr City, it is 47 kilometers (29 miles) from Cairo on the Cairo-Suez road. The medical city is expected to include 13 medical institutes with a capacity of 2,000 beds, air medical services, a university hospital, natural healing gardens and a medicinal plant nursery.
South Africa is ranked by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as the leader in the African market for healthcare tourism. It offers a wide range of low-cost treatments, together with a level of professionalism and quality that sets its healthcare providers apart from the competition.
In addition to essential treatments, South Africa is well known for affordable cosmetic surgery procedures as well as fertility treatments, breast enlargements, cosmetic dentistry and others, creating a thriving medical tourism industry. A large number of medical tourists come from other countries within Africa, particularly for affordable infertility treatments.
South Africa is well positioned as an ideal medical tourism destination in that it boasts the following characteristics:
- Under-utilized private healthcare sector (catering for only 16% of SA’s total population);
- World-renowned doctors who are international thought leaders;
- The South African medical industry has pioneered many ground-breaking surgeries and medical research, including the world’s first heart transplant and more recently, the world’s first middle-ear bone transplant using 3D printed components;
- Shorter waiting times for surgeries (in the private sector);
- English-speaking country (therefore communication is easier for the bulk of international visitors); and
- Favourable currency (vs US Dollar and Euro) thus making it well priced compared to other regions.
Many African destinations have the potential to grow in medical tourism. Imagine a wellness facility overlooking the majestic Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe or a wellness retreat hidden in the misty Virunga mountains of Rwanda. Only time and investment will tell.