Africans flock to India for medical attention, seen as a leader in medical tourism

Lot of Africans are flying down to India for medical attention, thanks to India’s image as a leader in medical tourism.

India is increasingly becoming popular with Africans seeking medical treatment overseas, because of its more affordable, state-of-the-art equipment and its highly skilled doctors. Other options for Africans include the US and the UK; however, health care there is extremely expensive and getting visas to those countries is a nightmare, unlike with India, where visas are issued within a week and treatment is comparatively cheap.

According to recent reports, sub-Saharan Africa was facing a severe shortage of health care professionals and lacked adequate health care coverage for those in need of medical treatment. This is jarring news to a continent that carries a large disease burden, including the world’s highest rates of communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids, among others.

Health care systems in many African countries are also inadequately funded.

Thousands of Nigerians visit India for medical reasons, such as transplant surgery, joint replacement and dental surgery, among other procedures, according to the Indian high commissioner to Nigeria, Ajjampur Ghanshyam.

But why are Africans seeking medical care in India?
Since the 1990s, India has been flaunted as a global leader in “medical tourism,” defined as the travel of people to a place other than where they normally reside for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment in that country.

India boasts highly qualified doctors and state-of-the-art equipment, and the treatments are approved by the World Health Organisation and the US Food and Drug Administration. In addition to quality medical services provided by its hospitals and doctors, patients go to India because medical costs are a lot cheaper compared with the US and UK.

“The cost of a kidney transplant surgery with blood-related donor is between $13 000 and $16 000,” says Dr Dheeraj Bojwani, the director of Forerunners Healthcare Consultants, one of the leading medical value providers in India, which is associated with top hospitals and surgeons in the country.

And the the $13 000 kidney transplant package includes preoperative medical check-ups, consultations and follow-up, surgery and surgeon’s fees, anaesthetist’s fees and drugs. The package also includes the patient’s stay in the hospital (in an air-conditioned deluxe room with TV, cable, and phone); food for the entire duration of the patient’s stay in the hospital; airport pick-up and drop-off; and board for one accompanying attendant.

On the cost of drugs, India produces generic pharmaceuticals for a fraction of the price in the West. For example, Cipla, a multinational Indian pharmaceutical company, cut the price of HIV/Aids antiretroviral drugs to below a dollar a day. This brought the cost of expensive antiretroviral medications down from about $12 000 to no more than $365 a year.

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Additional incentives

Besides, the Indian government is providing additional incentives to attract foreign patients. These incentives capitalise on the country’s “exotic” appeal, and include tourism packages allowing patients to bring along a companion for a discounted travel cost to sightsee landmarks such as the Taj Mahal.

For English-speaking Africans, language is not a barrier, as English is the lingua franca in India. And for those seeking forms of treatment other than surgery, India is home to alternative treatments such as Ayurveda, a plant-based therapy that uses herbs, breathing exercises, diet changes, meditation and stretching for healing.

The Indian government established the Focus Africa Programme and partnered with the African Union to set up the Pan African e-Network to ensure continuity care for patients. Established in 2002, the Focus Africa Programme facilitates India’s trading with several African countries, including Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, in affordable pharmaceuticals (in addition to other trade items) so that they become easily accessible on the continent.

The Pan-African e-Network promotes tele-education and tele-medicine to ensure continuity of care for African patients treated in India. Tele-education allows one to receive lessons over an Internet connection or video, while tele-medicine specialises in diagnosing and providing health care from remote locations over a telecommunications device. Such a system allows a patient to access care through teaching hospitals in Africa that are connected to sister hospitals in India.

Indian health care firms are also taking steps to create joint ventures with hospitals in Africa. At the moment they are investing in Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius and Mozambique.

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