Fellow columnist Scott Bellow’s recent article on Kenya’s potential to become a medical tourism destination was spot on. The mishaps in our public health sector notwithstanding, if well-structured this is something that could work in the not too distant future.
At the very least we can become the top medical tourism hub for Africa.
We are easily the region’s choice destination for patients who can afford higher standards of medical care in the eastern, central and parts of west Africa. With improvement in equipment, infrastructure and health workers’ skills, we could hold our weight in the global arena. A major selling point for this product is, of course, quality and Nairobi boasts the only regional hospital to have the prestigious US Joint National Commission (JNC) accreditation.
Other hospitals in the same league hold equivalent or alternate standards of accreditation.
The quest for quality recognition isn’t limited to our hospitals alone, auxiliary services like laboratories are also seeking accreditation standards.
Recently, the region’s top laboratories received such awards. The intention being a guarantee that quality of care will be delivered always.
On the pharma front, our manufacturers’ capacity is growing too. Although duplication instead of consolidation and specialisation is common, some have caught the eye of international bodies and got accreditation by the WHO to manufacture for the global market.
These three units: hospitals, laboratories and pharma are not the only components though.
Top notch staff particularly for rare medical skill-sets will also position us advantageously. This must begin with a definite plan to improve our doctors’ skills to international standards by sub-specializing more. Unfortunately this takes long; on average, 20 years for a neurosurgeon, 17 for a cardiothoracic or orthopaedic surgeon.
The shorter route is to encourage Kenyan medical experts abroad to return home by incentivising their relocation.
Most returnee medics tend to be specialists with experience in the international arena and have some cash.
A focus on neurosurgery, cardiology, cancer care, orthopaedics, infertility and the new spheres of genetics and stem cell therapy could do well. In all this, the missing link is how to streamline the initiatives to align each cogwheel to work in sync.
What medics need is a national policy integrated into Vision 2030 recognising medical tourism as a potential economic growth pillar and recognition that such enterprises can be included in the Special Economic Zones just like the EPZs complete with tax breaks and other financial incentives.
With Nairobi poised to be a financial hub, special purpose funds can be channelled to financing of heavy infrastructural and equipment upgrades to stand out.
Kenya could position ‘Hospital Hill’, as the 10km radius around Kenyatta National Hospital is known, as a Special Economic Zone for medical tourism.
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