Every year, millions of people from all over the world, including Africans, go abroad in search of sophisticated medical care. The most common medical operations people travel abroad for include dental work, surgery, cosmetic surgery, fertility treatments, organ and tissue transplants, and cancer therapy. Due to the rise in the number of illnesses that cannot be treated locally, the number of Africans travelling to Europe and North America has dramatically increased.
Many observers on the continent have raised concerns about this growing trend and how it is negatively affecting Africa’s healthcare economy. Since 2006, the continent has lost more than $6 billion in international medical tourism. This has negative effects on the weak economies.
The majority of African countries are already struggling with delivering basic healthcare. The challenge is also not just with people traveling to other continents for medical attention; there are concerns with the quality of care that people are receiving abroad. There have been cases of people being duped by unqualified medical professionals. Most patients can't tell the difference between legitimate doctors and con artists, so they fall for the con artists' tricks. This causes medical difficulties, which result in their having to pay over and beyond the initial costs they would have paid had they gone to qualified, duly certified, and recognized practitioners.
The biggest drivers of international medical tourism in Africa are poor care quality, a lack of skilled medical personnel, advanced technology, and drugs. Other drivers include laws restricting certain medical procedures such as abortion or skin bleaching restrictions. Some Africans experiencing economic prosperity are spending money to receive top-notch maternity care in Europe and the United States.
In addition, African political leaders have been accused of neglecting the health sector at home. Most of the elite Africans, including political leaders, receive their medical attention in developed countries. In recent years, many African political leaders have died abroad. For example, in 2019, the late Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe died in Singapore after decades of failing to revive the Zimbabwean health sector. A recent example is that of the late Angolan leader who died while seeking medical attention in Spain last month.
How African countries can reduce the cost of medical tourism
To stop the rising cost of medical tourism abroad, quality health services and tools must be made available to all citizens, in addition to the milestones that Africa's ministries of health have reached and intend to reach. Organizations like the WHO, Africa CDC, and others have made enormous contributions in terms of support in planning, policy design and implementation, and funding.
African governments should strengthen their healthcare industries. This can be accomplished by providing financial support to neighborhood healthcare providers and by putting in place standards for the professional development of healthcare workers.
Most economists tend to ignore the fact that 4.97% of sub-Saharan Africa's economy is spent on healthcare, which is not only a crucial but also lucrative sector. Policymakers should entice healthcare investors with the goal of enhancing care while generating employment for medical and healthcare professionals to stop brain drain. Investors can invest in cutting-edge technologies and offer attractive compensation. For example, BioNTech recently opened its doors in Rwanda and started producing mRNA vaccines. A pharmaceutical product worth EUR 50 million was also introduced in Kenya by the European Investment Bank (EIB).