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Medical travel: the ups and downs

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Cases of patients, sometimes terminally ill, leaving Botswana to seek specialised or advanced medical care in other countries are common and public knowledge.

Due to the high cost of such specialised medical procedures the appeal for funding brings the patients’ names to the fore. For example, 14-year-old Abbie Ntshabele, who was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer and 11-year-old Molaodi Mahokole, who has been living with Nephrotic Syndrome, a kidney disorder.

According to Dr. Tanushree Gupta from Newlife Health Services in India, a company that offers advisory and consulting services to foreign patients wishing to get treated in India there are various reasons people opt for Medical Travel. “Lack of required medical expertise locally. Unavailability of medical treatment due to regulatory constraints or the high cost of local treatment,” she adds.

More concerns include the unavailability of Healthcare professionals and equipment in African, Arab and CIS Regions. “The high cost of medical treatment in Developed countries, and the waiting-time in getting treatment in countries like UK, Canada and some European Countries,” also add to the reasons people travel for advanced medical treatments as per the doctor’s advice.

She explains that the concept of medical travel was developed ‘automatically’ due to the gap in demand and supply of affordable healthcare services in different regions around the world. Her observation is that with the existence of medical travel patients in the remotest areas of the world can access the best medical treatment available around the world at very ‘affordable prices’.

According to Dr. Gupta African patients, including Batswana go to India for advanced medical treatments like, Heart Surgeries, Orthopaedic Surgeries, Cancer Treatment, IVF Treatment, Liver Transplant, Kidney Transplant, Spinal and Neurology Surgeries, Cosmetic Surgeries, Hair Transplant, Urology, General Medicine, Gynecology, ENT and Ophthalmology. “We receive patients from almost all the African countries but majority (due to population and financial ability) come from Nigeria, Kenya, Botswana, DRC, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Sudan”.

Princess Marina Hospital PR representative, Donnel Kutlapye substantiates his Indian based colleague that Batswana are referred to India for organ transplants. “…such as kidney, liver and bone marrow transplants. We have an agreement with Apollo Hospitals (India) to conduct the transplants,” adds Kutlapye.

There are currently 40 patients a week being referred to South Africa according to the Princess Marina PR. The figure is for people sent by Princess Marina Hospital.

The figure for those seeking medical attention at health facilities outside the country on their own accord is not available. “As a hospital we can only advise individuals who make self-referrals to make sure that the health institutions they visit are accredited and internationally recognised. They have to make sure that the treating health professionals are registered with health professions council,” he cautions.

He further shares that there are other conditions which Princess Marina Hospital sends patients outside the country for. “We also refer patients outside the country mainly for specialised Neurosurgery, specialised Cardiology, Paediatric Oncology, specialised Orthopaedics, Opthamology, Hepatobiliary surgery, Pulmonology, Hematology, specialised Neurospine and Endocrinology among others,” explains Kutlapye.

He concurs with the India based medical practitioner that African and Arab regions need to invest in medical equipment and to develop their manpower.
The hospital PR representative also observes that to reduce the number of patients leaving the country, “We also need to improve our retention strategies,” he adds.

Medical Travel like any other phenomenon has its pros and cons. For patients they get the best in the form of medical treatment. The downside however as per Dr. Gupta is that, “The general Healthcare domain, gets a beating as it does not get enough complicated cases to hone their skills. The country as a whole loses Forex due to travel of patients abroad.”

Hence Dr. Gupta advocates for medical collaboration as compared to medical travel. “Under Medical collaboration we can offer Doctors exchange programmes. Indian Doctors can treat or operate all the secondary care patients in their home country.” Kutlapye agrees and shares that, “Government has embarked on recruitment of specialists to work in different hospitals. We also have arrangements where specialists from outside the country conduct procedures/operations locally in our facilities.” Dr. Gupta explains that this type of exchange benefits the local doctors as they learn new medical techniques and procedures.

As to how much you can expect to part with in regards to medical travel services Dr. Gupta explains that the financial cost depends on the illness. A Dental RCT costs less than USD 100. A Liver Transplant can cost up to USD 40,000. “Every other treatment is between Dental RCT and Liver Transplant price.

Average billing of a patient for major Cardiac, Cancer, Orthopedic and Spinal-Neuro Treatment is in the range of USD 5,000 – 10,000. For ENT, Ophthalmology, IVF, Gynaecology, Urology the average billing cost is between USD 2000-5000,” concludes Dr. Gupta.

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