Medical tourism: Zambia not ready at all


PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu rightfully implored stakeholders to fully explore the opportunity of medical tourism which Government is promoting.
The President noted that medical tourism has huge potential to enhance patience care, staff development, training and research.
Speaking when he commissioned the newly-constructed Coptic Orthodox Hospital in Lusaka recently, President Lungu expressed happiness that the medical facility is offering services ranging from primary health care to specialised services such as cardiology, paediatrics, orthopaedics, urology, obstetrics and gynaecology, internal medicine and clinical pathology.
The downside is that the huge potential for medical tourism to earn the country foreign exchange remains untapped.
The country’s central location favours it to be an ideal destination for medical tourism in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
However, Zambia still has a long way to go in attaining the medical standards to attract patients across borders.
Currently, only the Cancer Diseases Hospital (CDH) provides services to patients coming from across the borders.
The CDH was designed from inception as a highly specialised hospital with its doctors and all staff trained specifically for the purpose.
The equipment and infrastructure too were customised.
The CDH, housed by the University Teaching Hospital (UTH), is a centre of excellence in cancer treatment which is attracting students from as far as Kenya.
Government has on its part made strides to ensure that health care delivery is enhanced by building specialised hospitals while upgrading others into teaching hospitals.
The specialised hospitals are being constructed in Lusaka, Chinsali and Petauke. The Chinsali and Petauke ones have almost been completed.
The Lusaka medical facility will be handling cardiac, renal and neuro and orthopaedic surgery.
There is also a programme of modernisation of UTH into five hospitals – adult, children, women and newborn, and eye and CDH.
The country needs to improve its health care to a level where it can compete with India and South Africa if it is to attract patients from other countries.
Therefore, to become a preferred destination for medical tourism, the country has to stop sending its patients to India and South Africa.
It will be an indicator that our services have improved and we trust the quality ourselves.
Then others will come to seek services here.
For now, we cannot even track how much money is being made by the nation through the CDH as medical tourism.
Apart from President Lungu urging stakeholders to fully explore the opportunity of medical tourism, there is need to develop policy on this concept.
Meantime in our border towns, foreign patients continue coming to Zambia for treatment. Malawians go to Mwami hospital in Chipata, Zimbabweans go to Mutendere in Chirundu district and Livingstone, while Congolese used to come to Mufulira, Kitwe and Chililabombwe mine hospitals. They didn’t do so because our facilities were superior to theirs, but because that was all that was available to them and their poor economies.
On the other hand, if we think people will come to Zambia because of highly specialised care that is not available in their countries, this cannot happen as this country is not ready at all and may never be.
All our neighbouring countries have even better services and expertise. Rwanda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and even Congo are better equipped than Zambian hospitals.
We are recruiting doctors from countries like Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe due to shortages in our medical facilities.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.

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