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Tap medical tourism potential

THE Cancer Diseases Hospital (CDC) in Lusaka is the flagship institution in positioning Zambia for medical tourism.
It is among the few cancer diseases hospitals in the region which have the expertise and services. No wonder it attracts patients from other southern African countries.
Zambia is also doing well in medical education as students from other countries are coming here for training and attachment.
Fees are still favourable, so is the learning environment for trainee medics to receive their education and ultimately their practising licences.
Zambia has also accomplished a lot in the recent past through medical breakthroughs such as kidney transplants, open heart surgeries and separation of Siamese twins – all conducted at the University Teaching Hospital.
Despite this, Zambia is still far short of being the preferred destination for medical services. Things could be better. They should be better.
Zambia has huge potential and should have been the hub of medical tourism like other countries such as India and South Africa.
Zambia has the state-of-the-art-equipment and qualified staff. Of course, more of these resources are needed but even with what is available, there should have been more external patients seeking these services.
Evidence of Zambia’s ability to ably manage a wide array of patients is in the fact that some reputable health institutions in other countries are manned by Zambians.
Some Zambians who get treatment abroad are actually attended to by compatriots.
That is why President Edgar Lungu has urged stakeholders to fully explore the opportunity of medical tourism which Government is promoting.
President Lungu says medical tourism has huge potential to enhance health care, staff development and training as well as research.
When he commissioned the newly constructed Coptic Orthodox Hospital yesterday, President Lungu urged the Ministry of Health and other institutions to explore the opportunity of medical tourism together.
This is because the benefits to Zambia’s socio-economic development from this initiative are immense.
The newly-opened hospital is offering a wide range of services from primary health care to specialised services such as cardiology, paediatrics, orthopaedics, urology, obstetrics and gynaecology, internal medicine and clinical pathology.
It is good that more hospitals with state-of-the-art facilities are being built, but these should be corresponding support services such as affordable guest houses.
For instance, cancer patients who undergo some type of chemotherapy are required to stay in the country for months until they complete the medication.
If quality accommodation is too expensive, then the patients could be discouraged from coming for treatment, and Zambia would lose out on revenue.
Some foreign patients and their care-givers are finding it difficult to stay in the country for months due to lack of affordable accommodation.
This class of people needs to be housed either within the hospital premises or hostels near the medical facility.
Zambia needs hospitals with facilities which support such. If not, the hospitals could enter into agreements with quality lodges to provide this service.
The country also needs an efficient but affordable means of local transportation to enable patients and their care-givers to be able to sample our hospitality by visiting local attractions. This is good therapy for those who are stressed.
Zambia should also facilitate easy entry into the country of patients and their care-givers. Reduced charges or waivers on visa could help draw patients.
Making the country accessible is one of the support services required to make medical tourism a reality because people will be able to fly in or drive in at little or no notice to access medical services.
Zambia has a lot to gain from medical tourism to curtail the current situation where citizens are trekking to other countries for specialist treatment.
Citizens should support the Government’s efforts in upgrading medical facilities to make health care accessible to all.
Government has invested a lot in health care but more needs to be done to ensure that the country reaps from the investments in this sector.