It’s time for Kenya to invest in medical tourism

While Kenya can take pride in attracting two million international tourists last year with its wildlife, beaches and tropical weather, it can significantly increase the numbers by tapping into the global demand for health services.

Medical tourism is whereby people who live in one country travel to another country to receive equal or greater care than they would have in their own country. Most people travel for medical care because of affordability, better access or higher quality of care.

India is one of the countries that have invested heavily in this. Its medical tourism sector is estimated to be worth Sh300 billion. By 2020, India’s medical tourism is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 200 per cent, hitting Sh900 billion, which are earnings from the half a million people that visit India every year for medical services.

So, what about Kenya? Dr Fardousa Ahmed, CEO of Nyali Premier Hospital, says there is room for improvement. For example, Mombasa county receives patients from the six counties of the Coast as well as the neighbouring nation of Tanzania.

“Kenya is better placed to offer medical tourism compared to other East and Central African countries,” Dr Fardousa, 35, says.

“With all the millions Kenya receives in tourism, the government should also invest heavily in the health sector so we can start receiving more patients.”

As things stand, for every foreigner seeking treatment in Kenya, two Kenyans are doing the same abroad. The top 10 countries for patients to India are Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Maldives, Oman, Yemen, Kenya, Uzbekistan, Nigeria and Tanzania.

Dr Fardousa says President Uhuru Kenyatta’s quest for Universal Health Care service should be advanced to include medical tourism.

She says both county and national government should strive to put up medical infrastructure and ensure adequate health staff are employed to serve the people.

“Medical tourism should be developed here at the Coast. We can capitalise on this because the coast destination is already known globally,” Dr Fardousa says.

NYALI HOSPITAL MAKES WAVES

The Jubilee government’s push for affordable health care services led to the establishment of Premier Hospital in Nyali.

Dr Fardousa, a University of Nairobi graduate, says two years ago, their management transformed an eight-storey rental building into the modern state-of-the-art hospital.

Premier Hospital, which is located along Links Road in Nyali, was officially opened on November 24, 2017, as a pilot project to provide affordable health care services.

“The hospital was opened with the sole purpose of providing affordable medical care. I was the project manager when we started, but few months into the project, we decided to make it a fully operational tier-one hospital,” she says.

However, after the 82-bed capacity hospital, which is served by young doctors and nurses, was opened, it was deemed as an expensive facility for Nyali residents only, a perception the facility is trying to change.

“Yes, we have modern hospital equipment, top doctors and other qualified staff, but we are not as expensive as many people may think,” Dr Fardousa says.

She adds that they are the only tier-one hospital in the Coast region which wholeheartedly admits Kenyans covered by the National Hospital Insurance Fund.

“You will find that most private top facilities at the Coast and the country at large are yet to accept NHIF cover, but us at Premier, we allow patients who are on NHIF to get treatment,” she says.

Patients who are not on any medical cover can also get treatment at regularised prices in the facility.

“We do not have varied charges for our services. We charge all patients in a very transparent way. We are focused on delivering affordable health care to all Kenyans in accordance with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Universal Health Care agenda,” she says.

She continues, “With your normal NHIF card, you can access the following Ultrasound, CT Scan, Dialysis, all surgeries and part of the daily bed rate at Premier.”

For civil servants, for example, if the institution you work for has an enhanced medical cover with NHIF, then you can access all services at Premier Hospital.

“However, all these procedures must be pre-authorised by NHIF, and the Premier Hospital management will do this on your behalf,” Dr Fardousa says.

In 2017, when they started the facility, they only had a handful of staff. But two years later, they have employed over 200 individuals who are working as doctors, nurses, cooks, cleaners, guards and other supporting staff.

“When we started, we used to see about 20 patients per day. However, currently, we are seeing over 150 outpatients daily. Our target is to serve over 250 patients daily,” Dr Fardousa says.

The doctor says as a private hospital in the Coast, they are fully supporting the Universal Health Care project of the Jubilee government.

“In Kenya, health is very expensive. We have seen the President trying hard to make it affordable to the people. That is why here at Premier, we are also supporting his agenda by ensuring our services are affordable,” she says.

PATIENT TESTIMONIES

Omar Swaleh, who was admitted at Premier Hospital’s ICU for about two weeks, says the hospital management really saved his life.

“I was rushed to the hospital unconscious. I really do not know what happened and I was admitted at the ICU. The hospital really saved my life,” he says.

His family expected a huge bill, but to their surprise, it was very affordable.

“The hospital is clean, the staff very friendly and professional, and on top of it all, their services are very affordable. With insurance cover or NHIF card, you are treated well. As for me, I paid using my own insurance health cover,” says Swaleh.

Mourine Otieno, who works for a logistics company at the coastal town of Mombasa, has ulcers.

She says she was also rushed to Premier Hospital with unbearable painful stomach pains due to the ulcers.

“I was rushed to the ward. I spent a week at the hospital and got high-class medical attention,” she says.

Driven by a three-worded philosophy of Compassion, Competence and Care, Dr Fardousa says they have recorded success in surgical services, maternity and cancer care since they started two years ago.

“Our maternity unit is the best in the Coast. We focus on the mothers’ experience. A woman will never forget their experience here at the facility. They will be coming again and again during the delivery time,” she says.

On surgical services, Dr Fardousa, says they have been able to perform so many surgeries to their patients with the facility.

“We do not believe that a patient has to travel all the way to Nairobi for surgery. We have qualified doctors who can handle complex surgeries with the facility,” she says.

KEY PARTNERSHIPS

The management has set up a radiology department with a 16-slice CT Scan, Ultrasound and X-Ray, supported by a state-of-the-art laboratory that offers a wide range of tests in haematology, clinical chemistry, immunochemistry, microbiology, among others.

“We offer endoscopy for patients with digestion problems, dialysis for patients with kidney problems and chemotherapy for cancer patients,” she says.

The facility also offers outpatient consultation, accident and emergency, pharmacy, radiology, laboratory, operating theatres and general wards.

For the clients who want special attention, the hospital has semi-private wards, private wards, VVIP suite, Intensive Care Unit, High Dependency Unit and speciality clinics suites, among other services.

“We have also partnered with various doctors and clinical staff to ensure they provide exceptional healthcare and wellness services within the Coastal region,” she says.

To deal with modern trends, the hospital has also set up a vibrant social media team that responds to clients’ issues, complaints and gives quick feedback to any questions asked.

“We want to manage our customer experience. Therefore, we have a direct call centre and an active social media team that provides quick feedback to our clients,” she says, adding that most of those employed in this department are millennials.

“However, we have a challenge with the millennials. They are not as easy to manage as the older generation. They sometimes decide not to come to work, but we believe in empowering the youthful population,” she says with a chuckle.

The doctor says youth are the drivers of Kenya’s economy. She says with the changing technology; institutions must employ the youthful population.

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