Health tourism industry ‘must not disadvantage SA’s poor

by JULIUS BAUMANN ,  Business Day | 2009-07-31


SA WAS well positioned to take advantage of a fast-growing health tourism sector but the country had to guard against disadvantaging poorer communities, Deputy Health Minister Molefi Sefularo said yesterday.

Demand for SA’s health services is steadily increasing. The demand comes from thousands of wealthy, uninsured patients from developed nations seeking cheaper cosmetic and medical procedures; Africans looking for quality healthcare not available in their own countries; and insurers hoping to contain their costs.

More than 300 delegates from the medical fraternity met in Sandton this week for the inaugural health tourism congress with the aim of setting up a health tourism working group which would guide the growth of the industry in SA.

Sefularo told delegates at the congress that SA was a signatory to the Southern African Development Community Health Protocol and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) Health Protocol, which promoted the exchange of information and services in the region.

Sefularo said this and other similar agreements with Brazil, India and Indonesia, which were close to being finalised, presented new opportunities for the health tourism sector.

“Trade in social services is currently being seen as one of the mechanisms through which SA is leveraging growth and employment and in the process expands services trade on the African continent.”

However, he warned that it would “unfortunate if in the pursuance of these opportunities we become reckless, and greedy”.

“Although the private sector is the main beneficiary of (health tourism), there is a slow stream of patients who are price sensitive and have seen the opportunity of using the public sector hospitals. There is much scope for collaboration between the medical, tourism, hospital and travel industries. It is therefore important for the public sector to utilise this opportunity in a co-ordinated manner, without negatively affecting access to the South African patients,” said Sefularo.

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