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Rwanda to boost medical tourism

11 April 2013, 09:14 Ben Gasore

Rwanda is revamping its creaking health sector in the  hope of luring patients from across its borders to galvanise its tourism industry. 

The tourism sector collected $210 million between January and  September last year, up from $184 million over the same period in 2011,  indicating a 14 per cent increase.

Rapid expansion of the industry, experts say, will depend on efforts to  increase tourism products, including medical tourism.

“The government is courting investors to set up advanced medical facilities in the country; we believe this will help make our country a  regional (medical) tourism hub,” said Rica Rwigamba, the head of tourism  at Rwanda Development Board.

Rwigamba was optimistic that tapping into medical tourism would improve foreign currency earnings needed to bridge the country’s trade deficit  which currently stands at over $1.2 billion.

“Medical tourism requires a different approach if one is to attract  world class health investors. It is also about wooing people to provide quality medical services at affordable rates,” Rwigamba says.

She adds: “Rwanda is in a good location in terms of climate, security and  a quiet environment, which patients need when going through the process of healing.”

A company called Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital recently opened its doors in Kigali, making it the first foreign-owned specialist establishment in the country, which is likely to become a regional eye referral centre The Asian firm has so far invested $6 million and plans to invest more in the next few years.

“We have spent time with the ministry of health and Rwanda Development Board to see how we can expand this sector because it is quite vital,”  said Farooq Siddiqui, Dr Argarwal Eye Hospital head of business.

John Nkurikiye, the hospital’s medical director, said the specialist hospital handles all complicated eye cases that were hitherto being  referred abroad.

“The aim of this hospital is to stop any referrals for eye treatment outside Rwanda. We have advanced eye investigational services and a network of over 59 hospitals and a pool of 350 specialists from where we can perform specialised care,” Nkurikiye says.

Arthur Asiimwe, the Ministry of Health communications chief, says  government wants to launch medical tourism from the School of Public Health under the National University of Rwanda.

He however, could not reveal the number of people who go abroad for treatment and how much government loses in foreign exchange as a result.

Primate Safaris in Kigali general manager Chris Munyao said people seeking attention spend a lot of money when they travel abroad and at times need to be accompanied by someone.

“Anybody going for treatment will have to spend a few more days at the  different destinations, where they have to book hotels before seeking  medical attention.

“Some may be accompanied by family members and the fact that those people  require accommodation and transport in one way or another sums it up as medical tourism,” says Munyao.

Experts say when medical tourism takes root; it will create thousands of  jobs, improve the country’s foreign exchange receipts, boost the  healthcare system and expertise and improve the lives of service  providers.

“We will need more health workers with specifics skills to handle given  medical cases. Besides improving skilled personnel in the country, the  move will create job opportunities for many nurses and doctors,” they say.

- CAJ News    


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