‘Surgery safaris on rise’
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Cape Town - More and more international patients are travelling to South Africa to have elective procedures – and experts believe the rise in “medical tourism” is due to a weak rand.
Medical tourists travel to another country to undergo medical procedures that are cheaper or which cannot be performed in their countries. These can involve anything from dentistry to cancer treatment and cosmetic surgery.
According to Cape Town plastic surgeon Paul Skoll, most cosmetic surgery tourists come from the UK, but he has noticed an increase in the number of patients from other African countries.
“Angola and Mozambique were the most notable African countries and I have also had patients who travelled from as far as Tanzania and Kenya,” Skoll said yesterday.
He said the exchange rate and South Africa’s international reputation as a medical tourism hub were responsible for the increase.
Cape Town was seen as the hub for patients coming on cosmetic safaris and there were spin-offs for the city.
“People who come to South Africa for elective cosmetic surgery can’t just fly in and fly out. Patients need to stay up to two weeks after the surgery to recover,” Skoll said, adding this meant that patients stayed longer in the country, spending more money.
Ingrid Lomas, chief executive of Surgical Attractions, agreed that the weak rand was responsible for the surge.
She said breast surgery was the most popular procedure.
“We get patients from north of the border, including Namibia, Uganda and Nigeria.”
Lomas said India had captured the medical tourism market and South Africa should try to be more competitive – a view that is backed up by a study in the Southern African Migration Programme, which reported that medical migrants from African countries spent more time in South Africa than European medical tourists.
“This is not unexpected since medical migrants from those countries come to South Africa to access advanced private sector medical treatment unavailable in their countries.”
The report added that the private health sector was marketing the country as the ideal surgery safari location.
The study authors said medical tourism could be the next big money spinner and predicted that private doctors would specifically begin targeting medical tourists.
“At present, medical tourism is a sideline for hospitals, clinics and physicians in South Africa’s private healthcare system. However, as the revenue-generating potential of the medical tourism industry grows, dedicated health and medical facilities are likely to be established… to cater for the medical tourist.” - Cape Times
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