Experts and officials in the health sector accented that Ethiopia should exert efforts to reduce the huge foreign currency spent to medical tourism by building its internal capacity.
Latest reports from the Ministry of Health (MoH) indicated that close to 300 patients were commonly given approval to take medical service in overseas annually following the responsible decision of the board. However, the number of people traveling abroad for medical treatment are by far larger than the stated figure.
Furthermore, Medical Travel Journal 2014 report stated that the number of hospital agencies that facilitate medical tourism travels in Ethiopia increased from 3 to over 12 from 2009 to 2014. And the total estimated expenditure spent by Ethiopian medical tourists exceeded 30 million USD in 2012 alone, which is still showing an increment from that time on.
Cardiac Center Service Head at the Black Lion Specialized University Hospital Assistant Professor Dr. Birhanu Nega explained that people travel abroad for medical care due to the fact that they have less trust on the quality of health services at homeland.
Taking recent reports as reference, he said in few years time, close to 40,000 people have traveled to India for health care treatment without the required medical approval from the board. He stated that "This is a big loss to the nation unless responsible stakes exert coordinated effort on that regard."
He suggested that the country should construct competitive local health care institutions at a higher level and build its internal capacity to reduce the amount of foreign currency that has been spent by citizens for such services.
Senior Health Expert Dr. Abayneh Shiferaw told The Ethiopian Herald that people travel for medical tourism looking for two major heath care and treatment demands. He elaborated such travels are made in search of cultural and modern medical treatments as those countries are advanced on that regard.
Dr. Abayneh further highlighted that people often use medical tourism to get cosmetic surgeries, transplantation and cultural treatments. And now he said many nations are building capacity to offer such services by developing there tourism potential and generate better revenues out of it.
The Expert also explained that people travel for medical tourism mainly after considering the affordability, swiftness of the treatment, availability of high standard care and treatment supported by advanced medical equipment and improved technologies.
"Ethiopia is at a grass root level to fulfilling the required minimum requirements and advancing its medical tourism. Thus, it should work hard to retain nation's medical travelers by building its internal capacities."
There are various things that the nation should do prior to the implementation of medical tourism. He suggested "The availability of skilled practitioners in the area, modern health care facilities, infrastructures, improved health service to local customers and accreditation from international organizations for quality health service are pillars to employing medical tourism in the nation."
State Minister of Health (MoH) Dr. Kebede Worku stated on his part that Ethiopia could tap this potential by stepping-up its internal health care service targeting at primarily satisfying local customers. As to him this should be done on a strategical basis.
The State Minister said that the nation has already established medical service quality strategy at all levels. He explained adding that institutional set ups are already there to realize quality health service throughout the country.
Dr. Kebede further highlighted that MoH is working towards building the capacity of professionals on the sector that will highly satisfy the health needs of internal customers. He stressed "A regulatory body that will support and supervise both government and private health institutions' services is already established with the aim of improving sector's service".
"The government of Ethiopia believes that satisfying citizens quality health care expectation is the first move before thinking about addressing health issues of neighboring countries and far away nations,"the State Minister added.
The State Minister added Ethiopia is suitable for medical tourism as its capital Addis Ababa is the third diplomatic seat in the globe in which not few members of the international community are residents in it. Besides The expansion of the Ethiopian Airlines flights is also an opportunity to the nation that initiates to think and work fast towards transforming the health sector.
A farsighted vision of establishing a health service that meets the required international quality standard parameters are expected from our health institutions, he stressed. To this end and benefit from the sector, high level private sector investment is crucial, he commented.
Ensuring quality health care service comes not from external supervision. Rather it comes from a well established internal capacity built in all health institutions through continuous professional, skill and ethical development domains at all levels. And this lies on building strong health training institutions, Dr. Kebede explained.
According to Tourism Development Consultant Mekonen Gebregziabher medical tourism is essential to promote the image of the nation by adding value to nation's economy beyond providing the health care services.
Since the sector is more than medical treatment, he further added there are various things that needs to be done before hand in the areas of infrastructure development in the health and tourism sectors.
Building internal capacity of the nation in all aspects, having facilitated flights, well established visa system and high standard transportation are crucial to advance the sector, Mekonen commented.
Medical Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry and its socioeconomic impact has yet to be fully analyzed. Some believe that the international standards of care, quality, knowledge transfer and system funding related to medical tourism lead to the need for establishing an improved systems in the sub-sector.
The State Minister and the practitioners all underlined that medical tourism does not only provide benefits to international patients. Rather it extends a wide spectrum of benefits to many industries such as the health care industry, travel and tourism, commercial sector, government relationships, and many more.