22 April 2018

Tanzania Poised to Become Top Medical Tourism Hub

TANZANIA is poised to become a hub for medical tourism amongst its neighbours in the region and beyond, thanks to major improvements of its facilities and planned acquisition of 14.5bn/- state-of-the-art equipment for cancer screening known as Positron Emission Tomography (PET-Scan).

Medical tourism is a situation where people travel from their countries of origin to another country for medical services which are not available, and in most cases superior, than what is provided in their home nations. The Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu, said the scanner was not available in any country in the region and patients requiring the screening are referred to India and other countries abroad.

"The government has allocated 14.5bn/- during the coming financial year to purchase the equipment which will be installed at the Ocean Road Cancer Institute," Ms Mwalimu told a news conference here last Tuesday. A PET scan can be used to detect cancerous tissues and cells in the body that may not always be found through computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)."

The government has allocated 14.5bn/- during the coming financial year to purchase the equipment which will be installed at the Ocean Road Cancer Institute." MsDuring a PET scan, the patient is first injected with a glucose (sugar) solution that contains a very small amount of radioactive material. And, speaking when winding up budget estimates for her ministry for the financial year 2018/2019, the minister was optimistic that medical tourism in Tanzania will become a reality in the near future.

In the coming fiscal year, Ms Mwalimu asked the National Assembly to approve a budget of898.4bn/- for recurrent and development votes which was unanimously endorsed by the august House on Friday evening. Contributing in the budget speech earlier, Vunjo MP, Mr James Mbatia(NCCR-Mageuzi), tasked the government to make Tanzania a hub for medical tourism in the region.

It is high time we put in place incentives for private sector and faith based institutions to invest in health facilities to supplement efforts by the government," the soft-spoken parliamentarian urged, adding: "We should as well focus on exchange programmes with other countries with better health facilities to improve capacity of local health practitioners."

Tanzania has made notable strides in the health sector where many of the ailments that were referred abroad at exorbitant costs are now treated, including heart surgeries as well as kidney and cochlear transplant." "Unlike in the past, 95 per cent of heart surgeries are now conducted at the state-of-the-art Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute (JKCI) while Muhimbili National Hospital and Benjamin Mkapa Hospital have started kidney transplants, she said, adding:

"The remaining five per cent of heart patients who are referred abroad for treatment are toddlers aged below one, who require specialised and sophisticated care." According to Ms Mwalimu, 11 children have already undergone cochlear implant at Muhimbili National Hospital. Through the procedure, children with hearing and speech difficulties are fitted with special devices to enable them hear and speak.

Initially, the surgery required over 100m/- abroad but it is now performed at Muhimbili at a subsidised cost of 37m/-, Ms Mwalimu explained, adding that kidney transplants locally cost 21m/- against 100m/- which was used for the same procedure in foreign countries. When President John Magufuli came to power at the end of 2015, the total bill for treatments of Tanzanian patients in foreign hospitals was at 554bn/- but the amount decreased to 357bn/- and 163bn/- during 2016 and 2017, respectively.

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