Dar es Salaam — The number of East Africans travelling for costly treatment abroad may go down following investment in quality health care facilities within the region.
Currently, East Africans are spending billion of shillings each year on treatment in India, mostly on non-communicable diseases.
The deputy Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Dr Faustine Ndugulile, said in Dodoma yesterday that the government has been spending at least Sh100 million to treat one person of such diseases like cancer as well as on kidney transplants and heart related complications in India.
But the East African Community (EAC) secretariat is optimistic that the ongoing establishment of regional centres of excellence for high quality health care across the region will soon see all patients being treated within the six-member bloc. Under the ongoing projects, Tanzania will be a regional champion for heart diseases among others while Kenya will host a facility for kidney diseases.
Uganda will host a facility for cancer while similar centres for e-health and vaccines will be set up in Rwanda and Burundi respectively.
"These centres will reduce the huge numbers of East Africans travelling to India for specialised medical care," said the EAC deputy secretary general Christophe Bazivamo.
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He made the remarks at the EAC headquarters in Arusha last week when he received three senators from the Kenya Senate Committee on Regional Integration.
He said the regional centres of excellence were being established or expanded specifically to deliver high quality medical services and reduce the traffic to India. Tanzania is ranked second in Africa after Nigeria and is among the top seven countries in the continent with the highest number of patients sent to India annually for treatment.
For instance, out of the 23,345 Tanzanians who travelled to India in 2013, 20 per cent went for medical treatment.
According to medical sources, the majority of them are going for treatment of heart complications, including surgery. Other chronic diseases that has seen the East Africans seeking medical refuge in the South Asian country include cancer and kidney complications.
The medical 'tourism' in India has also gone with the high cost of treatment, often funded from the state coffers for the public or retired officials.
Health industry sources say it was four times cheaper to treat patients with heart complications locally than seeking treatment abroad.
An open heart surgery, for instance, carried out at the Jakaya Kikwete Cancer Institute (JKCI), would cost only Sh4 million compared to Sh16 million abroad. Development of the regional centres of excellence in East Africa are being spearheaded by the East African Health Research Commission (EAHRC), an institution of EAC.
EAHRC executive secretary Prof. Gibson Kibiki said recently that when fully operationalised, the designated centres can treat a number of the chronic diseases like cancer, and heart and kidney failure.