Kenya needs to take advantage of its existing assets it the medical sector to attract other nationals seeking specialised treatment services abroad, experts have urged.
A recent report by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency noted that the private health sector in Kenya is one of the most developed and dynamic in Sub-Saharan Africa.
"Kenya holds leadership in the region for technology and education with matured democracy." Mediheal's Vice President- International Patient Service Mr Gokul Prem Kumar said.
In 2017, Kenya was named among the top six destinations where African nationals visit seeking high-end specialised medical services. The report, dubbed Tourism for Transformative and Inclusive Growth, noted that Medical tourism -- cross-border travel for medical purposes, including for medical services and elective procedures -- is an emerging market segment that has expanded in recent years in several African countries, notably Egypt, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, South Africa and Tunisia.
This trend even in 2019, continues.
According to Mr Prem, Kenya is strategically placed given its accessibility from various parts of the continent as well as the world.
"Some countries score on pricing, some score on quality but only those with a good balance of both will have a long term sustained impact," said Mr Pram adding that that Kenya is well connected within Africa and beyond by Air, Road and Water providing good connectivity for patients with excellent hospitality.
According to data from the ministry of health, approximately 10,000 Kenyans travel abroad annually, in search of medical treatment and end up spending at least Sh10 billion in the same period. The government is now working to provide quality healthcare in the country in a bid to reverse the current trends in medical tourism by Kenyans seeking health services abroad.
In March this year, Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki opened a kidney and liver transplant centre at Mediheal Hospital and Fertility Centre in Eldoret. The CS commended the Hospital for its outstanding leadership in provision of high quality medical services in Kenya as well as across the East African Region.
Mediheal has invested heavily in access to sub specialized including 120 dialysis chairs, 20 operating theatres and 120 ICU beds among other quality medical equipment.
The CS also noted that the center would help to reduce the outward referrals to other countries for these transplant services.
"This will also contribute to Kenya's economy through inward medical tourism," Said the CS.
Kenya is fast emerging as the preferred healthcare destination for patients from East and Central Africa in the region and becoming an African center of medical excellence. However we are still seeing patients being sent abroad for treatments that can very well be treated in the country, and at incredibly lower costs.
"It is estimated that Africans spend about 3.8 billion USD annually seeking healthcare overseas, predominantly East like India, Thailand and Dubai in Middle East. Kenya alone spends about 10 million USD annually on out bound medical travel." Said Mr Prem.
Mr Prem has also called for collaborations between health ministry and the ministry of tourism to aggressively market the country as a medical destination.
"People need to be made aware that that Kenya offers almost 80 to 90 per cent of the medical and surgical procedures that are being carried out elsewhere globally and in the coming years there wouldn't be a need for people to travel out of the country seeking treatment outside." Mr Prem emphasized.
Most patients usually travel for elective surgeries of Joint Replacements, Cardiac related issues, Cancer management, Neurosurgery, IVF, Organ Transplant, Cosmetics and Dentistry.
This happens despite the fact that Kenya is in a commendable position to deliver good clinic outcomes in these areas.
"There is no active Renal Transplant program in all the neighboring countries except for Kenya and we need to optimize this capability to strengthen our leadership role. The day is not far when Kenya would do very complex procedures like Heart & Lung transplants also. Today we have capability of running successful Kidney and Liver Transplants in the region. In that pursuit Mediheal is the first hospital to perform Lap Donor Nephrectomy in East Africa for Kidney Transplant and major center of Excellence for Organ Transplant." Mr Prem pointed out.
Kenya has a robust medical insurance sector. This, according to Mr Prem could work very well when the insurers partner with health providers to offer reasonable packages with affordable premiums.
"We are not very aggressive at marketing what the country has to offer in terms of medical value travels. We have come a long way, we need to build the brand and increase credibility amongst Kenyans as well as other nationals," Mr Prem noted adding that the country has what it takes to deliver quality healthcare.