Tanzania Targets Becoming Africa's Medical Tourism Hub

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Dar es Salaam — Government's drive to make Tanzania a medical tourism hub received a boost yesterday following the launching of two state-of-the-art medical equipment at the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute (JKCI).

President Samia Suluhu Hassan inaugurated the Cathlab plant connected to the Carto 3 (3D & mapping electrophysiology System) capable of diagnosing and treating cardiovascular system defects.

The modern Cathlab machine, purchased by the government at the cost of Sh4.6 billion since last year while installation was completed early this year, began operating on the first patient on April 30, this year successfully.

According to JKCI executive director Mohammed Janabi, the systems will help in treating a myriad of cardiac conditions as well as diagnose coronary arteries.

He cited other tasks as setting up cardiac devices, repairing clogged arteries and heart treatment. This, Prof Janabi says, is a major step forward for the health sector and which is expected to save billions of shillings spent on sending and treating heart patients abroad.

"This is an advanced technology through which we will be able to save the lives of many people with heart problems including the electrical system of the heart," he noted.

This move, according to President Hassan, contributes to Tanzania's global awareness of health care delivery, a time when it's emphasized that there is no need for Tanzanians to seek cardiac related treatment overseas.

The JKCI patients are a mix of nationalities, whereby apart from Tanzanians others are Burundians, Comoros, Ethiopians, Malawians, US citizens, Egyptians, Rwandans, Ugandan and Greek.

"This is a good step towards our goal of making Tanzania a hub for medical delivery and expertise in Africa. But it also promotes our desire to become a medical tourism hub," said President Hassan.

According to a study by Patient beyond Borders, it is estimated that each year about 14 to 16 million people travel to seek medical care in various parts of the world where it is estimated that they spend between $45.5 billion and $72 billion.

"Our goal is to harvest a portion of this money from the world, to come to Tanzania," she explained.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including heart diseases have been on the rise worldwide.

World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that NCDs contributed to more than 41 million deaths equivalent to 71 percent of all deaths in 2016.

They also contributed to more than three-quarters of the deaths that if the disease had been detected earlier would have been avoided, according to Dr Doroth Gwajima, the minister responsible for health.

"But as the world continues to fight these diseases, Tanzania and other developing countries seem to be the most affected, so this indicates that we must take concrete steps to keep our people safe," Dr Gwajima said.

National statistics on the status of NCDs show that these diseases have accounted for 33 percent of all deaths in the country in 2017, "this is a very high figure," she stressed. She noted other contributors as diabetes (two percent), cancer (seven percent) and accidents (11 percent).

Dr Gwajima said, however, that through the facilities, the institute was able to save Sh104 billion in funds that would have been spent on sending patients for treatment overseas.

In order to make Tanzania internationally recognized as a hub for the treatment of chronic diseases, Dr Gwajima said JKCI has already begun the process of finalizing a document that will soon be submitted to WHO so that it can get accreditation for that purpose.

"We are using JKCI which will lead other institutions to follow suit in order to achieve our goal quickly," she said.

However, she mentioned the challenges facing the institution as shortage of specialized doctors and surgeons, something which President Hassan promised to look at.

Further, President Hassan said the fact that 13 percent of all deaths in the country were being caused by heart problems, calls for more efforts to be made towards curbing the situation.

She said the launch of the machines, which are more modern compared to the previous ones, makes Tanzania one of eight countries in Africa that offer heart treatment thoroughly.

"We are now moving forward in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. The ability to diagnose and treat all heart complications makes our goal of becoming a medical tourism hub a reality," said President Hassan.

Addressing patients being treated under government funding, President Hassan instructed Dr Gwajima to ensure that 30 percent of the portion allocated for outpatient care was given to the institution to reduce the cost burden.

In addition to purchasing the equipment for cardiovascular services which contributes to the medical tourism goal, the government said it will strengthen the provision of services for other non-communicable diseases including diabetes and cancer.

"For example in March 2019, as Vice President I launched a state-of-the-art linear accelerator at a cost of Sh9.5 billion at Ocean Road Hospital," said the Head of State who took office on March 19, this year following the death of her predecessor President John Magufuli due to heart problems.

Meanwhile, JKCI Board chairman Prof Wiliam Mahalu advised the government to establish branches of the institute across the country to support the rapid delivery of services.

"There is a need to make it easier for people in remote areas to access this service at least for testing before the final stage is done here," he advised.

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