President Barrow announces Health Tourism deal for The Gambia

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Compiled by Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT

On 13th September 2017 President Adama Barrow announced on his Facebook page “Today I received a team from International Medical Services (IMS), an Israeli group specialised in providing health care services in Africa. IMS President Ovadia Yardena said his group was committed to promoting health tourism in The Gambia and was set to build a 220 million Euro modern 350-bed hospital. We will attract other African countries to seek for health care services in our country, and would provide other development avenues.”

Many Gambians are not familiar with health tourism. Starting with a simple definition the Cambridge dictionary health tourism is when “tourist travel for the purpose of receiving medical treatment or improving health or fitness: The spiralling cost of health care has contributed to the growth of medical tourism. Also called health tourism.”

According to an article published by Allafrica and authored by Dr. George Kanani there are implications on the health system for sending and receiving countries. Currently, The Gambia would be categorised as a sending country as the total number of Gambians travelling abroad for health services are far more than tourists arriving to The Gambia for health services. Link to the full article is available: http://allafrica.com/stories/201608020317.html

Africa: Is medical tourism good or bad? by Dr George Kanani

Implication on the health system

Medical tourism has implications on health system of the country from where foreign patients originate (i.e. the sending country) and the country that receive those patients.

For a sending country, people get access to quality and cheap healthcare services from destination countries. for circumstances where health system has long waiting lists, patients seeking care abroad may help to clear backlogs without difficulty, delay and expense of expanding local capacity.

On the other hand, if a large number of patients travel abroad, it will probably heighten competition among private-sector health providers in the sending countries, which could bring prices down.

Given global shortage of healthcare workers, one might deduce that the pressure on health workers would ease in the sending country; but is this always a case? I guess not.

In the receiving countries, Medical tourism contributes to creation of dual health delivery system, one for rich foreigners and one for poor locals. It leads also to draining of public sector funds and implementation of policies biased to commercial medicine.

The medical tourism industry brings in foreign currency, health global development race through importation of medical technology.

Are there risks linked to medical tourism?

There is lack of protection to patients and lack of legal assistance in case of a problem.

There is no uniform code that may help to determine what is medical negligence and malpractice in such scenarios. Poor post-surgical care in some reported cases, unethical issues and the continuum of care is often limited. There is lack of definitive regulations and standards amongst medical tourism brokerages. Anyone can become a broker and there is room for irresponsible business practices amongst medical tourism brokerages.

Pros and Cons of Medical Tourism in Africa

A scoping review on the impact of medical tourism resulting in this chart highlighting the pros and cons of medical tourism. The link to the full scoping review is http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/6/e013021

Pros and Cons of Medical Tourism

Medical Tourism services are primarily provided by the private sector and payments are mostly out of pocket. Whereas private healthcare providers have little incentive to consider population-wide and -based services, the public at large must be served through public health interventions focused on the health needs of the entire population or population groups. Individual healthcare, population health and public policy decisions must, therefore, be premised on best available evidence to avoid poor and inappropriate interventions.

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  1. I agree with the above. We all want the best for Gambia. But care and caution should be exercised. We have traveled this road before; the road of “government guarantee a loan for me so that I can invest it in Gambia; give me free land because I want to invest in Gambia and create employment”. These have landed us in trouble in the 1970s -1990s.

    – the IMS guys said the project will be financed by a loan. The Gambia should never never be party to this loan. The Gambia should not guarantee this loan or be any part of the liability;

    – the IMS project will be an investment project. The project promoters are out to make money. It is not a charity and not a “development” initiative. So let them buy land. Government should not give them the 7 acre they need free. They can buy land anywhere in the Gambia.

    -our health regulatory system may not be advanced to cater for this industry. We will have to do lot of work in that area before we open our doors to medical tourism. That will not be quick or easy thing to do. But we must insist on getting that “house in order”. We must not be rushed into it.

    Regards
    A concerned Gambian

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