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Why Kenyans are medical globetrotters

Health & Science
 Other medical destinations for Kenyans, apart from India, are the USA, UK, Malaysia, Thailand, Israel, Pakistan and the Philippines. [iStockphoto]

Over 50 years since Independence, about 10000 Kenyans still seek treatment abroad every year, blowing Sh15 billion, with India as the biggest destination for 'medical tourism,' according to the Ministry of Health.

Never mind Kenya now has over 5000 hospitals.

Out of 10 international patients, eight go to India, data from the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council (KMPDC) shows.

Reasons for choosing India include lack of certain medical specialists and equipment. Like Electron Beam Therapy for skin cancer which is not available locally.

Other reasons include affordability, short hospital stay, short waiting time and high-quality services - according to 2016 Kenya Healthcare Sector Report which lists cancer-related cases at 37 per cent, general surgery (23), renal (21), and cardiac-related cases (19) as the leading medical conditions taking Kenyans to India where most also travel for liposuction, hair restoration, in vitro-fertilisation and breast implants.

Besides India, another medical destination is South Africa, the second most preferred at 15 per cent for its proximity, advanced medical technology and research, and similarity to Kenya in healthcare dynamics.

South Africa ranks 49 out of 89 countries in the 2019 Global Healthcare Index - the highest for an African nation - against Kenya's position at 72.

Other medical destinations for Kenyans are the USA, UK, Malaysia, Thailand, Israel, Pakistan and the Philippines according to the Kenya Healthcare Sector Report.

Kenyans go to Israel for specialised cancer diagnosis.

But now Kenya has its first Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan at the Aga Khan University Hospital cutting trips to Israel while the Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital has a first-of-its-kind Sh500 million CyberKnife, a robotic technology for non-invasive treatment for cancerous and non-cancerous tumors, according to the facility's board chair, Prof Olive Mugenda.

The USA has some of the best specialists for fertility, spine, plastic surgery, heart and cancer, but data from KMPDC shows only one Kenyan patient went there between February 2019 and November 2020 for a knee replacement surgery.

Thailand's medical reputation rests on plastic and reconstructive surgery and gender reassignment procedures, bariatric surgery for weight loss and coronary artery and heart valve replacement, according to Thailand's medical insurer, Luma.

Turkey has recently emerged-for its affordability- as another medical destination.

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