In 2017, Kenya was named among the top six destinations where African nationals visit seeking high-end specialised medical services.
It is this status that propels the country to invest heavily in its health sector in a bid to improve its state, so it can attract more medical tourists from the continent.
According to a report dubbed Tourism for Transformative and Inclusive Growth, 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 is a sector that the Aga Khan Development Network is also looking to build on in East Africa. The The Aga Khan Hospital, in Dar es Salaam for instance was established in 1964, as a multispecialty 74-bed hospital offering quality health care for the people of Tanzania. In 2018, the expansion of the Hospital transformed the institution into a world-class health care facility. A leading 170-bed teaching and tertiary care referral hospital enabled it to provide a significantly higher level of specialised care combining cutting-edge technology with highly skilled human resources.
In Uganda, the Aga Khan University Hospital based in Karachi, has announced plans to construct a 600-bed world-class teaching hospital. The state-of-the-art facility is expected to consist of a medical education block and housing facilities, and will provide advanced forms of specialist treatment and care.
According to BMJ Journals, some patients travel out of, while others come into Africa for medical care through a growing global phenomenon referred to as medical tourism (MT): the travel in search of medical care that is unavailable, unaffordable or proscribed in their home healthcare systems. Africa is concurrently a source and destination of patients who form part of this global phenomenon.
Having established itself as an East African business hub and a key pharmaceutical market, Kenya is already host to many multinationals, mostly through local representative offices or distributors, according to a report by Fitch Solutions.
Information from the ministry of Health in Kenya shows that approximately 10,000 Kenyans travel abroad annually, in search of medical treatment and end up spending at least KSh10 billion (US$92.8 million) in the same period. The government is now working to provide quality healthcare in the country in a bid to reverse current trends in medical tourism by Kenyans seeking health services abroad.
A report by Medic East Africa dubbed 2019 Healthcare Market Insights: East Africa authorities in Kenya are also investing in regulatory improvement initiatives, which will complement their efforts to achieve universal healthcare coverage.
“On the other hand, some foreign players may remain wary of committing to the market due to the prevalence of counterfeit medicines, low per capital purchasing power and the uncertain funding base. Kenya has made significant progress in tackling longstanding issues, such as high child and maternal mortality rates.” The report reads in part.
However, the fact that a substantial proportion of the population lives in rural areas (Source: Population Reference Bureau 2017) Kenya continues to present challenges in relation to access and quality of care but authors of the report remain optimistic regarding the trajectory of Kenya’s healthcare system, though adequate and sustained financing may be difficult to secure.
Private hospitals in Kenya have rolled out multi-billion shilling expansion projects in order to meet the current and expected growth in demand for quality healthcare services as the country’s middle class population grows. The Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi Hospital, Avenue Group, Coptic Hospital, Kenyatta University and AAR Health Services have all launched major development schemes that will see new branches opened and services broadened. Similarly, in August 2016, India-based Grant Medical Foundation’s Ruby Hall Clinic launched a 400-bed facility in Kenya, with a focus on cardiology and oncology.
Kenya has a robust medical insurance sector. However it is yet to be fully tapped into. In early 2017, World Health Organisation (WHO) figures showed that almost every four out of five Kenyans had no access to medical insurance, which precluded them from being able to obtain necessary healthcare services.
“In order to expand affordable healthcare coverage in Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed to increase cooperation between the NHIF and private insurance providers, as well as to change laws regarding such providers. The authorities are targeting 100% coverage in 2022, up from 56% currently, or around 25.7 million of the population,” the study reads in part.
What Kenya offers that others don’t?
Kenya hosts several multinationals and NGOs whose diplomatic employees are ensured to have access to quality healthcare. Just recently, the United Nations Office commissioned a KSh1.1 billion ($10.2 million) COVID-19 treatment facility for its staff in the region.
This is one advantage that Kenya has over other East African countries. Other than this, several regional dignitaries have over time been seeking medical care in Kenya. In May, Burundi’s first lady Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza was brought into the country to seek treatment for COVID-19.
Kenya’s reputation for quality healthcare services is higher than its neighbouring countries.
Does Kenya have the numbers it needs to sustain the MT market?
An analysis on the health sector in Kenya by Aetna shows that even with spending just 5.7% of GDP on health care, low by global standards, it is higher than that of some neighbouring countries like Sudan and Ethiopia.
The analysis shows, “There is one doctor per 5,000 inhabitants and there can be huge variation in standards of care across geographical areas, private and public facilities, and the type of treatment available. The best private hospitals are to be found in the larger cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa, offering the kind of provision akin to that available in developed countries for many conditions.”
Over the past 15 years Kenya has made marked progress in improving key health outcomes, but much remains to be done to improve the quality of care provided at both public and private facilities across the country. This is according to data from AMREF which also states that management deficiencies, personnel and financial constraints, lack of adherence to hygiene standards, and shortages of medical equipment are among the factors which undermine the quality of care. The AMREF analysis goes on to state, “This, in turn, leads to low utilisation of health services, particularly by the millions of Kenyans who do not have health insurance and must pay directly for care.”
The government is working hand in hand with several organisations like GIZ to improve the quality of healthcare in the country. This is in line with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big 4 agenda, one of which is to achieve universal health coverage in the country as it looks to provide affordable health care for all. All these are efforts that the country is undertaking to enhance its healthcare attraction within the bloc.
Offering specialisation treatments
A 2019 Healthcare Market Insights on Kenya by Medic East Africa shows that Kenya has established itself as an East African business hub and a key pharmaceutical market. Authorities are also investing in regulatory improvement initiatives, which will complement their efforts to achieve universal healthcare coverage.
In terms of specialised treatment, Kenya is famed for having the first ever comprehensive cancer centre in the region. This is the HCG CCK Cancer Centre that has various facilities like radiation therapy, specialised oncology treatments, palliative care and patient support all under one roof.
Kenya is also home to East Africa’s kidney institute placing it at the helm of kidney research on the bloc. The country also provides top quality, comprehensive and cost-effective cardiac care to patients from within Kenya, other East African nations and beyond through Africa Heart Associates based in Nairobi through the Aga Khan Hospital, The Nairobi Hospital, and MP Shah Hospital.
Generally East African countries continue to face health challenges including large numbers of maternal and child mortality rates and the adverse effects of infectious diseases. Each country faces challenges within its health system that hinders its government’s capacity to meet the needs of its most vulnerable people.
An analysis from Medic East Africa shows that in a bid to grow the health sector in Kenya, private hospitals have rolled out multi-billion shilling expansion projects in order to meet the current and expected growth in demand for quality healthcare services as the country’s middle class population grows.
“The Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi Hospital, Avenue Group, Coptic Hospital, Kenyatta University and AAR Health Services have all launched major development schemes that will see new branches opened and services broadened. Similarly, in August 2016, India-based Grant Medical Foundation’s Ruby Hall Clinic launched a 400-bed facility in Kenya, with a focus on cardiology and oncology,” reads the report in part.
Based on industry analysis, Kenya is still ahead when it comes to medical care in the region, though other countries are also catching up.