Views from Fiona: Global Healthcare or Medical Tourism?

Views from Fiona: Global Healthcare or Medical Tourism?


Do Ugandans have anything to celebrate, medically?

By Fiona Abaasa
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First published: October 18, 2007


The world has become a village and the availability of our healthcare has not been spared either. In this fast moving world, patients and healthcare service providers travel up and down the world searching for better facilities/services and better pay respectively. Consequently, Sub-Saharan Africa has been heavily hit by loss of medical doctors and nurses who prefer to work mostly in Europe and North America where the pay is better than at home.


In Uganda, medical travel is a now common and a way for highly positioned public servants and their relatives to get all-expenses-paid travel trips. Whilst government officials of third world countries are now using the ruse to rip off taxpayers by going to Europe and US to obtain better medical services, the average European and American are heading east to places like Thailand, China and Singapore to pay a fifth of what they would pay at home. Singapore leads the world in terms of medical tourism, with approximately 410,000 persons visiting Singapore for medical attention annually. Singapore receives patients from India, UK (patients avoiding hip replacements) and ASEAN countries who are looking for high quality health care at a cheaper cost. Singapore is rated the best in Asia and sixth in the world by the World Health Organization (WHO) in terms of the quality of healthcare offered. It has become a Mecca for medical conferences and training.

Cost is the most pressing factor for many international patients. To an American insurer, a patient suffering from angioplasty would cost in the region of 26,000 to 37,000 USD, while it would cost a non-insured patient around 57,000 to 83,000 USD. In Singapore, the price hovers around the 13,000 USD mark. Even after factoring in airfare and accommodation for the patient and his/her minder/help, there is still a tremendous save for patients who travel to Singapore.

However, it is common knowledge that not all persons traveling for medical reasons actually stick to that. Some take extended medical holidays while enjoying soft sunsets, sandy beaches and pebble throwing, all in the name of recuperation.

In poor countries where medical healthcare is mediocre, and at times painfully unsatisfying, those who can often opt to travel to Europe for better healthcare. Most of them, however, are public servants/officials who often times have these trips paid for from state coffers. The Government of Uganda, for instance, has in the past flown innumerable persons abroad for treatment, some undeserving. The question is; if one person is flown out at a cost that could bring the required medical equipment into the country, why not equip our own hospitals? Sometimes, even privileged officials like the late Brig. Noble Mayombo of Uganda have been unlucky to die on their way to find treatment abroad.

Needless to say, countries in Africa spend a lot on medical treatment for their VIPs abroad - costs that could possibly equip entire referral hospitals. At the moment, it is very common to find such hospitals lacking drugs as simple as paracetamol, which is exceedingly ridiculous. Medics in poor nations often find their way to Europe, Asia or US in search of better pay, rather than break their backs for mediocre pay back home. The baffling rate at which persons from Africa enter Asia and Europe in search of better medical care and never returning home should not be so baffling after all. The question is, are they seeking genuine medical attention or financial attention?

By Fiona Abaasa
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First published: October 18, 2007
Fiona Abaasa is a visitor of UGPulse.com.

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