Harmony Agere Extra Reporter —
WITH the falling standards in public health institutions and exorbitant fees in the private sector, more Zimbabwean patients are now seeking treatment in Asian countries, particularly India, in what is known as medical tourism.
While in the past seeking treatment in foreign countries was widely viewed as the thing for the elite, it is increasingly becoming a need, even for the less fortunate in Zimbabwe due to the unavailability of some of the services.
But seeking treatment abroad remains an intimidating adventure for many, especially considering the recent reports on human trafficking.
The director of MedTours Africa, Ms Cheu Pswarayi took time to demystify the entire process. She defined medical tourism as a process in which a person travels outside their home country to seek medical attention.
The process, she says, has existed for a very long time in many different parts of the world but has only become popular in Zimbabwe in recent years.
“There are two main reasons why Zimbabweans become medical tourists, firstly because there are certain treatments which are not offered locally such as kidney or liver transplants, coronary angioplasty, gastric bypass surgeries and mammoplasty, to mention a few,” she said.
“The second reason is the cost of healthcare in Zimbabwe as compared to the main medical destination, India, which is very prohibitive.”
But it is difficult for patients to go it alone and most require the hand of a facilitator to go through the whole process. The role of the facilitator is to take care of all the logistics involved when someone is considering and or decides to go abroad for treatment.
Those in the business say the first step is to get a clinical report or a referral letter from the local doctor or specialist.
“Reports and results of any tests or scans which have been done before are also needed so that all the information on the patient is sent to partner hospitals abroad,” said Ms Pswarayi.
“Typically, a response is given within 48 hours stating whether the patient can be assisted, how they will be assisted and how much it will cost them to get the assistance recommended.
“A good facilitator will offer at least two or three different medical opinions for the patient to be able to assess.”
When a decision has been made to travel, the next step is to facilitate the visas and flights. Ms Pswarayi said India visas take roughly three days to be processed at a fee of US$83 but can be processed on the same day for an extra fee of $20.
Average return airfares to New Delhi are around US$800. Upon getting the clearance for fitness to fly from a local doctor, the patient then departs for their destination.
“Once they land in India, they will have an airport pick-up arranged by the hospital or facilitator and will be taken to their hospital for admissions,” said Ms Pswarayi.
“Normally, the hospital bill will cover a stay for two people in a private ward with their meals catered for.
“The hospital bill however does not cover costs when the patient gets discharged and is supposed to stay in the country for observations.
“The rates for accommodation range from US$25 to US70 per day, all dependent on the person’s budget.”
When the treatment is done, the patient also gets a fitness clearance to fly by home from the treating specialist. There should be a comprehensive discharge report given ideally to the home doctor for continuance of care.
Facilitators say hospital bill payments are normally processed before the travel in order for the receiving hospital to issue a visa invite letter.
They say medical aid companies tend to remit directly to the hospital and if there are any shortfalls, the patient has to pay. There are also some individuals who pay for the whole bill out of pocket.
“The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has prioritised payment for medical bills abroad and on average, payments are currently taking between two weeks and two months to reflect in the receiving hospitals accounts,” said Ms Pswarayi
“A good facilitator will have structures in place to act as a guarantor of payments with the destination hospitals so as to avoid delays in the patient receiving treatment.”
She said South Africa is a popular destination with Zimbabweans as well because of its geographical proximity. Ms Pswarayi adds that critical cases in which long haul flights are not recommended are usually referred to South Africa. On average, MedTours Africa receives 30 requests for quotations and opinions every month.
“A significant percentage of the enquiries however struggle to raise the necessary fees and fares, even though they might be a quarter of the local quotations,” she said.
“Worryingly, there is also a perceived reluctance by the local medical fraternity to embrace medical tourism.”
Mrs Imelda Nyatanga (not her real name), a medical tourism beneficiary, said she was quoted US$10 000 for a surgery in South Africa but was treated in India for half the price.
“I had chronic back and neck pains and my doctors said my body was disproportional and needed to lose weight,” she said.
“I lost weight but the pain did not go away so a specialist recommended that I needed surgery to correct my body weight.
“I went to South Africa but I was quoted US$10 000 and I did not have the money. However, a friend told me about how people were getting help in India at reasonable charges.
“So I researched online and I found an agency which helped me to travel to India on 14 July.
“I was booked at SPS Hospital and that’s where I was staying until my treatment was over.
“The surgery was done for a fee of US$4 500 and my medical aid covered most of the expenses.”
Mrs Nyatanga said she is now of sound health ever since the surgery.
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