Rwanda Targets Medical Tourism
BY GODFREY NTAGUNGIRA:
Rwanda, whose expenditure on medical tourism is unknown but could be among those that are rapidly growing in the East African region, is looking at becoming a regional hub of inbound medical tourism.
The acting head of services development section at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Hubert Rutage Ruzibiza, says the institution believes that medical tourism is a new product suitable for developing countries like Rwanda.
"It strengthens linkages in the national economy and increases foreign exchange earnings," he says.
Medical tourism happens when consumers elect to travel across international borders with the intention of receiving some form of medical treatment.
Rwanda is looking at options to sustain the budding tourism sector that registered high foreign exchange receipts last year, and tapping into medical tourism is one of the catalysts the government is employing.
There has been an increase in the steady health infrastructure mainly boosted by the public and private investments in decent health facilities which include specialised hospitals and state of the art medical equipment to boost medical tourism.
King Faisal hospital, Rwanda's leading state-owned healthcare provider, has imported state of the art equipment, such as Computed Tomography (CT) scanner system, Magnetic Resource Imaging (MRI) systems, and other advanced imaging machines that may provide better healthcare for patients.
This kind of investment has led to an international accreditation of King Faisall hospital which is currently laying the ground to become a regional referral hospital in the East African region.
"Such investments have enhanced our local healthy sector and this means that Rwanda will earn more foreign exchange from patients from the neighboring countries like Burundi, DRC, Uganda and others," says Ruzibiza.
Statistics from King Faisal Hospital indicate that in 2012 alone the hospital received 3,755 foreign patients from across the region and DRC sent the biggest number with 1,850.
Recently, another specialised foreign hospital opened in Rwanda to provide eye treatment across the region. Dr. Agarwal's Eye Hospital from India is the first foreign specialist establishment in Rwanda, which is most likely to become a regional eye referral centre.
Dr. John Nkurikiye, a consultant ophthalmologist at Dr. Agarwal's Eye Hospital, says that the facility is well equipped with state of the art technology for performing surgeries related to cataract, retina, Glaucoma and other eye ailments with techniques matching the international standards comparable with Europe and South Africa.
"These facilities and services are currently in Rwanda for the first time," says Dr. Nkurikiye.
"Dr Agarwal's eye hospital is aimed to be the centre of excellence in the field of ophthalmology, fulfilling the need for advanced eye care services of the Rwandan and people from neighboring countries."
Setting up the hospital in Kigali has so far consumed over US$2 million and more investments are in the pipeline to ensure that the facility delivers the state of the art eye treatment to the regional patients.
Ruzibiza says that boosting medical tourism in Rwanda "is also an added advantage for citizens as they are to enjoy reduced cost, the availability of latest medical technologies, and a growing compliance of international quality standards."
Dr Nkurikiye says that medical tourists generally pay higher, out-of-pocket rates than local patients and also offer the prospect of spending tourism dollars on hotels, meals and even tours and entertainment for themselves and family members.
Dr. Nkurikiye acknowledges that Rwanda could become a tourism hub only if it has world-class medical facilities, which would be difficult without the participation of private entities.
He says that Rwanda is in a good location in terms of climate, the security and quiet environment, which patients need when going through the healing process.
Tourism is Rwanda's leading foreign exchange earner for many years. Last year, it registered strong performance compared to 2011 as the revenue generated increased by 17% to US$281.8 million compared to US$251.3 million in 2011.