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South Africa ~ Making Great Strides in Healthcare


The Inaugural South African Health Tourism Congress (SAHTC) was held at the Sandton Convention Centre in Gauteng, South Africa. The Congress partnered with the National Department of Health, the City of Johannesburg, the Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Board, the Department of Tourism and the IDC all of whom are closely collaborating with congress organizer, Sebilo (Pty) Ltd, member of the Medical Tourism Association.

Renee-Marie Stephano, President of the Medical Tourism Association, was the keynote speaker at the South Africa Health Tourism Conference that took place July 29th and 30th 2009. Renee spoke on “Creating Health Clusters: Putting Your Competition Aside to Promote Your Country.” Also a speaker, Dr. Prem Jagyasi, an Chief Strategy Officer for the Medical Tourism Association, presented on “The Opportunities and Challenges for South Africa Healthcare Industry.”

Medical Tourism describes the rapidly growing practice of traveling both within countries and across international borders to obtain health care. It is mainly influenced by the high costs or lack of treatment options available in countries of origin and centers of specialized medical excellence that attract patients to specific destinations. In South Africa, this typically includes cosmetic procedures, orthopedic, cardiac, oncology, pediatric and dental surgeries.

The Global Health Tourism market comprised over 19 million trips in 2005 with a total value of USD20 billion. Many countries are showing a double-digit growth in Health Tourism, which is forecasted to grow to 40 million trips, or 4 % of global tourism volume, by 2010.

Of 9.5 foreign tourist arrivals in South Africa last year, 410,000 were medical tourists.

Renee-Marie Stephano said, “According to Deloitte, 750,000 Americans had opted for overseas treatment in 2007, a figure projected to grow to 23 million by 2017, a result from the ageing baby boomers.  While Deloitte has since revised these figures, the numbers are still in the millions and high in terms of the global medical tourism marketplace.”

The congress aimed to stimulate the inbound health tourism market in South Africa and gain a greater sector of the market potential globally. The Congress’ key outcome was the start of the formation of a Healthcare Cluster in South Africa. The hospitals and governments will work together to create the cluster to brand a name for their country. Some of the most successful countries promoting medical tourism are those who have established a cluster.

Cawe Mahlati, Congress Chairperson Advocate, added at the close of the congress, “The endorsement by the National Department of Health and the National Department of Tourism will give leadership to the partnership formed at this congress between the public, private sector and our communities in the development of policy, strategy and funding mechanisms for the successful integration of the health tourism cluster.”

Addressing the Gaps

The Honorary Deputy Minister of Tourism, Ms. Tokozile Xasa, opened the Congress. She focused on the rise of the industry and what South Africa is doing to gain a larger share of the market.

The Inaugural South Africa Health Tourism Congress came at a time when tourism is becoming the center state in economic policy, and the government of South Africa has shown its commitment by creating a separate Department of Tourism.

Tourism for South Africa is one of the major contributors to their GDP and employment. Where else will you find wildlife-watching, cosmopolitan cities, stunning panoramas, vibrant cultures, vineyards and beautiful beaches? Since 1994, they have seen 48 million international tourists arrive.

South Africa continues to focus on their tourism by constantly focusing on new opportunities. They hosted the Confederations Cup, the India Premier League, the Lions Tour, and now will be hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This event has improved the collaboration of the public and private sectors in dealing with emergency medical services, communicable disease, environmental health, port health, stadia, and primary health care.

The government in South Africa is ready and supportive to grow the Medical Tourism Industry. Honorary Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. Molefi Sefularo said “As Government, we are open-minded and would be inclined to support the formalization of this sector understanding that it would contribute to skills development and job creation. I would like to confirm our support for this area of clinical care.”

Becoming a major destination for healthcare for South Africa is not without its gaps.

Presenting this concept to the country is challenging, in a country were healthcare is so unequal. The shareholders within this industry need to take the responsibility in ensuring it will not overtake the duties to South Africa, and the continent as a whole.

A common perception of South Africa for foreign travelers is the fear of giving or taking blood in a country so broadcasted for its HIV and AID scares. South Africa has one of the most stringent guidelines for blood donation and acquisition in the whole world. The South African Blood Transfusion Service continues to lead the field with its technology.

Another perception of South Africa is the crime rates and random power cuts. There is a lack of information being given to the consumer about the world class medical expertise and tourism benefits the country has to offer.

The South Africa Medical Association regulates brokers from recommending patients to doctors, and doctors from marketing their services directly. The government believes destination marketing can overcome this issue.

A National Plan

The Department of Tourism has noted by the end of the year they plan to complete a National Strategy plan for Medical Tourism in South Africa that would include:

  • Improving Understanding of key stakeholders who are critical to the development of Medical Tourism
  • Understanding of its current size and impact
  • Identifying opportunities for further development
  • Identifying other challenges that can hinder growth of this sector and recommending actions to address challenges
  • Developing strategic objectives and actions to realize the potential of this sector
  • Recommending how this sector can be integrated into existing tourism products and service offerings
  • Recommending how this sector can be marketed
  • Recommending appropriate institutional mechanism to drive the implementation of the strategy
  • Recommending financing solutions to fund product development, packaging and institutional mechanism

Medical & Health Tourism

South Africa has the benefits of its health care reputation, tourism perception; affordability, personalized treatment, no language barriers and transparency in the quality of care.
South Africa first made history on December 3rd 1967, when Dr. Christiaan Barnard and his team made history with the world’s first successful heart transplant. Since then, South African medicine has achieved so much in modern medicine.

Dental Tourism is growing at a rapid rate, international clients come from all over the world for dental procedures because of the cost compared to that of other countries and because South Africa is renowned in the fields of dental, maxillo-facial and oral surgery.

The track records for fertility treatments in South Africa are notable, as its gynecology and obstetrics are among the best in the world. It’s estimated that 10-15% of couples will have trouble conceiving.

In South Africa health tourism is widely known and continues to boom. Health and Wellness can compliment the treatment plans of patients receiving surgical procedures by helping them improve their quality of life for both them and their travel companion. Roland Buhler, Business Development Director of Queensgate Hotels and Leisure, stated “We are interested in Medical Tourism in South Africa; we are building over 500 rooms a year and expanding existing facilities to include medical wellness elements.”

Queensgate Hotels & Leisure specializes in the hospitality and leisure sector in South Africa. The Queensgate properties can accommodate and cater to medical tourism clients with their spa suites and personal food consultants. Buhler also commented, “People are going to stay here three to four weeks and will come to enjoy golfing and safaris.”

Health Tourism in South Africa includes treatments and activities in spa and wellness and alternative medicine. Some of these activities include sound healing workshops, yoga safaris and African therapies. Therapies include massages, reiki practitioners, reflexology specialists and psycho-therapists. You can travel here to improve your spiritual, emotional and mental well-being.


The province of Mpumalanga is located in the north eastern region of South Africa, and is bordered by Mozambique and Swaziland. The economy of this region is supported by manufacturing, coal mining, agriculture, forestry, power generation and tourism.

Scenic beauty, climate, culture and wildlife were voted to be the most attractive features of South Africa according to a recent tourism survey. The region of Mpumalanga, has all of them.

Traveling to Mpumalanga region while in South Africa is easy. The Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport has schedule flights to and from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. You can also travel to this region by road; there are many scenic routes to this location.

Some of the top tourist attractions you will find in the region include museums, cultural villages, nature reserves, the Kruger National Park, and many adventure tourism activities. Amongst the adventure activities, you will find, birding, hiking trails, paragliding, bungee jumping, zip lines, quad bike tours, fishing, caving, cycling, golfing, hot air ballooning, and many more.

Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park, located in Mpumalanga, is larger than some small countries. The park not only converses wildlife, but also contributes to the economy through employment of over 3200 members. Created in 1898 by President Kruger to preserve the national wildlife, the diverse attractions of the park have been enjoyed for more than a century.

The near unspoiled conditions of the park, along with the prosperity of the natural beauty, are the best backdrop for a tourism experience where the life of bushveld is played out daily in the struggle for survival. The parks climate is generally hot during the summer and chilly during the winter and spring season. Winter and spring are the most popular viewing time.

There are numerous hiking trails, safaris and accommodations throughout the park. Safaris are offered in morning and evening game drives, were you can get in touch with wild animals in a magnificent setting, while getting a taste of the cultural heritage of South Africa.

There are even options for disabled traveler safaris, were you experience the same thing except it’s a highly planned and carefully structured way to cater to your needs. During your safari you can view animals that include the Big Five: the white rhino, elephants, buffalo, lion, and the leopard. You can also see antelope, birdlife, ecology, predators and native trees.

Cape Town

Cape Town is known as the Mother City of Africa, and is Africa’s main tourist destination. Cape Town’s beaches have soft, white sand and are surrounded by mountains. Many people visit this region because of its beaches but there is so much to explore in Cape Town from extreme adventure to notable cultural attractions.

This city has beautiful architectural heritage, with many Cape Dutch style buildings throughout. You can travel to Cape Town to revitalize body, mind spirit, or awaken their culinary senses with food or the award winning Cape Winelands.

One of the most talked about attractions, is Table Mountain, visible from anywhere throughout the city. It’s home to fauna and flora, many of the species that only can survive in this unique ecosystem of this mountain. Since its opening in 1929, over 16 million people have taken the trip to the top including King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II, Oprah Winfrey, and many more. The easiest way up the mountain is, on the Aerial Cableway, which provides amazing views of this city.

One of the most known and most extreme activities is White Shark Cage Diving. About five miles off shore there is a place known as Shark Alley, which is a channel between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock. Not for the faint of heart, getting into a cage and having sharks swim around you is the one of the most breath taking experiences.

Sharks are one of the most feared animals, but it’s the education and quality time with the creatures that will make you see that this fear is highly misunderstood. For those who decide not to get in the water, you may also watch the sharks from the boat, which is also an awe-inspiring experience.

A short distance from the city, are the Cape Winelands, the largest wine producing region in South Africa. There are 3 major wine routes that pass through Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek, and offer a chance to see the history while surrounded by the hills and valleys of the vineyards.

The Next Top Destination

Everyone knows that South Africa has been successful in the tourism field, and combining that success with the quality of medical care will make South Africa a world class destination in this industry. South Africa will continue to grow into a top medical tourism destination between the development of the healthcare cluster and the support of the government entities. This is one country to keep your eye on.

Jessica Johnson is Director of Operations for the Medical Tourism Association.  Jessica provides operational support for the MTA. Her responsibilities span the range of administrative, financial, operational and I/T support systems.  She may be reached at

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